A big (and slightly belated) birthday greetings to me Muddah (Hello, Muddah!), who celebrates one of the slew of occasions that cluster around the start of the school year for me:
*August 26th: Mom & Dad's anniversary
*August 31st: Dixon's birthday
*September 3rd: Mom's birthday
*September 3rd: My Uncle John's birthday
*September 25th: Kelly's birthday
*September 28th: Ian's birthday

But in the midst of all this, Kelly and I were able to sneak off for a night's dinner, just the two of us, while the kids were spending the night with friends. On the way home, we started chatting a bit about socialization, possibly because we were preparing to watch the first disc of Freaks and Geeks, whose first three episodes I can definitely recommend to anyone who was in high school in 1980.

I mentioned that I'd figured out one reason why I sometimes have peculiar interactions with one couple we know: "They're jocks. We're nerds."

It's an oversimplification, to be sure, as are most things in high school, but it touches on some important truths. The couple in question have some nerd qualifications of their own in terms of their education and career choices, but they're certainly out on the tall/athletic/strapping end of the bell curve. In addition, I personally feel I have displayed enough athletic talent and intellectual achievement during my lifetime that I can freely admit to liking role-playing games and comic books.

But in general, I think my worldview is that of the nerd: the same one that keeps Peter Parker full of self-doubt and confusion, despite having the proportionate strength of a spider and a body full of radioactive blood. Once you start thinking of yourself this way--it usually happens around seventh grade--you may eventually stand taller and grow more confident in yourself, but even the sturdiest trunk will still bear the bonsai-like twisting produced by the initial bending of the twig. This occasionally makes it hard for me to appreciate the straight and stately worldview of those whose self-doubt either never existed or manifests itself in some invisible way deep inside their trunks.

Kelly, who is also unquestionably at the nerdy end of the curve, mused on this idea for a bit. She was struck by the fact that our boys are (and I say this with pure admiration) nerds, but they also seem comfortable with themselves--more so than the two of us were at the same age.

I considered what I was like back then and realized that the main difference might be our parents. I was raised by a pair of overachievers; Dad was both a scholar and a three-sport athlete, and he earned ROTC and Morehead Scholarships to UNC, while Mom was a major brain, graduating as the salutatorian of her class. I don't think they quite knew what to make of my fondness for Tolkien, the Legion of Super-Heroes, and twelve-hour D&D sessions. They were loving and supporting without qualification, I hasten to note, but I'm not sure their own experiences helped them understand mine better.

Kelly, meanwhile, was the youngest child of five and the only daughter, ten years younger than her nearest brother. Her dad was a WWII veteran who was the foreman of a textile mill until his heart condition forcibly retired him; from that point on, he became the perfect heart patient, dropping weight, exercising, and becoming a superb golfer. Kel's mom, meanwhile, had been a basketball player in school, but was also married at 16 and a mother at 17; in her forties, however, she decided it was time to finish her education and started pharmacy school at UNC. In short, we're talking about two incredibly focused and intelligent people, both of whom worked insanely hard to raise their family, but who didn't have much time or inclination for, say, watching Star Wars marathons or listening to seven-minute Yes songs.

In other words, neither Kelly nor I was raised by nerds.

And that, I told Kelly, is most likely the difference between our generation and our sons'. If we had less confidence in ourselves, if we couldn't quite reconcile our preferences with those of our folks, there was a good reason: "We became nerds in spite of our parents. Our kids became nerds because of their parents."

So--happy nerdsday, everyone! Enjoy the cake!

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on September 6, 2007 1:57 AM.

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