Megalodon Dads

The Megalodon was an amazing predator.  A 60-foot shark with teeth over 7 inches long.  It ruled the seas for 20 million years.  I love collecting Megalodon teeth.  Recently I picked one up that is over four inches long.  It’s not perfect – it has few serrations and part of one side was broken off at some point.

It’s hard to dwell on the imperfections considering how incredible it is to simply look at and to hold in your hand.  I decided to make a stand for it using a fossilized whale vertebra.  I carefully carved out a chunk of the vertebra and set the tooth in it.  It now looks as though the Megalodon lost its tooth while taking a bite out of the whale.  Besides the fact that I think it looks pretty cool, mounting the tooth this way hides the imperfections and helps the viewer to imagine the sheer power the Megalodon had.

As I was working on this mount a few weeks ago I started thinking about fathers and how they are a bit like this tooth.  My dad in particular is pretty amazing.  He would be the first to tell you that he isn’t perfect.  If he’s anything like me, then I’m sure he’s harder on himself than anyone else and has a running list of character flaws he’d like to change.

But since he’s my dad I don’t notice the minor flaws.  To me he’s simply incredible.  Having him as my dad showed me all the wonderful things about him and made it hard to focus on anything else.  As far back as I can remember I’ve always wanted to be just like him.  I remember staying up late on Saturday nights just long enough to listen to the Doctor Who theme song (before falling asleep on the floor) because I wanted to be with my dad.

He spent countless hours helping me with math homework, which I knew I had to learn well since I wanted to be a physicist (like him) when I was in kindergarten.  We geeked out at museums and he showed me the best way to shock people using the plasma globe at the planetarium.

So to all you fathers out there – and to my dad in particular – thank you for being so incredible in the eyes of your children.  I wish you could see yourself the way I see you.  Don’t be so hard on yourselves for not being perfect, just be the epic Megalodon you truly are – and have that second helping of pie, you deserve it!

Making an Impact

If you dig deep enough anywhere on the planet you’ll eventually hit a thin layer of clay called the K-T boundary (a few pieces of which are shown the in the photo).  This band was laid down about 66 million years ago and marks the end of the Mesozoic Era.  It has been found at over 100 different locations on earth.

So how did a layer of sediment end up covering the entire planet, including the oceans?  The answer is Chicxulub.

You may not know the name, but Chicxulub had a huge impact on the planet earth (pun intended).  Chicxulub was an asteroid about 6 miles wide that impacted the Yucatan Peninsula.  It hit with the force of a billion atomic bombs.  It triggered firestorms that raged across the planet and tsunamis that were thousands of feet high.  The dust that it ejected into the atmosphere (which later became the K-T boundary) would have blocked sunlight for years.  And since the asteroid hit a bed of gypsum, this caused massive amounts of sulfur trioxide to enter the atmosphere.  Once it the atmosphere the sulfur trioxide reacted with water to become sulfuric acid – triggering acid rain storms that blanketed the planet.

There are few things more powerful than Chixulub, but one of those things happens to be my dad.

He may not be famous, but the impact that he has had on my life cannot be measured.  Since before my birth he has loved me unconditionally.  From my earliest years I have tried to mimic him.  I remember snuggling up to him as a very young child and trying to make my breathing perfectly mirror his.  I worked hard in school because I wanted to be as smart as he is and I always knew that no matter how tricky my homework was it always seemed so easy to him.  Even my goofy sense of humor is my dad’s fault.

Chicxulub was a major force of destruction while my dad has done nothing but build me up.  But they do have one thing in common: Chicxulub happened to contain extremely high levels of iridium, the rarest of all the precious metals (about 12 times rarer than gold).  It also happens to be the most corrosion-resistant metal on the planet.  So when you are digging and eventually hit the K-T boundary you can be sure that it contains iridium.

Oftentimes I feel like a complete mess and pretty clueless as a dad, but I know that if I dig deep enough I’ll find that layer of iridium – and I’ll know that it came from my dad.

A million drops of sunshine

Have you ever noticed how a smell can bring back so many memories?  Whether it’s the smell of fresh baked bread or Play-Doh or the smell of nice crispy bacon (which reminds me of all-you-can eat breakfast buffets with my grandfather), it seems that odors trigger things that I’ve virtually forgotten.  Personally, I love the smell of chalk dust because it stirs up some of my earliest memories.  When I was very young my dad was in graduate school studying physics (Science rules!!!) and I remember playing in the classrooms at the University of Utah.

I always thought it was such an amazing thing to go and hang out where my dad was.  I was reminded of this a few days ago when I was able to attend my 7-year old daughter Natalia’s publishing party at school.  All the kids wrote and illustrated books and then read them to the gathered parents.  Most of the stories were about exciting trips to amusement parks or vacations in St. Croix.

Then it was Natalia’s turn.  Her book was about a time I took her to work with me.  It wasn’t a terribly exciting trip, it was on a Saturday and I needed to stop by my office at the college and pick up a few games for an upcoming game convention.  I asked if anyone wanted to go with me and Natalia did, so we went.  The whole outing took less than an hour and I really didn’t think anything of it.  But Natalia remembered and wrote about every detail, including the people we talked to and the toys… I mean important articles of scientific research… that we played with.

One of those toys in my office is a Crookes radiometer.  My dad and I had one when I was a kid and I always thought it was so amazing.  I still remember him taking the time to explain to me how it worked.  The device is simple – you shine a light on the radiometer and the vanes inside start to spin on the spindle, but the physics are complicated.  I think of it like this: millions and millions of tiny drops of sunshine hit the vanes and warm up one side more than the other.  The air molecules interact with this warmer side and push off, causing the vanes to spin.

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Fatherhood is the same way.  Being a great dad isn’t the result of one or two huge acts, it’s the combined impact of countless tiny and seemingly insignificant acts – like a million drops of sunshine.  My dad is a great dad.  He has never pulled me out of a burning building, donated his last kidney to me, or saved me from a pack of bloodthirsty zombie hyenas – although I don’t doubt for a minute that he wouldn’t do all of those things if needed.  Instead he took me to work with him, spent every Christmas morning putting together insanely complex GI Joe vehicles, cooked the trout I caught while camping and convinced me it was still okay to eat it even if it fell in the fire, and explaining to a young and overenthusiastic boy about the wonders of the Crookes radiometer.

All that being said, it’s kind of ironic that we only take one day out of the year to celebrate Father’s Day even though the job description involves a 24/7 work week from the moment your child is born.  So to my dad and all the dads out there, thank you for all the little things you do.  Happy Father’s Day – today, tomorrow and always.