My son asked me several years ago what mathematics was good for. He didn't like it much as a subject in school and, given the widespread use of calculators and computers, wondered why it was necessary to understand math at all. Ever since, I have been trying to interest him in the subject, often in silly ways, so that he would not repeat my rather poor academic record in the various maths in high school.
My efforts appear to have worked. He now loves math and is talking about majoring in the subject at University, four years from now. I don't think it is so much my lecturing him on the subject that has changed his mind, but instead his realization that math can be both useful and fun.
I often devise little games to help him see the benefits of mathematics. On a recent trip home from his Saturday German School session, we calculated together that based on the computing power (64K) of my first business computer, a Burroughs B80 mini-computer, and on the storage capability (2.3MB) and physical size of the removable disk platters it used, it would take several transport trucks to carry the equipment necessary to equal the computing power and storage of the iPod he has in his pocket. The cost, in 1977 dollars, the year I bought the B80, would be over a million dollars. Today, the iPod model he has, including all taxes and a fancy leather case, costs about $420.00 and plays music and videos, although it isn't designed to compute business functions. To arrive at the answers we got (approximations are used here because of my poor memory) we used multiplication, division, and geometric calculations of area and cubic space.
I'm no mathematician. My academic career, to use the current vernacular, sucked. I was more 'into' the band I played in at the time, the teenage night club I owned at age 17, and girls. Now, like any responsible dad, I want my son to do as I say, not as I did before him. I can't say that my misspent youth held me back in any significant way, but I was lucky. It is so easy for a teenager to screw up his or her life and then pay the price for decades afterwards. I want to spare him the grief and frustration that can accompany mistakes that can happen in the life of any teenager. I'm sure you can imagine more than a few scenarios that would fall into this category. I sure can.
And so I try to interest my son in many things. Math is one. Science is another. History, naturally, is important. In order for us to know where we are going, we need to know where we have been. It keeps us from making the same mistakes over and over again. Or does it? That theory doesn't seem to work on the human race, overall, does it? We are still hating and killing as we have since the dawn of our race, only more efficiently. Oh well, the theory that we should be able to learn from the past still has an appeal to me.
I try to stay close to my son. It is important to me to be able to communicate with him on any subject, including those that would have been taboo with my own father. Sometimes, I feel I am failing miserably. Other times, we suddenly seem to have a connection that is so solid it is almost mystical. It depends on the day and circumstance. And his mood, of course. Teenagers can be moody, can't they?
At about 2:00 am this morning, I awoke suddenly to find my son standing beside my bed. I asked him what was wrong, and he told me he had a stomach ache and couldn't sleep. We went downstairs and watched TV together while he drank some warm juice and waited for the pain to subside. I had no clue what to do, but I don't think that knowing was as important as simply being there with him while he suffered. I didn't mind. I did what dads and mothers should do, be with their kids to help and comfort them. I have taught my son to always wake me up, instead of his mother, if he has a problem. I can get by on much less sleep, have a much more flexible schedule and, above all, can't be fired.
Someday, I won't be needed any more to sit with my son while he has a tummy ache. He will be performing that service for his own kids. But he will always be my son and maybe there will be other ways to stay connected to him. I will be grateful for those moments, whatever they are.