Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Dad's IT Guy



In every life, there comes a point where a new technology overwhelms you. That is the point where you officially become "old."

A lot of people instantly got old when they couldn't figure out how to get rid of the flashing 12:00 on their VCR's. More were thrust into old age when phones became so advanced that their least impressive feature was phoning. For me, it might be when everyone lives in empty white cubicles with fully augmented reality and I refuse to give up my flesh and blood wife, or my plastic lava lamp—depends on the day. It'll definitely happen if people begin getting USB ports sewn into their necks. I'm pretty happy with the orifices I have, thank you.

"Old" happens when change comes too fast and goes too far.

My father became "old" at 70, when he got his first computer.

It's not a matter of intelligence.

At 78, he walked into a party where 50 guests, including myself, had spent the better part of an hour puzzling over a picture-word puzzle, took one glance, said "The answer's 'Tumbler,'" as if it were no more of a challenge than picking Ronald McDonald out of a lineup of Mallard ducks, grabbed a beer and sat down seemingly preoccupied with keeping his drink from foaming over.

Beyond his family, he truly loves only three things: TV, sports and gambling. He's now 80, but as physically fit as a 60-year-old with a mind agile enough to regularly conquer Sudoku and Crosswords. He golfs at least twice a week and plays floor hockey against 40-year-olds. He's a good enough poker player to amass small fortunes in online credits without spending a dime and regularly places near the top in worldwide tournaments. Perversely, when he goes to Vegas, he plays the slots and Keno, games that require the least skill and offer the worst odds. He only seems interested in beating odds that are overwhelmingly stacked against him. This may explain fifty-plus years of marriage to my mother.

He's brilliant when he's motivated but, to my mother's frustration, has spent the better part of his life unmotivated except by sports and gambling. He is gregarious and very popular, but largely unconcerned by what others think and is unapologetic if his frank assessments or opinions make others around him miserable. He is also not much concerned whether his assessments and opinions happen to be accurate. I think he sees them more as social experiments than social comments.

As he's aged, he's adopted the outward demeanour of a crusty old curmudgeon but has always remained active, astute, and one of the most deeply satisfied people I know.

He is also one of the most frustrating people to do a favour for.

I once cleaned his gutters which were clogged to the point where it was less like whisking dust from a trough than digging up a well-established garden bed and had to listen to him grumble the entire time about the dirt falling into his garden. Until then, I'd always thought a garden an appropriate place for dirt.

My parents have a huge hedge in their back yard and once every few years all us siblings get together and trim it, which requires scaffolding and specialized trimming tools. Each time we do this, he spends the day whining about possible damage to his lawn, trimming too much foliage and leaving a huge mess, though none of these things has ever occurred.

Of course, my siblings and I all feel that we owe our parents a huge debt for all the things they have done to help us through life. And, to his credit, in the end, Dad always makes it clear that he is genuinely thankful for our help. But things go so much smoother if he's busy golfing.

Other than socializing, TV, sports and gambling my father feels that most other activities are an unnecessary burden, so if he has to do something like house repairs or maintenance he aims for hair's-width perfection in the vain hope that, if done right, he will only have to do it once in his lifetime. He applies this philosophy indiscriminately which is why whenever he mows the lawn he does it in different directions, thrice over. He's hoping that this job, well done, need only be done once a year. Both my mother and the grass refuse to accede to his logic.

About twenty-five years ago when my brother-in-law was new to the family but safely past the line for an annulment, I volunteered him to work with Dad at one end of a new fence-line while my brother and I worked together at the other. Our part went very smoothly and after a few hours we had installed about eighty percent of the new fence and came upon my Dad and brother-in-law still working on their third post. Dad was bent over the hole which was, apparently, not yet deep or straight enough. He had an old hammer and chisel and was bashing away at solid rock, three feet beneath the surface. My brother-in-law stood holding the 8-foot fence post, gazing aimlessly skyward, frustrated by the knowledge that they would now have to fill beneath the post so that it would not be too short for the six-foot panels. When he saw us, he did not smile... for many years.

Who is going to be my father's IT guy has been a hot potato since that same brother-in-law made the mistake of giving my father his first computer, many years ago. It was a PC and, at the time, I was never more happy to be a "Mac Guy." Since then, my brother-in-law has continued to donate his business's older PC's to my father. But this year, there were no PC's in the system when my Dad's suddenly died—probably suicide. However, my little consulting business had an Apple iMac that it no longer needed. And that's how I became my father's IT guy. It's nice to see my brother-in-law smile again, but bittersweet.

GUI (graphical user interface) concepts like desktop, file folders and files are useless analogies for my father. If you ever saw his actual desk's top, you'd quickly understand why. As in real life, he files everything on the desktop. If a file accidentally ends up inside a file folder, he considers it irretrievably lost. An assessment that is not without merit.

The inevitable phone-line support calls are difficult because, regardless of his crossword prowess, his descriptive ability is severely limited, proving that I get my writer's mind entirely from my mother's side. To him, a monitor is a TV. The computer, its RAM memory, the hard disk memory, any tangle of wires in the vicinity and, often, the Internet are all just "the computer." Words like reboot, program, app and scrollbar have as much meaning to him as Gangsta Rap lyrics in Sanskrit. He dislikes anything that works differently from his first computer, so being able to run two programs at once is a fault, not a feature. Also, his first computer was a PC, so he hates Macs—more intensely, with every update. "It's just like Apple to waste resources on a stupid concept like multitasking."

This is the foundation upon which I am to build a functional IT relationship.



My first approach was to put aliases, buttons and links everywhere thinking that he could activate his favourite programs and websites in any of four ways. This was a mistake. A week later, when I checked in, he had stopped using the computer because it was too slow. There were fifty-seven tabs open on Chrome.

DAD: ...and then there's this cheap aluminium keyboard...

ME: Cheap? Compared to plastic?

DAD: ...it has too many keys.

ME: It's the alphabet, Dad. Same on all keyboards.

DAD: What's with these ef'n keys.

ME: That's "Fn" keys... they're function keys.

DAD: What do they do?

ME: That depends on what you are doing on the computer at the time.

DAD: I'm hitting the damn key, is what I'm doing. Useless. Take them off.

ME: Uh...


It's been tough slogging, but we've made some progress. Not in the IT department—we're no further ahead there—but we've established a routine that ensures the problem gets dealt with as quickly as possible.

DAD: Your crappy computer's busted again. I get some sort of message about errors.

ME: What's on the screen right now.

DAD: Lint.

ME: Is the computer on?

DAD: Yes.

ME: But no picture?

DAD: No. I shut it off.

ME: You shut off the picture? Does that mean the TV-part is off?

DAD: No. That's on. There's a yellow light.

ME: Turn on the computer.

DAD: What do you mean, turn it on. I've got a yellow light.

ME: No, that's just the TV-part. You need to press the button on the box-part. You'll know it's on when you see a blue light.

DAD: Ok. . . . There's a blue light.

ME: Great. What's on the screen.

DAD: Lint.

Silence.

ME: Is the blue light actually lit up, or are you just telling me that you finally spotted it? (Because this is not the first time.)

DAD: It's there. (In Dad-speak, this is adequate confirmation that it's not lit.)

ME: Did you press the "on" button?

DAD: I'm still pressing it.

ME: You've got to let go.

DAD: You never said that.

ME: How have you been turning it on for the past two months?

DAD: I never turned it off.

ME: Is it on now?

DAD: There's a box in the corner and all hell below that. The thing doesn't work anymore and when I press the other thing all I get is crap.

ME: What's that sound?

DAD: I'm trying to make it go.

ME: Is that the mouse clicking? Why is it clicking so much?

DAD: I'm clicking on everything to get it going.

ME: We should go slowly here.

DAD: Are you kidding? It's slow as molasses!

ME: How many windows are open now?

DAD: Windows, boxes, lines... There's junk everywhere.

ME: Is there an error message?

DAD: There was but I clicked it away.

ME: What did it say?

DAD: Something was an error.

ME: Yes, but what?

DAD: I don't know... something about "insufficient."

ME: Memory?

DAD: I don't know. Illegal, invalid, restricted... something, something, "wager not placed" something, something.

ME: Were you playing on an online Casino when it first came up?

DAD: What the hell else does a person do with a computer?

ME: Were you trying to make some sort of bet at the time?

DAD: I don't know. This box came up and I couldn't see the slots anymore. Your crappy computer broke the Internet. I want my old one back.

ME: Your old computer was barely compatible with electricity.

DAD: It worked better than this.

ME: I'll come over.

DAD: Great. Bring a trowel.

ME: Sorry? What?

DAD: One of those gutters you "supposedly" cleaned is clogged again.

ME: I did clean it, Dad. That was 3 years ago.

DAD: You should probably bring a ladder, too. And don't get dirt in my garden.

ME: See you in a few minutes.

DAD: There's a six-pack in the fridge.

At last! A foundation upon which I can build a functional IT relationship.

Cheers!


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