Learning to Say, "I Don't Know"
Doug Hardy was barely inside the door of the National Air and Space Museum when he made up his first "fact."
On a sunny morning a few days before Father's Day, Hardy and his son Andrei were huddled under the Mercury capsule. Like countless dads before him, he was explaining rocket science to his boy, in this case how the mottled heat shield protected John Glenn from a fiery death as the craft plunged through the atmosphere.
Then Andrei, 12, asked: What are these dark disks made of?
Again, like countless dads before him, Hardy answered confidently -- even though he didn't have a clue.
"Steel," he said.
(The shield is actually made from a plastic-fiberglass composite, said Michael Neufeld, chairman of the museum's space history division. The disks are plugs left over from post-flight analysis.)
If it didn't occur to Hardy to say, "I don't know," he's not alone. The phenomenon of the "know-it-all dad" is a familiar one to the docents, curators and keepers of America's museums and zoos.
"Just about every time I'm on the floor, I hear a father say something incorrect to his kids," said Bobbe Dyke, who has been a docent and tour guide at Air and Space for 31 years. "You can't butt in and correct them in front of the kids. You just have to cringe."
Oh, yeah, I've cringed, too.
I've heard a man reading the Macy's window display placards to his kids and he said the word "scuzzy" for "scullery" maid.
I've heard a father tell his kids that all sharks were dangerous and that they mostly liked to eat people.
I've confronted a father who told his son that the woman who was giving the presentation on the space shuttle at Cape Canaveral was "Just making things up to pretend that she was smart."
"I'm just kidding," he sneered at me after I confronted him (I was around seventeen years old, folks. Because I'm an angry young woman).
I wish that I had had a retort to that. If I had been more on the ball, I would have said, "Oh, you mean, you're 'just making things up to pretend that you're smart?'"
Why didn't I think of that then?
I don't know.