My dad used to tell us that we’d be able to teletransport ourselves one day. I’m not sure where he got the idea, but he was an electrical engineer and interested in electric charges, currents and potential. This was a good 10 years before Star Trek’s Captain Kirk ordered Scotty, the chief engineer, to “beam us up.”
Unfortunately, my dad didn’t live long enough to see much of the show. He died of a heart attack at age 52 a year after it aired in the late sixties, and two months before the first heart transplant. My own heart aches even more now, 40 years later, fully comprehending just how young he was, and how much he missed.
But I do remember he enjoyed Star Trek and Scotty, being Scottish himself. My mother was in love with Captain Kirk, William Shatner, and never tired of telling us that he went to her high school in Montreal.
Dad was a shy man, a homebody, and he loved nothing better than tinkering, working with electronics and wood. He was a neat freak, liked everything in its place and neighbors used to kid that all his screws were never loose, but immaculately lined up and labeled in little jars in our garage.
So it’s remarkable – a testament to his quiet courage – that he uprooted us all from French Canada and beamed us out to the Beach Boys and surfers of Manhattan Beach. Not happy with his work in colder climes, he sought more in the Golden State. And he blossomed in the sun, becoming a professional tinkerer, researcher and inventor for a big electronics company.
During those years, as I developed an interest in journalism, he suggested I become a technical writer. “Oh no, boring!” I said. I could barely stand his algebra lectures, which I needed to keep my B grades in math classes. So I ignored his advice and earned a degree in journalism.
My first writing jobs, after my dad died, were in advertising copywriting and newspaper journalism. I loved the work, but struggled on slave wages as a single mother to keep afloat. My first newspaper job was as a feature writer for the community newspaper in Palos Verdes, a wealthy area. Here I was living on a paltry salary covering social events, interviewing women at tea parties in pearls and cashmere sweaters, who were usually raising money for poor people.
After several job changes and layoffs, I met an editor who worked for Epson, the printer company. They were looking for writers and loved journalists because we could write so clearly. So I went over and met the boss and was hired. The next thing I knew I was sitting in a cubicle with a computer and a printer – and with no idea how to turn them on, let alone use them, or write about them. Now where was dad when I needed him?
The work was not as exciting as journalism, but I quadrupled my salary overnight! And all these odd engineers seemed somehow familiar. I felt transported back to the times when dad took me with him to monitor radar stations and I examined the knobs and dials (he was finishing college and we lived on a converted air force base outside Montreal, a division of McGill University). Or to the times I sat beside him while he tapped out the Morse Code on his ham radio to someone in Alaska. Wow! Alaska!
Since my dad’s death, I’ve only dreamt of him once. He and I were walking on a beach, arms around each other, and we came to a dark forest. “I have to go another way,” he said “and you have to go into the forest alone, but you’ll be fine.” And he was mostly right.
Sometimes I wish he could beam himself into our present. So much has happened in his electronic world! From vacuum tubes to tiny, tiny chips. From neighborhood party lines to worldwide messages. My sister and I talk about this often. She has worked successfully with computers too, as a network analyst and web designer. We’d love to see his big hazel eyes when we beamed him an email or text message or floated his photo on a screen halfway around the world. “Beam us up,” he’d say.