As a child I was fascinated with Science, History and Geography (who am I kidding, I still am). I loved learning the hows and whys things worked and behaved in the manner that they did. I started off by wanting to be a doctor, so my parents bought me working models of human organs – cool, right? Watching the “Electric Company” and “Where in the world is Carmen San Diego” (shoot, I just dated myself again) was how I spent most of my after school time. When I wasn’t watching those shows, you could easily find me in the library, looking for my next “choose your own adventure” book or borrowing as many copies of “Popular Mechanics” magazines as I can fit in my Library Book tote (yes, I had one of those…jealous?). But as a consequence of such behavior, I developed an apparent speech problem that continues to plague me today. I found it hard to communicate with some of my peers because I could never distinguish between the proper uses of “shoulda, coulda and woulda” or the proper conjugation of “what is up” to “wassup”. It wasn’t until Junior High School that I first learned of my misguided behavior and how it might affect my all too important social standing. As it was explained to me, there were assumptions being made about me based on the way I talked and how I chose to spend my after school time. And, if I didn’t change my impolitical ways, I risked being labeled a NERD!
I was perplexed as to why I was at such risk but more importantly, I was confused as to why was I being warned? Now do not get me wrong, I wasn’t spared from being called “Steve Urkel” (although I considered myself more of a Stefan Urquelle) and let’s face it, I did have a library book tote – but this question of labeling my behavior still concerned me. I also asked myself the question, “Is it really all that bad to be labeled a nerd?” Well, according to the 14 year old learned scholars of all that was nerd-like at my school, a nerd was considered an intellectual, with maybe some obsessive compulsive tendencies but more importantly, socially awkward – which equated to being bad thing. Also a nerd did not dress in the latest fashion or they weren’t particularly adept at sports and were certainly not up to date on the latest campus gossip. So if this was the accepted definition by the sacred counsel of immature teenagers, then why wasn’t I considered a “nerd”?
Well, as it turns out, I hadn’t completely submerged myself in the calming waters of nerdom but, I was certainly dipping my toes in it. In other words, my “friends” considered me to be some sort of a hybrid between being cool and being a nerd – a coerd if you will. I was on the track and field team, allowed to walk to and from school (which was considered cool), had a recognizable sense of humor – well versed on the latest Saturday Night Live comedy sketches, and most of the teachers knew of me – but in a good way. You see, I might not have known who was featured in Wrestlemania or what team just won the championship but, I was good at the sports I did play and I did not appear to be socially awkward (even though I thought I was) and therefore I was accepted. Had I not gone to such an artsy-fartsy school and all other things being equal, I would have certainly been considered a “nerd”. Without debating the etymology and societal implications of associating intellect with negative personal attributes, now that I am a Dad, I have recently come to the conclusion that my not so secret wish for my children is, THAT THEY WILL BE NERDS LIKE ME!
This realization revealed itself not too long before my Father-in-law passed away. My Father-in-law (affectionately known as “Tata”), who was a retired mechanical engineer, spent a lot of quality time with my daughter. One day my daughter wanted to show me something that Tata had taught her. My Father-in-law had managed to break down the concept of flight, in easily digestible pieces, for a 4-year old to understand – and let me tell you, few things are cuter than having a 4 year old explain aerodynamics to you. But what struck me immediately was how intrigued and quite literally “thirsty” she was to understand and learn more. I swelled with pride and thought “the force is strong with this one” – this was the beginning of her becoming a nerd! Please don’t get me wrong, I am not wishing that my children experience any of the cruelty and name-calling that I experienced whilst growing up. Nor do I want them to struggle with any potential identity issues that might present itself when they find out my not so secret wish. I want them to unabashedly embrace their intellect and not feel the necessity to fill a certain mold created by some tween but rather, I want them to follow me as an example.
But I struggled with what that meant exactly, until I came upon an article by Dr. Dan Reimold. In his article, “Redefining the nerd stereotype”, he interviews a young lady who considers herself a nerd. And there it was in 9-point Arial font, she considers herself “a functioning nerd”. She explains,
“A functioning nerd is somebody who doesn’t fit the stereotype of a typical nerd. They could look like a cheerleader or have tons of friends. It’s somebody who has their passions, but it doesn’t affect their social life.”
So there you have it! I am a [highly] functioning nerd and that is what I want for my children – to be highly functioning nerds too! I want my children to be well versed in every Star Wars movie (except for Episode 1 due to Jar Jar Binks and yes, to include whatever Disney plans on doing to the franchise). I want them to know the differences between NCC 1701 A-D, but I will also foster a love of the arts, competition (science included) and friendship. I want them to be passionate and engaged in whatever their heart’s desire but I also want them to balance their passions with social interactions and any other activities that will make them a well-rounded individual.
There you have it, I plan on raising Functional nerds – and I suspect I am not the only one out there – who’s with me?