Memories with Richard Bleil
Yes, I was married, and yes, I had in-laws. Some of my in-laws even liked me. Well, not all of them. Unfortunately, I was quite a bit older and I’m sure that played a role, but I certainly did like her family. Well, most of them.
My then-brother-in-law David was probably my favorite among them. Apparently, he had some troubles in his youth, but by the time I had come into the picture, he was a very nice, intelligent, and well-centered young man. He had enlisted in the Air Force, and they had assigned him to become an electronics engineer. It was several weeks before he would leave yet, and he seemed anxious. I asked him if he was scared, and he said yes. I told him that fear is a good thing. I explained that fear isn’t bad, it just reminds us that there is something new, something with which we are not familiar and need to be alert to. The only time fear is a bad thing is when we let it stop us from doing that which we want to do.
He would bring this up periodically and tell me that it was the best piece of advice he had ever received.
My father was an electrical engineer for a company that, at the time, was very large, and quite powerful. I’ve written of them before. He joined up at a time when it was quite rare for people to go to college. Instead, they would put new employees under a kind of in-house mentorship. In my father’s training, they gave him a series of books, that I’m sure he was supposed to return, to teach him how to read schematics, solder, basically fix electronics. He never did return those books, instead opting to (eventually) pass them on to me. I went through them, and today can read schematics, test circuits, solder, and keep up with the best of them.
David knew nothing of electronics. So, I lent him the books, knowing that they were worthless. See, these days, nobody uses circuit board test points, nobody solders, nobody reads resistors. The books were for analogue circuits (both AC and DC). Today, nearly any circuit you’ll come across is digital. That means that modern repairs consist of figuring out which circuit is faulty, and simply pulling it and replacing it. What David learned he’ll never use.
But were they really that worthless? I don’t think so. The information was outdated, but his confidence shot out from the basement and through the roof. He walked into his new assignment confident, ready, believing he had a head start, which he did but not because of what he learned. His head start came in the form of confidence.
Sometimes, that’s all we need. Not long ago I wrote about a friend who recently expressed belief in my abilities, triggering faith in myself. Self-confidence is a great motivating force, which is why I believe parents should try to instill it in their children. I don’t think this is a new sentiment, but it’s something I feel was missing in my life, replaced instead with sarcasm and insults. I grew up with more problems than I can list, including debilitating shyness and an inability to express my interest in women, social anxiety and awkwardness that works against my finding and procuring friends, and deep depression that overwhelms my talents.
A professor of mine once told the class that we need to live. We need to get out to see plays, concerts, museums, and generally experience life. If you don’t, he said, you’re not really a scientist. You’re just a lonely old man living alone. Today, I’m nothing but a lonely old man living alone. I can’t help but wonder if I would be where I am today if I was raised with family that believed in me.
As a professor, I’ve seen lack of self-confidence destroy far more students than lack of ability. I always viewed my job as one of instilling in my students a belief of their own abilities. Maybe this is why I took such a keen interest in David. Maybe it all goes back to that I had been lacking in my youth, something I wish I had had. Even today I try to help others feel more confident in themselves. I feel like I made a difference with David, and only hope that I help others to feel the same self-confidence in themselves, or at least some degree of it.