26 September 2010


One of the other parents on my son's soccer team is a bridge engineer. He is working on the re-design of the Bay Bridge, which connects San Francisco to Oakland and the rest of the East Bay. At a stiflingly hot soccer tournament this past weekend, I had a chance to talk with him about the rebuilding of this important local bridge, one I and all of the other parents there are used to traveling over. Among other things, we talked about how there is not enough steel produced in the United States to build the Bay Bridge, necessitating that we contract out to China to build it. But China buys all of our scrap metal from our junk yards and refuse centers, right down to our discarded man hole covers, which they melt down and use on things like...bridges they build for other countries.

Over the course of the conversation, he told us about another engineer he knows who worked on retrofitting the Bay Bridge following the 1989 earthquake. During that quake, an entire section of the upper deck of the bridge fell down on to the lower deck.

It turns out that the pillars of the bridge were reinforced in only one direction. They were not built to withstand the kind of torque produced by the Loma Prieta quake. They needed to be redesigned so that they could withstand movements north, south, east, and west, as well as up and down. This one particular engineer, the colleague of the soccer dad I know, is one of maybe 5 or 10 in the country that have the knowledge and expertise to solve that problem, which he did, making the bridge safer for the rest of us.

That got me thinking about confidence. Can you imagine working in a profession where the success of your job performance impacted the safety of hundreds of thousands of flesh and blood human beings?

I, for one, cannot. I cannot fathom doing anything with stakes that high. I also have a hard time fathoming the confidence it takes to say Yup. That's it. This design will protect the daily commuters. I'm sure of it; go ahead and build it this way.

But I want to. I want that much confidence in my abilities and in the words that come out of my mouth. I want my children to grow up with enough confidence to build bridges for thousands of other people, in whatever field or subject they want. Bridges through art, or soccer, or dog-walking, or cheerleading. Truthfully, I have trouble picturing how a cheerleader might build the kind of bridge I'm thinking of, but the examples I picked in that last phrase come directly from the mouths of my kids, when asked what they want to be when they grow up.

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We cannot give our children what we do not possess ourselves. Or can we? Isn't that part and parcel of the American Dream, to raise children who will have more than we grew up with? Is that limited to material wealth, or educational achievement? What about the intangibles that make up a happy life: confidence, hope, joy. How do we raise children to have more of those things than we do?

So much of a person's success in life comes down to confidence. If you believe in yourself, if you understand with every fiber of your being that your own hard work and best efforts will bring you farther than you can imagine, if you trust that you can go out into the world and conquer whatever comes your way, how can you be stopped?

And is it too late, at 40+ years old, to acquire that kind of confidence?

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Homemaker Man said...

Nope. I'm doing it. Go and learn something you're scared shi*less off, but have always wanted to do. And keep at it even when it gets hard. On the other hand, maybe you just need to make sure your kids keep at that kind of stuff when they encounter it.

Also, the engineering stuff is all math. If they make the math work, they "know" the bridge will hold, and that's that. I think. It's somewhat easier to be confident when the numbers are backing you up.

Heather said...

Definitely not too late! And I loved this post monica. An old friend of mine is a bridge builder - puts in the physical blood sweat & tears that we take for granted when we cross any given structure any day of the week. He has literally witnessed death in his trade, and struggled with PTSD as a result. I was shocked at how much we take for granted. Maybe you could send this on so those guys would know that we really do appreciate the work they do?


p.s. you rock. I miss you!

Teacher Mommy said...

I love the idea of building bridges regardless of our jobs. It makes me realize that that's exactly what I do--build bridges between my students and knowledge, my students and success, my students and their futures.

I know what I do has a big impact. But suddenly I'm a little more scared about it. That might be a good thing.

Kerri said...

It is never too late to go out and doing something well and gain the uber confidence we all strive for. We should be doing that every day! Whether you are a writer, a mother, an engineer or a soccer player and even a cheerleader.
Although, I must tell you, coming from the wife and business manager of an engineer (who has to engineer the soil loads that bridges and buildings must be built on), he has a proven theory on why the bridge is being built on the wrong side of the bay. It was a paid study his office did for Caltrans in the late 80's-early 90's. This is why the project has tripled in costs and time, the bedrock on the west side is too deep and hence they have had to drill triple the length to sink the piers that will withhold any shaking from a "big one".

Just goes to show you, even if you know you are doing the right thing, there will always be someone who discounts your efforts. But be confident in knowing that the bridge will be done right and they have hired the most competent engineers in the world to get it done. That is what is important for everyone to learn...stick to your guns, do it well and do it with conviction!