What qualifies me? I am not at all comfortable thinking of myself in this way. It’s my father’s fault. I’ve perhaps shared that here before. Like so many parents, he had my best interests in mind. His heart was in the right place but the execution of his parenting ended up distorting how I view myself and perhaps even my world view.
Some background is in order. My father (also Robert Leroy) never finished high school. That was not terribly unusual for a kid growing up in the 1930’s. Education was sometimes a luxury and work was a necessity. There were trades that could be learned. You could join the navy.
He worked painting houses for a few years. Why not enjoy being young and single and without any real responsibilities? Then the war came and he did join the navy, met my mother, got married, and had a son (me). The war ended and the next thing he knew, he found himself working in a menial dead end job he hated, with a family to support. And increasingly there was a hunger in him to learn, to understand things about the world. And he believed his frustrating situation was all the result of quitting school.
So I became his project. School and education was his mantra. He would not allow me to make the same mistake he made. I would live his dream. I would excel at my elementary and secondary education and upon graduation, attend collage where I would succeed academically at all cost, and finally, graduate. I would then have an education witch would qualify me to finally be able to call myself a…
Well he was well meaning. He wanted my life to be better than his. But what he did not understand was that I was not able to learn in a conventional way. Public education in the 1960’s did not have much to offer exceptional children or those with learning disabilities. The conventional classroom setting seemed like punishment. It was bizarre and hurtful and absurd. I was a target for every bully. I was reading and writing before I entered the first grade where I was being asked by my teacher to color circles with crayons. I was hungry to know about the world like my father. He knew I was bright and believed I simply wasn’t applying myself when I constantly came home beat up, or with poor reports. I would withdraw into my own imagination.
So he had me tested. And tested. And the numbers said I was in the 99’th percentile and I had an alarmingly high IQ, but I also seemed to have some abnormalities. The abnormalities have names today but back then they did not. So my father decided he was right, I simply needed to apply myself. And he made his wishes known to me in every way he could devise. Relentlessly.
Eventually I found ways to teach myself the things others could learn in a conventional way. I learned how to design my own education. And I did survive high school. And graduated. And just when I thought I might successfully live up to my father’s standards, I learned collage was out of the question. We were poor. Broke.
The short story is that I was set up to fail. I never went to collage. I found a job in a small local start up company and went to work instead. I taught myself microwave engineering. It was easy. I just saw the concepts in my head. I imagined them all. They were obvious.
Are they real?
What does real mean?
They are real to me.
The company grew and I grew with it for the next 49 years and 10 days.
I designed hundreds of products. I have patents. I wrote papers. I taught classes.
But I have never felt qualified to call myself an inventor or an author, or a teacher.
Or even an engineer.
I have no diploma.
I have no education.
So how can I be a writer?
I’m sorry dad.
It’s not a fair question.