Today is my middle son’s 33rd birthday, the one I call Pipeliner because he is a pipeline engineer. I have three sons, born four and a half years apart. All of them are unexpected gifts. They were not unexpected in the sense of their arrival, we wanted all three. Rather, the unexpected gifts are the delightful surprises all three have provided.
My oldest is a genius, literally, he tested as such (it runs in the family, my two brothers are geniuses. I am not. That makes me the dumb one in the family.) He is even smart enough to understand the limitations of genius. (Too many smart people treat genius the way a bandit treats a firearm. They act as if all you have to do is wave it around and you get what you want, even when you do not use it.) It was an unexpected gift to have someone with whom I could engage intellectually over the dinner table.
His finest moment came one day when I got a speeding ticket for going 46 mph, when my speedometer said I was traveling under 25 mph. I grumped about it over the dinner table. He piped up, “Dad – wasn’t that was the speed of the top of your tire?” Sure enough, that was the solution. I was traveling 23 mph – under 25 mph. The top of your tire goes two times the speed you are traveling relative to a stationary observer. (It has to. Otherwise the bottom of the tire is either skidding or slipping.) I was clocked at 46. Speed radars in the 1990s had high-pass filters, catching the highest speed they detected. The cop was at the bottom of the hill; I was at the top, and he caught my spinning tire. No fine and no points on my driving record is just one unexpected gift I received from that son.
(He is an engineer with Raytheon today – working with sensor systems.)
My middle son is not a genius. But he is smart, and outgoing, and personable. He is the one I peg to become the CEO of an engineering company someday. That is not his unexpected gift. Rather it is the stuff we share together. He is the one who as a teen helped me when I was doing on-site research for one or another of my writing projects. He would tag along on trips, and carry excess equipment, voluntarily because he thought it was fun.
As an adult he ended up as a volunteer on Elissa, a sailing barque in Galveston. That was the result of his coming with me when I had an invitation to sail on it and bring a guest. (Janet did not do ships, so I asked this son.) This made him the fifth generation of my family with a love for sailing ships. (My grandfather grew up on his family’s sailing barque in the Aegean. He loved sailing ships, as did my dad, as do I.)
He also pursues photography as a serious hobby. When I wrote Texas Shipwrecks I asked him if he would do photography for it. He agreed and we rambled up and down the Texas coast, photographing artifacts. (This included a trip into the belfry of a church to photograph a 150+-year-old bell which had once been on Black Cloud, a Trinity River steamboat.) When we finished, I thought “Well, I don’t have to bother him again.” Three weeks later he called me up and asked me “What’s next?” So we did The Battleship Texas. (And several other books since.) Working on serious projects in collaboration with a son is truly an unexpected gift.
My youngest son is the maker. He makes models like I do. Or rather not like I make. I do ships and spacecraft. He makes Gundam. He is the hands-on one, the Eagle Scout whose project was to make shelf ends for the local public library. (They are slotted boards, so hangers for books or audio can be placed on them.) He is (you guessed it) The third engineer of the boys, he is a design engineer. He draws up plans for HVAC systems, coolers and freezers for commercial buildings. He designed the walk-in coolers for the Costco built last year a few miles from my house. (Truly an unexpected gift.) His idea of fun is to install things. When I got a new dishwasher two years back, he installed it for me. Plus fixing things around the house.
He is also into 3D printing, an early adapter. When a piece broke on a kit I had given him, he made a new one on his 3D printer – then duplicated the whole kit with the 3D printer to make another one that worked better. Most of his Christmas gifts come from that printer. He has also taught me about 3D printing, something that as a model-maker interest me. He even gave a talk about 3D printing to the ship modeling club to which I belong. Another unexpected. Gift.
I believed having sons would be rewarding. What no one told me was how much fun they would be – and how much fun they would continue to be. Truly unexpected gifts.
Happy birthday, Pipeliner. (He normally comes over for dinner Sunday night. This week, because it is his birthday, he wants to make dinner. I have to provide the birthday cake and clean up afterward. What a deal. What another unexpected gift.)