Dec 28, 2011

Whadyaget? Whadyaget? Whadyaget?

Ah, the post-Christmas bragging rights competition begins.  I’ve made it a point in recent years to ask, “what did you give?”  I think it is a more intriguing question.  However, for reasons that will quickly become evident, I’m going to brag about what I got this Christmas.  I think you’ll agree I’m doing the right thing.

Over the years, I’ve been privileged to write for the National Center for Fathering.  My most recent contribution at is the article The Dad Who Blesses in which I say:
“Every dad's great challenge is to pay close attention as each child develops. We must learn how to coach each child according to his or her ‘bent’.”
I had no idea one of the greatest Christmas gifts I’ve ever received would come directly from this aspiration as a dad.

My second oldest son, Noah, was “special” from the start.  Thanks to colic, he lived on goat milk his first year of life.  Ewww.  Thanks to learning challenges (NOT disabilities) Noah began our homeschooling odyssey.  Noah has always had a quirky, technical bent.  Okay, he’s a nerd, but the sweetest one you’ll ever meet and today he is a successful software designer.  One year, when Noah was a young teen, I posed a very peculiar question to his left-brain brilliance:
Noah, all my life I’ve wondered something… If I got up in the morning and started walking toward the sun, changing my path to follow the sun all day long, what would the map of that path look like at the end of the day?  If I was on a giant patch of snow, what would be the shape of my tracks?
Solving this puzzle is a decades-old quest for me.  I don’t know where the idea sparked, but growing up in Alaska where the sun’s location in the sky is such a prominent matter, to me it’s only natural that I would wonder this.  I may have mentioned this sun followin’ quest to all my boys, but I invested some extra time talking to Noah about it like how the path in mid-winter would be drastically different from mid-summer.  I’ve tried to figure this out many times.  Every time I began working on it, I was overwhelmed with how much data and complex factors go into what seems like a simple problem.  For me, the challenge was insurmountable.  For Noah, not so much.

Noah and Tiffany are spending Christmas with her family in Texas so Christmas with them was celebrated last Wednesday night*.  We exchanged presents.  Tiffany made Alyse a set of winter earrings – one for every day of Christmas week.  Beautiful.  The kids gave me a box of nothin’ – no wrapped gift at all  –  but I noticed an extra, black cord running up to the TV.  This is gonna be good!  Noah began his presentation, “Okay, so you know how you’ve always wanted to know what your sun followin’ path would be?  Here’s your answer.”  And he turned on the TV.

It took me many minutes to digest what I was looking at.  Noah has done it!!  He’s built a program that links into Google Earth to show what sun followin’ would look like on any day of the year from any point on the planet.  BLEW. MY. MIND.  For 35 years or more, I’ve been trying desperately to figure this out.  Couldn’t.  But because I considered the “bent” of each of my sons and I shared my quest, in depth, with my techie son, I now have the answer I’ve been seeking.  But wait, there’s more.

Wednesday night, when Noah made his presentation, he said, “Dad, I do what I do today (software design) because you talked to me about this quest.  It stuck in my mind and drove me to want to build solutions to complex and complicated problems.”

WOW!  I thought I was just “thinking out loud” as I somewhat frequently do.  But I was connecting with my son on his wavelength and it found great harmony in his life.  Now, I’ve mentioned this sun followin’ quest to all my sons.  The others just chalked it up to Crazy Dad and then asked for an increase in their allowance for having to listen to me.  But I really am trying to understand WHO my children are, and nurture and encourage them to pursue the things in life that spring from within them.  This Christmas, I got the gift of knowing that I haven’t done such a bad job, after all.

Clark H Smith

What’s all this “sun followin’” about?  You’ll never know unless you go to and see what I’m ravin’ about.  Yup, my boy dotcommed my life’s quest!  You can move the stick pin anywhere on the globe.  You can adjust the speed of your walking (I think 5mph is about right) and how many days, day after day, you want to continue your sun followin’.  I like moving the pin around and zooming in to see what each day looks like.  You can adjust the date, as well.  Go. Follow the Sun!  (And to no one's surprise, I started a blog to journal some of the things I'm discovering as I follow the son.)

*presented to me on Dec 21 – the winter solstice.  On this day in Fairbanks, the sun rises at 11am and sets just after 2:30pm.  On June 21, it’s just the opposite – setting at 11pm and rising “in the middle of the night”.  These dynamics are why I’m so interested in the position of the sun.