Our legacy for the next generation isn’t just genetic. Adults influence the young people around them, for good or bad. – Chuck Stephens
Part II of Chuck Stephens’ journey to makerhood (see Part I here)
I went home and resumed my hermitage, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the community I’d been exposed to and those amazing young people. They were nothing like the kids I saw in the media or out in the wild. My wife and I are childless by choice. Honestly, teenagers kind of scared me at that point. The media paints a picture of youth gone wild and I wanted nothing to do with that. These kids were different. I was intrigued. When Terri contacted me a few months later to work with Team Duct Tape on a side project I jumped at the opportunity. I collaborated with them on a project for the Red Bull Creation competition.
I met more of the kids from the team, but more importantly I met some of the parents responsible for these amazing kids. I realized that this wasn’t just something that Terri made happen- it was a community effort. Hillary Clinton was right- it does take a village!
So I went from being a creative hermit to an active member of the maker community and a FIRST robotics mentor, but it didn’t stop there. I started accompanying Terri on outreach opportunities to promote the then STEM education focused nonprofit Learning Is For Everyone (LI4E). This brought me to the University of South Florida Engineering EXPO, the Orlando Mini Maker Faire and the St. Pete Science Festival, among other events. I decided to give the nonprofit world one more chance.
I told Terri about my past disappointments and my reasons for wanting to make positive change in the world. I saw in her a kindred spirit, driven by the same motivations as I was. More importantly, she had a complimentary personality and skill set- the salt to my pepper. As I met her family I was impressed to see that she walked the walk and talked the talk. Her husband Steve was a retired engineer and an awesome partner in her STEM adventures. Her kids, Chris, Andrea and Ellie, were brilliant. They were home schooled, which is what brought Terri into the world of STEM, FIRST and the maker movement. Chris was a genius programmer and hardware hacker, Andrea was off having adventures in the wilds of Alaska and sharing them with the world through her blog and Ellie was a skilled taxidermist, trapper and outdoorswoman. These were the diverse kinds of folks I wanted to work with.
It was at the St. Pete Science Festival doing outreach for LI4E a few years ago that I had another epiphany. I saw at an early age that the emperor had no clothes. As Walter Brennan said in the classic film Meet John Doe, ‘I know the world’s been shaved by a drunken barber and I don’t have to read about it‘. I often felt like Don Quixote, tipping at the impenetrable windmills of a broken system with a lance of logic. This lead to my having a negative attitude and a feeling of intellectual superiority. How could the world not understand that the solutions were so simple? I lived a life of frustration and defeatism and the chip on my shoulder was obvious.
I met some of the members of another FIRST team, Hillsborough High’s Hydra, at the SPSF. One young lady from that team noticed a tattoo on my arm and recognized it as Bob Dobbs, imaginary figurehead of the satirical Church of the Subgenius. The church started in the late 70’s and grew to be an underground sensation through the 80’s. I was taken aback- most people my age have no idea what the Church of the Subgenius was, but here was a teenaged girl who recognized the fatherly, pipe-smoking face of Bob on my forearm. I asked her how she knew about that and she replied that her father had been a reverend of the Church in the old days.
This simple interaction was the tipping point for an avalanche of realizations. Most importantly, I realized that her father was probably close to my age. Not having kids of my own, I’d never considered my own advancing years. If her father was in my age group then that meant I was old enough to be the parent of a teenager. Until that moment I’d lived my life as an overgrown teenager and had never thought about it.
It made me think about parenthood and what it really meant. It also made me think about being a role model and the importance of being a positive influence on the young people around me. Our legacy for the next generation isn’t just genetic. Adults influence the young people around them, for good or bad. I realized that to be an effective mentor, I’d have to change my worldview a bit and adopt a more positive outlook.
The future was bright- these kids were the proof and it does take a village.
To be continued…