Growing Up With A Genius Parent

It was great, although it has taken me a long time to understand what my dad was. I always knew that my dad was "really smart." But I was an adult dealing with the challenges of my own high IQ and identity before I really began to understand what my dad was; a genius.
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What is it like to have a parent who is a genius? originally appeared on Quora: The best answer to any question.

Answer by Stephenie Barrett, freelance writer, publisher, educator, on Quora.

It was great, although it has taken me a long time to understand what my dad was. I always knew that my dad was "really smart." But I was an adult dealing with the challenges of my own high IQ and identity before I really began to understand what my dad was; a genius. My dad wasn't just one of these guys that knew a little about everything. He knew a lot about everything. He knew so much that he would get impatient with ordinary ideals and when I was a teen and in my early twenties, I thought he was narrow minded. It wasn't until much later that I realized he wasn't narrow minded, he had considered all the angles at light speed and worked out the far reaching end probabilities and came to the simplest conclusion. Then it wasn't worth his time to even discuss why the other scenarios were unworkable.

He was an engineer. He was part of the design team of the first Boeing Jumbo Jet 747, He designed a lot of things that we use frequently. He was excellent with programming and rebuilding the hardware of computers, even though he never had one single computer class ever. I took classes in computer programming and hardware and still, my dad always knew more than I knew.

He was never rich but always made a decent salary. He had foresight that was far beyond the average person's. He knew in his twenties ( the late sixties and seventies) what sacrifices he needed to make in his career to have time with his family because he could put together the pieces of information and apply that to long term planning. He chose family time over wealth. I benefited greatly from him understanding that up front, where it took me six years of working crazy over time at my high tech job, away from my child before I understood what was happening.

Much later in life, my dad built a factory in Southern California in less than eighteen months, from start to finish, sixteen months actually. Steve Jobs said he couldn't build a factory in California in under two years. Granted, my dad's factory made a different product, but the regulatory hoops and requirements require a great deal of planning and diplomacy to work through and my dad did it efficiently and successfully. Moreover, I think his ability to see the intricacies of how everything impacted the timeline of everything else, in ways your average project manager doesn't even anticipate, made the project speed along.

He also rebuilt the engine in my car. He loved cars and knew them inside and out. He could diagnose accurately any car problem of mine over the phone. He would get irritated and claim he had no idea what my problem was. Then he would ask me a million questions, often in a dozen different ways each and then tell me what he thought my car problem was. He was always right. He could do the same for just about every other mechanical, electrical and computer problem I ever had. His least favorite place to design and build was inside the house. Our house was unspectacular. The bathroom he built from nothing was basic, not beautiful. It served the purpose for which it was intended extremely well but was not pleasing to the eye. But our garage was incredible. It appeared bigger than our tiny house. Maybe it was. He designed and built that too. I watched as he, my mother, grandfather and grandmother put the frame into place. He spent a lot of time in the garage welding, cutting, sawing, grinding.

He had an incredible memory. He could remember the specs for any electronic or piece of machinery he had ever read about in a trade magazine and what made it even more interesting is he understood how the machine worked as if he designed it himself. So when I wanted to buy any gizmo, electronic or appliance, I would ask my dad. Then he could tell me why not to buy this or that because it was made with a plastic gizmo do thingy that would shorten the life of it by five years and to spend the extra money to buy the other one. He was always right. I know because I did not always take his advice.

What I didn't appreciate that I do now was his uncanny way of being able to piece together events, human events, and see the long term outcome of those events. He was prophetic at times and yet, it was pure logic from his extraordinary far reaching view of the impact of events on the process of humanity. I never made a major decision without consulting my dad, not because he expected it, but because his insight was indispensable. He had very little appreciation for art which was sad because my siblings and I all were very fond of art. He was very much an engineer that way.

I am an abstract thinker and he claimed he had no skill for abstract thought. Yet he could visualize complex machines he was designing in his head before he ever put a single stroke of pencil to paper. He told me he thought any "good" engineer could do this. This is one of the fascinating functions of his genius. My father put his family first. If he had put his genius first, he would have created things that amaze us.

Yet, if you have ever flown over seas in a Jumbo jet 747, you have sat in a machine my father helped design. If you have eaten at a salad bar in a restaurant, you have enjoyed one of my father's designs. If you have served in the military, there are a number of ordinary, everyday things he designed for them too including the mermite cans used by the U.S. Army after 1975. I grew up with the prototypes and demo models of these things in my house. He was terrible for helping with Algebra homework. He could tell me the answer but not the "steps" for getting to it. He could not even explain the mental process he went through. He just knew it. He was always right.

I have to add to this. He thought he was only a little smarter than average. He had no idea that he was light years ahead of average. Out of all the geniuses I know, he was one of the few who wasn't afflicted with other issues. He was steady and even tempered, sober and predictable. In spite of how loving and helpful he was, he was intimidating to a lot of people. He was perfectionistic and impatient. Yet he was a good mentor and greatly admired by many he worked with. He took time to teach people he worked with. He learned to detach from the things the rest of us did as a family that were utterly irritating to him which no doubt kept him from being a total control freak. But he could get his control freak on. He was always building, designing or fixing things for us around the house after coming home from work. When I gave birth to my first child, he came to stay with me and brought his auto cad program to load on my computer so he could design his monster shed that he built.

My grandfather, his father was similar. Together they designed a tool to make a tool that they needed to fix farm equipment. It seemed there was nothing outside of his scope for creating and making, except art. When he built the factory in California, he had to hire an artist to design some artistic feature for the exterior of the building. At first he thought this was absurd. But after getting into it and learning how to do such a thing, he like it and took a great deal of pleasure in reviewing the many artistic drawings for the building. He chose a very nice piece in the end and was quite proud of it. Nothing was out of reach for him to learn.

As far as I know, my father never had his IQ tested. If he did, he didn't talk about it. I know he was a genius now only because of working with geniuses in education, and all other IQ levels to appreciate that his was indeed authentic. I was married to a genius who was identified and he was not remotely as capable or as intelligent as my father. My genius ex-husband had genius only in areas that many people see as being intellectually out of reach like advanced physics and math. My genius ex-husband couldn't understand much of what my father understood and couldn't understand most ordinary things on a day to day basis, so his genius was more of a crippling feature than a benefit. My ex-husband couldn't set up a simple mechanical device properly, like the washer drain in the drain slot, I had to do that kind of stuff. Yet he could code some insanely proprietary stuff that his co-workers couldn't understand. His work was often equated to computer magic. My ex-husband was largely clueless about everything else in life. He may have also been on the autism spectrum too because he was an odd fellow, and nothing like my father, even though he had nearly the same education.

I have no doubts that my father was a genius and he was a very practical and functional one. It is possible that my father's genius was properly nurtured by his childhood growing up on a farm where his hands-on work experiences gave him a practical understanding of the many things he would later go on to influence in his engineering work. He attended school in a very small setting where he was able to move ahead at his own pace and thus was never held back. Genius usually only meets its potential when properly nurtured.

It is not fair to say he was never wrong. He was on rare occasions when he was speculating about matters outside of his scope of expertise. He was not obnoxious or arrogant and usually avoided areas he was unfamiliar with in order to avoid looking foolish. He also would admit there were things he did not understand. On the rare occasion he was wrong because he miscalculated something, he was deeply distressed. He was also a really good person, kind, honest and decent. Cancer robbed us of him seven years ago. When his cancer treatments began to slow his thinking, it was far more upsetting to him than the loss of his physical abilities. His mind was fairly sharp until the final two weeks before he died. He left behind a lot of unfinished projects and ideas. Retirement for him was just freeing up his schedule to tackle some of his projects around the house. The world lost someone great, not just those of us who loved him.

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