“Daddy, I want to invent something when I grow up,” my beaming daughter announced with all the sweet innocence and exuberance of a seven-year-old.
“Don’t be an idiot,” I said. “You’ll waste your life and make your country a poorer place.”
Harsh. Yet I loved my daughter and my country dearly and could say nothing other. I was also sending a message to her always curious, eavesdropping brother.
“But ... but I want to invent something to fix pollution,” she said, now trembling, stammering and teary.
“Do you know what pollution is, dear?” I explained through gritted teeth and a choking throat. “All the crap that people have invented and the world doesn’t need.”
At this point, she threw her rubber-band robot science project against the wall and ran up the stairs to her bedroom.
Earlier, I had asked if there were not kids from foreign countries in her class from whom she could steal ideas suggesting that it would be enough to just add shiny ornaments.
I told her that this would make her science project better than the others because it would be technically as good, but also shiny. Still, she stuck to her naïve and misguided desire to create something unique of her own.
“Stay in your room ‘til you are ready to stop thinking,” I shouted.
Decades later, I now realize that it was a bit much to expect her to understand, at that age, the subtle and nuanced concepts that I had absorbed through my professional and personal interest in Canadian science and technology.
As those in my world know well, Canada has laboured for many years under the economic and social burden of excessive discovery, creativity, and invention. What the experts tell us we need is less of that stuff and more products, services, and processes that make use of what has already been invented here and abroad.
Canadians, it seems, like to discover, create, and invent and then give their stuff away. This does not help us as a country, and it just makes others more competitive, wealthier, and better in international statistical comparisons.
Today, regrettably both of my children, now adults, persist in trying to think and create despite the contrary example I have set for them. I have never invented anything, discovered anything, or created anything. I have spent my life appropriating the creations of others. My career has revolved around promoting the invention and research of others. My books are based on the lives or creative works of others. The two kids were adopted.
I am a great Canadian. We need more people like me.
But I just don’t have a clue how we would create them.