I won’t say how old he is – nor how old I am, for that matter. Suffice it to say that we’ve both been around long enough to see technology change and advance drastically. I remember the days when if you wanted to watch a movie or television show, you had to make sure your butt was parked in front of the television at the exact time that program was being broadcast or you were out of luck until summer reruns. I used to fantasize about being able to watch anything I wanted any time by means of a device small enough and light enough to fit in the palm of my hand. Imagine that!
I’m still not entirely convinced that Apple and perhaps a bunch of other tech companies didn’t steal my idea. Somehow. I can’t prove it. Not yet, anyway. I don’t care about naming rights. I just want my money.
Naturally, my childhood fantasies of portable, high-tech entertainment gadgets inspired me to pursue a university degree. In French language and literature. After which I became a high school classroom teacher for many years.
So maybe I got a little off course, and maybe not. Who’s to say? Life throws you curve balls sometimes, and if you live long enough, it’ll throw you some real whoppers. The point of all this is that despite what I ended up doing as a profession, I’ve always seemed to have a knack for figuring out a lot of things when it comes to computers. I’m no expert; I think we’re all fairly clear on that point. However, with a little bit of intuitive poking around combined with real-time Internet research, I’ve managed to solve quite a few problems on my own.
As challenging as it’s been for me, my dad has had an even steeper climb keeping up. But he’s done a pretty impressive job, and I’m actually quite proud of him. I’ve seen people his age and even younger who are so intimidated by computers that they won’t even try to learn how to use them; they won’t even do email. Dad’s not afraid to dive in and start poking around.
Back in the mid- or late-90s, he decided to join the digital age and purchased his first computer. I had moved from my childhood home in Detroit, and was living half-way across the country in Houston at the time, so when he had questions or needed help, he’d give me a call. As soon as I’d see his name pop up on my caller ID, I’d reach for my headset because I knew this was going to take a while. It always did. I didn’t mind helping him out. That wasn’t the problem. The problem was that Dad liked to figure things out for himself, and when he got to the point where he realized he was in over his head, he had a hard time stepping back and letting someone else take over or show him what to do. I know this because I am exactly the same way.
I would sit at my own computer listening to him explain to me what the problem was so I could figure out and talk him through the solution. Sometimes, it was just a matter of getting him to understand how a computer does and doesn’t work. But it wasn’t always that simple. Frequently, as I would be trying to talk him through a solution, instead of listening to me and following instructions, he would still be trying to figure it out on his own. He would repeat what I had just said a couple of minutes earlier, and I would say, “I just said that, Dad!” And then we would have to start all over again because, of course, he hadn’t really been listening to me the first time. It could be very frustrating. Once, I literally started to lightly bump the side of my head against the wall.
“What’s that noise?” he asked.
“That bumping noise?”
“I don’t know. Maybe it’s the cats.”
I would receive these tech support phone calls two to three times a week for a while, and they would easily last a couple of hours. I figured this had to be payback somehow for all those times growing up that I know I must have driven my parents to the brink of insanity.
Once I moved back to the Detroit area, solving Dad’s computer tech problems has gotten easier. Sort of. Whether it’s a handheld device or a computer, he’ll complain to me about how he can’t get it to work properly. I’ll hold out my hand – or ask him to move so I can sit down, as in the case of his computer – so I can take a look, but he ignores me and continues poking away. I’ll tell him I can’t help him if he won’t let me. He continues to poke around and ignore me. I give up. Eventually, he hands the thing over – or surrenders the chair to me – so I can try to figure out what’s wrong. For a while, he hovers over me, and then walks off when he gets bored or thinks of something better to do.
So while I was at his house doing my laundry, Dad informed me that he was having trouble with his Wi-Fi connection. He was on the verge of going out to get a new Internet cable when he finally allowed me to give it a shot. One would think the fact that I have already resolved a lot of his technology problems would have earned me some kind of “cred,” and he would be a little less resistant to allowing me to try the next time he runs into a problem. And one would be horribly, horribly wrong. Because one does not know my dad.
I dug my iPad out of my bag and tried logging onto his Wi-Fi. He had a signal, but the usual password wasn’t working. I disconnected the Internet cable from his router and connected it to his computer so I could at least get online. At this point, I informed him that I had just saved him a trip to the store to purchase a cable he didn’t need, as that wasn’t the problem.
I asked him a few questions and learned that the problem started about the time that my niece and nephew had been in town to visit right after Christmas. What he told me wasn’t very helpful. He’d had to take the computer to the shop recently for some work, so I thought that maybe the Wi-Fi password had reset to its default. No, he did not have that information. I tried every number on the box provided by his cable company, hoping that one of them would be the default Wi-Fi password. No luck. Then I went looking for his IP address. Fortunately, I had recently had to do this on my own computer so I could customize my Wi-Fi name and password from the factory default settings. I was getting nowhere fast, and was thinking I might have to call his cable company until I had what I thought was a really great idea: Maybe I could bypass this entire problem by creating another Wi-Fi signal with its own name and password! I’d never done this before. It sounded kind of exciting, especially if it actually worked.
I clicked around until I got to where I needed to be, and then I was given a choice of security settings including “security type” and “encryption settings.” I was now officially in over my head. Time to do some research. I pulled up Google and plugged in some terms so I could try to figure out which setting would be the most appropriate for my dad. After getting through that part, all I had to do was decide on a name for the new Wi-Fi signal and a password. I was finally ready to click “Finish,” then I began searching the available Wi-Fi signals for the one I had just attempted to create.
Nothing. Just as I was about to go back in and retrace my steps to see if I had overlooked something, Dad spoke up.
“Hold on. I just remembered something,” and he opened the top desk drawer to my left and pulled out a random sheet of paper that had been folded not-so-carefully in half and handed it to me. It had something printed on it from the printer, but that didn’t concern me. At the bottom, there was a series of ten letters and numbers printed by hand in pencil. The blocked shapes of the characters told me it had likely been written by a man.
“What’s this?” I asked, thinking I probably already knew.
“Walter wrote that down.” Walter is my brother-in-law. From what I could piece together, Dad was having trouble with his Wi-Fi, so when my sister and brother-in-law and their kids came in from Canada to visit right after Christmas, Walter and my nephew, Jack, had fixed the problem and had changed the password on my dad’s Wi-Fi. Walter had written down the new password on a piece of paper and Dad had stashed it “in a safe place.”
I pulled up Dad’s old Wi-Fi signal on my iPad, entered the ten-digit code written on the paper and waited. After a few seconds, I saw the tiny, fan-shaped icon in the upper left portion of the screen that indicated that I was now online.
Saying nothing, I disconnected the Internet cable from Dad’s computer and reconnected it to his router. I went through the same steps as with my iPad and used the same code. After a few seconds, the bars at the bottom right of his monitor’s screen indicated that his computer was online.
“Dad,” I said, trying to remain calm as I pointed at the tiny bars, “Do you see those bars?”
“You’re online. I just spent the past ninety minutes messing around on your computer, and you had the ten-digit code the whole time. If you had written it in that stupid Internet password book I gave you several years ago, we could have avoided this whole thing!”
Dad was surprisingly silent. The only time he’s that quiet for any period of time is when he’s got a mouth crammed full of food, is doing something he’s not supposed to, or has had surgery and is knocked out. The rest of the time he’s either talking or, if sleeping, snoring.
I turned around and looked up to see why I wasn’t hearing anything. He was laughing. Except that he was in that phase where you’re laughing so hard, you’re not making any noise. His face was red and his eyes were watering.
I took the red password book – the one I have referred to on more than one occasion as “disappointingly empty” – turned to the letter “W” for “Wi-Fi,” and wrote down the ten-digit password in pencil. By that time, he had regained his ability to speak and decided that he also needed to write it under “P” for “Password.” I decided not to point out than the entire BOOK was for passwords. The fact that it’s in there, at all, somewhere… anywhere, was good enough.
That is ninety minutes of my life that I will never get back.