My childhood was different to say the least. I would describe my upbringing as laissez faire (sorry mom and dad if you read this, but it’s the truth, and I ended up alright.) My parents were different than other parents. My mom was an artist, so I grew up around sketchbooks, watercolors, and color pencils. I have books filled with drawings, mostly of cats and myself. I always drew myself with red hair, even though I was never a redhead. I even have some figure sketches I did when I was about seven, which I intend to frame in my future house as testament of my interpretation of the human body and comfort with nudity at such a young age. My dad on the other hand gave us toolkits, and hammers, and nails. When I was in kindergarten, while we were on vacation in Florida, he gave me his Swiss Army Knife to play with, and I have a scar to prove that I didn’t understand when you press on the blade in a certain direction, it collapses and will cut you.
My dad was always great at building things. In elementary school he would bring his Van de Graaf Generator to our classes, so kids could shock themselves and have their hairs stand on end. When I was in sixth grade, he even brought his homemade hovercraft to school, so kids to glide down the halls on air. He was always to subject of admiration of kids and teachers.
There was a side of my family I always kept hidden. I grew up in the suburbs of Minneapolis, where the moms would drive shiny Lexus SVUs, and live in fancy two story houses with a kitchen with granite countertops and glossy wood floors. My parents drove cars that were older than me. First was the 1989 Cadillac. By the end of its years, when I was nearly in high school, the chassis was rusting, which my dad patched with fiberglass but never painted. The adhesive from the upholstery on the ceiling gave loose, so the fabric drooped from the ceiling. It got so embarrassing that my sisters and I would request that dad not pick us up from school in “dad’s car”, the Cadillac. One evening when my mom was driving and friend home from a birthday party, we were pulled over for how suspicious the car looked. That was the icing on the cake.
Mom’s car was slightly better, a 1991 one red GMC Suburban, that got approximately six miles to the gallon, at best about eight. It had fabric seats, which I still argue are way better than leather. I remember the night of confirmation when I was in eighth grade, the heat stopped working in the single digit evenings of a Minnesota winter. I was jealous of my friend’s cars, which had fancy cameras so you could see when you were backing up, and even had CD players. Eventually those cars were retired and new, old cars replace them. But even now, my parents drive cars that date to pre-2000’s, and I think that says something about my family.
Our kitchen was a similar story. Linoleum, a substance most modern youth are not familiar with, was plentiful in that room. Our appliances I think are considered vintage, dating back to the 70’s, with avocado green facades and faux wood detailing. Our kitchen is a scene straight out of “That 70’s Show”, except it’s not a set it’s real life. I was always envious of friends’ houses, shiny, modern, and with six figure price tags. I’m not saying I live in a dump; it’s far from it. Really, my house is rather nice.
You’re probably wondering why I am going on about all the old, crappy things in my childhood. So, I’ll hurry to the point. Growing up, I always valued new and expensive things. My family’s life style was something I was embarrassed about. People always view engineers as people that are good at building and fixing things. Sure, maybe some are, but I would argue that most of the engineering students today could tell a Phillips screwdriver from a flat head, and they probably couldn’t build anything. We live in an age of computer aided design, MatLab, where technology or someone across the globe will make things easy for us. My father was skilled enough to keep a refrigerator running for over forty years and counting, and cars that had over half a million miles on them running. That is something I admire, the ability to accept a technology no matter how old it is, for it’s usefulness, not its fashion statement. He taught me so much, from how to solder and weld to how to apply a butterfly bandage when I spliced open my middle finger welding a transformer. I even have a crescent moon shaped scar on my finger of my left hand to prove it, and I used to use it to tell right from left. Most importantly, he taught my patience. My parents’ values brought me to where I am today. They brought my to Hopkins, not only academically, but also saved their entire lives to give me a college education, free of loans. That is something I am infinitely grateful for. So even though I spent most of my life being embarrassed of the place I came from, now I am proud.