I recently finished reading Moab is my Washpot, Stephen Fry’s first memoir. I discovered that he too was the child of an inventor, though his dad invented very different types of stuff than mine. Also he describes a dad with a very different temperament than my own father. Nevertheless, his description of growing up in an environment that both encouraged curiosity and at the same time set him apart from other people resonated with me.
When I was growing up, my dad worked as a toy inventor. People always widen their eyes and go “Wow!” when I tell them this. “You must have had the coolest toys ever!” I then get to indulge in a little whine about how actually my dad used to take all the toys I wasn’t actively using and dismantle them for spare parts. Never mind that I might have wanted to use them again sometime. That is neither here nor there. What I mean about being set apart is a little more subtle: though there were a lot of cool things floating around our house, I couldn’t go in and talk about them at school the next day because nobody ever had the slightest idea what I was talking about.
I’ve retained a love of cool little gadgets and gewgaws–not the latest electronics or the most expensive kitchen appliances or anything like that, but little desk toys or intriguing types of clasps or a watch that also becomes a tabletop clock when you fold the strap a certain way. But those are the kinds of things I would keep as private little wonders; things that impress me because they were made just so, with care and attention in the design that makes them work seamlessly. But I wouldn’t bother trying to share my joy with anyone else because I’d just get the blank stare of someone who just doesn’t care, or rather who doesn’t see the care that went into making these things be what they are.
You learn strategies for dealing with these things, strategies that mainly involve avoiding conversations about inventor-y type things, even if that joy in the confluence of ideas and objects is still a part of who you are. The other strategy is meeting like-minded people–in other words, finding some other children of inventors and sharing with them all the little quirks, oddities, and serendipities of growing up in such a way.
I can’t speak for all the other inventors’ children out there, but perhaps more than anything else in my life, this makes me feel like the member of a secret and rather wonderful club. (In my head I picture it as a cross between the Masons and the Mickey Mouse Club, which I feel sure says a lot about me as a person.) You never know when you will meet another like yourself, you may not even know for sure when you have met one. But all the while there is something, something intangible that sets you apart from the crowd, something that makes you see the world in a different way.