The Father & The Teacher

Follow Peter Selgin's journey as he delves into the lives of the two men who shaped him, his father and a man he refers to as "the teacher."


| November 2016



father

Peter Selgin's father was a major influence in his life, so major that Selgin says the two were so similar they could have been twins.

Photo by Fotolia/Rido

The Inventors: A Memoir (Hawthorne Books, 2016) by Peter Selgin explores how two very different men, his father and a man that he calls the teacher shaped his life. Selgin's father helped design the proximity fuse that hastened the end of WWII while the teacher was an advocate for indigenous peoples and refugees from Southeast Asia. This excerpt introduces both men that Selgin held in such high regard. 

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The Father

I believe it was the ancient Chinese who cursed each other by saying, “May you live in interesting times.” I had an interesting father.

You’ll note that I’m not properly dressed for this occasion. In honor of my father, I’m wearing one of his moth-eaten cardigan sweaters, an affront to good taste, fashion, etiquette – all the things my father thumbed his nose at.

As most of you here probably know, my papa was an iconoclast. He had too many other things on his mind to worry about protocols or conventions. Though he was once the director of a division of the National Bureau of Standards in Washington, D.C., his social standards were anything but exacting. Chesterton’s “If a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing badly” was among his favorite sayings. An electronics engineer and inventor, he disdained all things irrational and considered all forms of tribal ritual and worship barbaric. He loathed – his word – all religions. Nor did Papa care much for parties, parades, sports, movies, concerts, the theater – anything that made him part of a group or audience and divided him from the fertile depths of his own polymath mind. He had no stomach for pomp, ritual, or any form of regimentation or conformity. He hated crowds and large gatherings. Weddings and funerals weren’t his cup of tea. This one, unfortunately, he had to attend.…

After the memorial service, as the respectful file out of the funeral parlor, you gather up the relics that you and your twin brother George assembled for the commemorative altarpiece: your father’s portable Royal typewriter, his oscilloscope, a Color Coder (one of his inventions), his favorite eggcup, the split-spined German dictionary that he kept next to his rocking chair in the living room.