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Engineer Father, Archetypal Errors

January 21, 2016 4 Comments

Dick fishing with his dad, aunt and uncle

Dick fishing with his dad, aunt and uncle

My father was a petroleum engineer by profession. He had a PHD in industrial engineering (computers) from Texas A&M, and taught in the petroleum department of that university until his retirement at an advanced age.  He started his life with a schoolteacher mother and a father who drilled oil wells before the invention of the rotary bit. He was born in Independence, Kansas, in the Cherokee Strip, in 1920. The affluence the oil boom provided to the area was unprecedented anywhere in the world at the time.  His undergraduate degree from Oklahoma University in the 1940’s was earned with a slide rule, his PHD in the 1960’s was figured on a main frame computer that filled a large building on campus, but had only a little bit more power than that slide rule.  Only a true engineer could love computers at that time, and my father was completely smitten.  He used to rave about the amazing power of data processing at the dinner table when I was in high school.  I thought he was just nuts.

The engineer archetype was the dominant feature in my dad’s personality.  He was mathematical to a fault because he always tried to prove his own assumptions with his “research”.  He had no mechanical ability, no tools, and no inclination to fix things around the house.  He was master of the lawnmower and the Hasty Bake smoker, but my mother was in charge of repairs and maintenance of every kind. I think my dad had a hammer and a screwdriver, but the garage shelves were filled with chemicals, crude oil in jars, and fishing gear.  Tools were not featured at all.  He was famous in the field of petroleum engineering, but to those who knew him best, his family, he was absent minded and out of touch with reality.  When both of my parents became hot air balloon pilots in their 60’s it was my mother who repaired the balloon and drove the chase car.  My dad took unreasonable risks flying balloons, and made  some very hard landings as a result.  He injured himself in one of those hard landings to the point that he gave up commercial flights.  His positive ability of the engineer to design innovative solutions for problems seemed to by limited to oil fields, but not apply to real life.  He was connected to the mechanical, but not the emotional reality of all things.  This took him to some dark places with serious consequences for both him and our family.

The father archetype, when true to its higher purpose, is a caring,  protective, guiding force to his family and tribe.  Abusive reliance on dictatorial attitudes characterize the shadow aspect of the father. Although my dad was playful, loving, and fun, his fathering was of the controlling authoritarian variety.  He was not concerned as much with support and guidance as he was with appearances.  His father, my grandfather, was the man I looked to for protection and wisdom.  After my grandpa passed away there was only a kind of space cadette petroleum engineer to fill his shoes.  Intellectualism does not a father make.

I am not saying he failed completely as a dad. He read Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn and other books to me aloud.  He did lots of excellent chemistry experiments with me and brought me chemicals and dry ice from his lab.  As a fellow alchemist I thought he was the bomb (he taught me to make them).  He also took great pains to teach me how to fish.  I did like fishing very much when I was a child.  Do you have an archetypal father, gentle reader?  Positive or negative?  Most are a mixture of both.

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