ome of my very earliest memories are from the days when my mom worked the night shift at the hospital, and my dad had to pick me up from daycare after work. He would bring me home and the two of us would have bachelor night – which ultimately meant Van Camp’s pork and beans (with hotdogs) for dinner on the ottoman, in the living room while watching “Mutual Of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” hosted by Marlin Perkins. This was priceless father/son time because I knew there was no way Mom would approve of us eating Van Camp’s on the ottoman if she were home. Dad and I were having our buddy time.
I can’t say if it was the “buddy time” association with “Wild Kingdom”, or just my natural aptitude for science, but that show stuck with me. I remember Marlin Perkins very vividly – sort of a Walt Disney-esque with a genuine love of nature which, perhaps, shifted him enough away from the mainstream to qualify as mildly dorky. For whatever reason his enthusiasm resonated with me, and to this day I love watching those nature shows.
I’ve mentioned before what a high value I put on science, particularly with respect to passing on a love of it to my children. For my part, before I was a dentist I was a middle school science teacher, and I took that role as seriously as I do parenting. I believe in my heart that to spark a love (rather than fear) of science, the teacher has to be a little bit quirky, incredibly enthusiastic and quite frankly, dorky. I tried to be that person for my students, and even more so for my children. But I can’t be the only influence. My efforts have to be supported in countless other ways, by my children’s teachers and by the science “celebrities” that they are exposed to via other mediums.
Looking back at my life I can remember a string of science “celebrities” that stoked and fanned the flames of my love of science. Marlin Perkins was the first. I remember him as fondly as you would remember your own grandfather, and I am incredibly grateful for those evenings he shared with me and my Dad. There was also Slim Goodbody who regularly inhabited the space between Saturday morning cartoons, and the occasional after school special. He wore a borderline inappropriate body suit which illustrated the major organs of the body, and talked about how the body worked, and what we needed to keep ourselves healthy. Between his bad 70’s whiteman afro, and the cornball songs and dances he performed, he ranked a 10.0 on the dorky richter scale, and I loved him for it.
Later there was Bill Nye The Science Guy who was originally a professional comedian, but found his stride making a science for kids TV show playing the quirky, dorky, bow tied, mad scientist, and then later advocating for all things science as a public speaker. He was dorky in the extreme, and I ate it up.
Then there was Bob Shalit, my high school chemistry teacher. He was certifiably crazy, but brilliant. You never knew what was going to blow up in his classroom, and he had
that glint in his eye that said “I’m not sure how big this boom is going to be. It could be pretty big. But how cool would that be?” I credit him with giving me my first taste of academic science, and for making it fun. Later in adulthood came Jeff Corwin, the more academic, nerdy animal lover, and the indomitable, completely batsh*t-crazy, totally lovable Steve “Crock Hunter” Irwin.
So there it is, my path to science nerd/dorkdom. As my kids grow I have kept an eye out for what science “celebrities” are going to play the same role in their lives, and the picture is beginning to take shape.
On sleepy weekend mornings my kids crawl in our bed, and while we are all snuggled together they like to watch “Wild Kratts”, an animated show where real-life brothers Chris and Martin Kratt explore the animal-world with super powered suits that give them the characteristics and abilities of the animals they’re studying. It’s super cheesy. It’s super dorky, and my kids love it. They’ve learned more about honey badgers, tazmanian devils, beavers and fireflies from “Wild Kratts” than I could ever teach them. Chris and Martin Kratt are clearly the next link in the evolutionary chain of science/nature show hosts – and I can say with authority that their dork-credentials are of the highest caliber.
Recently though another routine has emerged in our family with echoes of me and my father eating Van Camps with Marlin Perkins. I’m lucky enough to be able to go home for lunch every day, and while my kindergartener daughter is at still at school, my pre-schooler son us usually home. My lunch time is my down time. I need to wall myself off from the world and decompress before going back out there, so I usually wind up shutting myself in my bedroom with a bowl of cold cereal, sitting up on the bed and watching whatever TiVo has waiting for me… typically the stuff that my wife doesn’t like to watch.
That means “Mythbusters”.
If the Kratt brothers are the next link in the evolutionary chain of science show hosts, Adam, Jamie and the rest of the “Mythbusters” crew are evolution’s crowning achievement and pinnacles of perfection. These folks let their nerd-flags fly high. And the brilliance of the show is that they take that slightly crazy Bob Shalit, crazy high school science teacher eye glint and amp it up to catastrophic proportions – all while using the scientific method as the framework for a scientifically sound, totally entertaining narrative. It’s crazy. It’s genius. It’s real science. For my money it’s one of the most intelligent shows on television; and quite by accident it’s hooked my son.
I don’t quite remember how it started, but a few months ago while I was holed up in my bedroom at lunchtime eating cold cereal and watching “Mythbusters”, my son quietly came in, crawled up on the bed, snuggled down, and started to watch with me. This has gone on for some time now (Can I watch Mythbusters with you, Daddy?) enough that it has become a regular thing, something I look forward to and miss when it doesn’t happen. I don’t know if he does it just to be with me, or if he genuinely likes the show, or if it’s some combination of the two. But yesterday as I sat there with him I was struck by two thoughts:
1) When my son has his own kids and blogs about the very first influences that sparked his interest in science he will likely talk about Martin and Chris Kratt, Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman.
2) He will also likely blog about how these afternoons, alone together in my bedroom with a bowl of cereal in front of “Mythbusters”, was priceless father/son time, knowing full well that there was no way his Mom, under any other circumstances, would approve of us eating cold cereal on the bed and watching science TV during the day.
Marlin Perkins would be proud. I know my dad is.