As I have written in a previous post, the summer of 1969 and the heady days of Apollo 11 seem to me to be the formative crucible for many of today’s GeekDads — it was the moment when we came to know that if we could dream, we could achieve. A generation of technology-embracing, little-engines-that-could burst upon the world in the next two decades or so, reaching our apotheosis as the Internet changed everyone’s lives in the 1990s.
Yet I cannot overlook the fact that we were (to borrow shamelessly from Isaac Newton) “standing on the shoulders of giants” — the GeekDads who begat us. They were the ones who came of age as science transmuted the dreams of pulp novels from fiction to fact. And we, of the 60s and 70s, were the beneficiaries as the fact became more incredible than fiction.
It was with the space program that GeekDads stepped (at last) into the light, leaders and heroes in their own right. And it was the GeekDads of 1969 who made possible the fact that GeekDads are, in many ways, the cultural icons of today — people like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, the Google twins.
My own father was — and remains — a GeekDad. An organic chemist and a physician, he has an abiding love for science fiction which he passed on to me. He encouraged my tinkering with Heathkits (remember those?), kludging together random unwanted bits scavenged from indulgent clerks at Radio Shack, experimenting with chemistry sets. In our family, ideas were treasured, not just as dreams but as goals.
In the past few days, as I have relived in my memory those wondrous days of the moon landing, I find myself also thinking of the experience I shared with my family, and what it must have been like for my father — or my grandfathers, born before the Wright Brothers had ever taken to the sky. The moon landing was one of the few times I saw my father visibly moved. My grandfather remarked several times of the incredible strides taken just in his lifetime. There was a validation in Neil and Buzz on the moon — a validation not only of technological effort, but a validation of self. (Like Spartacus, we could all stand up and say, “I am a GeekDad!”)
The GeekDads of 1969 were not only the scientists and engineers of the space program — the army of 400,000 individuals who strove over a decade to put men on the moon (and bring them back safely, natch). They were also the ones, like my father, who treasured the power of Big Ideas and making them happen. Maybe that, at heart, is what defines a GeekDad — the fact that we not only dream, but like to figure out how to make the dream a reality.
So here’s to the GeekDads of 1969 — they made us what we are today. I hope most fervently that we are passing along to our own children the dizzy sense of imagination, wonder, effort, and accomplishment that we shared with our own fathers that summer. And here’s to another space effort — the moon, or better still: Mars — that will inspire future generations as we were inspired.