Growing up, I remember the epic struggles my father had with his fax machine. He'd put the thermal roller paper in, and it would work for a while. But like a sinister opponent, the machine was merely waiting for a critical fax to come in before it broke down again. I always knew when it happened because my mother, who never lazed about, would sit still in the living room, exasperated and rolling her eyes to the soundtrack of my father's swearing.
You know how some men tinker with their cars or lawn care gadgets? Well, that was my father, except his subjects usually had a wall plug and a power button.
I'd hear the ruckus, and unable to resist, I would tiptoe toward my dad. He's usually the bastion of patience and wisdom, but not when it came to his gadgets. There he'd be, with his sleeves rolled up and covered in toner, frustrated and upset at the expensive machine he had to convince my mother to buy.
It was always that way in our house. My father would see a shiny new thing, and he'd have to sweet talk my mother into getting it. There were three fax machines, several wireless telephones, countless answering machines, four VCRs, audio recording devices, printers, stereos, cameras, a few beepers and other doohickeys and gizmos. Dad was a writer, a pretty well-informed one, so he always seemed to know what the cool new things were back then. And my poor mom had no idea why this man kept bringing stuff into the house that he'd just wind up cursing at.
But I understood him. There was a look on his face whenever he brought a new technology home. It was the look of hope. He gazed at those items like he was staring at the future, dreaming of all the cool things he'd be able to do with them. So incredulous was he that such a miraculous device existed, that he acted like a lucky man wielding powerful magic for the first time.
Of course, I didn't know all of that at the time. I was a small child. All I knew was that he loved these devices, and he made me love them too.
It became our thing. He'd bring it home, and then immediately, we'd retreat to go set it up. My brother and sister had their after-school sports and clubs, but I always wanted to be near Daddy and his toys. So he'd let me hold the flashlight while he dove in, or signal me to hit the wall switch when he was ready to power up. I was his helper, the only one who could fit behind the desk to reach the surge protector. And he always took the heat when Mom kvetched about all the ink or grease on my little face, hands and clothes.
As I grew up, the helper became the teacher. I stepped in to program his VCR, then made way for his DVD player. I moved his cassette tapes to disks, showed him that voice mail was superior to answering machines, and swapped his pager for a cell phone.
I even taught my father how to use his first computer. He was in his 70s. Dad didn't understand how everything worked, still doesn't, but he can e-mail, web surf and enjoy his Korean dramas online through streaming videos. And every time I go home, he has more questions about his PC, so I teach him something else. My father might still be a n00b compared to other people, but among his cohorts, he is considered the hip, current technologist. We both get a kick out of this.
Of course, some things never change. I still have to dive behind his desk when I visit, and Mom gives me grief for it, but I don't mind. Dad taught me how to look to the future and dream. The least I can do is make sure all those blinking lights continue to shine brightly for him.