The Contract

I figured this was a good place to start my blog experience.  The story below is a paper I wrote for a college class about how I got started in Computer Science.


My feet dangling from the chair ruined the look — business women didn’t dangle. My back was straight, one hand gracefully draped across the keyboard, the other holding a telephone, pretending to talk business. Dad came up behind me to supervise. The businessy look didn’t impress him. He made me put down the phone and told me to get busy. It was a brand new typewriter, bought just for me but I didn’t even begin to appreciate it. It was an ugly brown manual contraption and my little hands were too small to push the keys properly — they didn’t fit over the keyboard like he said they were supposed to.

Dad showed me where to put my fingers on the keys. Then he picked up an advertising flyer laying on the table and told me to type the words on it. I hunted and pecked the right keys, taking forever. He got impatient and told me to move, so I happily climbed down, thinking the lesson was over and thankful to have escaped so easily. No such luck. He told me to come back as he took my place in front of the typewriter and told me to start talking. As I did, he started typing what I said. Whatever I said. I was amazed. He was a boy, boys didn’t know how to type. Ever since I could remember, my Dad had been a commanding officer in the ARMY, I never really thought about how he obtained that position or where he had started out. I stared at his hands and started talking faster and faster. He kept up. I was impressed. When he had made his point he returned possession to me, and I eagerly climbed back into the chair. I put my fingers where they were supposed to go and tried to type like him. I failed of course and started pounding gibberish on the keys just so I’d be typing fast. Dad laughed.

The whole thing started because he refused to give my sisters and me an unearned allowance and refused to pay us for housework without a written, signed contract. And, of course, to make it all official the contract had to by typed and all of the legal bindings and subclauses that are so crucial to 5th grade allowances had to be added at the end. This was supposed to give me practical experience with the legal world and teach me how to type. Dad thought his idea was brilliant, I thought his cockamamy lessons were for the birds.

After the initiation, Dad told me what he wanted and left. I started typing the contract, eager to get it over with. After the first attempt failed miserably I became annoyed. I couldn’t get it to look neat. My eyes couldn’t determine exactly where the keys were going to strike. The dollar signs weren’t lined up. Did you use a dollar sign or a cent sign when the amount was less than a dollar? Did you use a decimal with a cent sign? What “legal” stuff went at the bottom? Where did you sign it? Did we both have to sign it?

The first rough draft proudly handed to my Dad was returned. He marked all over it! Meaning I couldn’t just stick it back in the typewriter but had to retype it. I was getting angry now. None of my other friends had to go through this. Why didn’t my big sister have to do it? Was $1.70 per week really worth all of this garbage? Why did my Dad have to be so difficult? Why couldn’t my family just be normal?

Mom came to my defense, telling my Dad not to mark up the next one. She helped me with the dollar and cent questions and helped me decide how much to charge my Dad. The final outcome was still full of white-out and imperfections but it was finished. No longer happy or proud of my accomplishments — I threw the contract into my Dad’s lap for approval. Seeing my anger but not willing to end the “lesson” he said it looked good but I needed to add a line at the bottom. I stared at him incredulously and asked what he meant. He told me he wouldn’t sign it unless I added a line saying that if any of the work was not completed at the end of the week then I forfeited all wages for the week.

Realizing he called all of the shots, I sullenly walked back to the typewriter and added the line. The contract had lost any novelty it might have had. I signed it, he signed it, and it became an official Gilbert family document. And every week from there on out I had to retype it and have it signed again.

In 8th grade my father bought me a Commodore Vic 20 computer. We tried programming it together but he got impatient. Most of our joint attempts ended with me doing the typing and him telling me what to type. I did learn the basics, however, and my typing speed increased. In 10th grade I took a typing class in high school. I was the fastest typist in the class. By the end of the year I typed almost 70 words a minute.

I graduate from college in May with a master’s degree in Computer Science. Over the years I have become very close to my computer, very comfortable with the keyboard that makes it possible for me to perform my work. This is my element. This is what I do. And I suppose in many ways, I owe it all to my Dad and his crazy ideas. It took almost 17 years for me to realize that my Dad was pretty “swooft,” to use his favorite term. Maybe his ideas weren’t so cockamamy after all. In fact, if I have kids, I’ll probably make them type household contracts and they’ll probably resent it too. But at least I’ll let them use a computer.

One comment

  1. ahemmmmm. I had a Atari 286. Keyboard with a cartridge for the operating system and some “borrowed” Jim Reeves cassettes where I put my first program on. Your dad is a pretty cool guy 🙂


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