The warning signs were there: yawning boredom with his Wallace's Farmer, an edgy disinterest in weed control and tillage depth, increasing irritability with all things agrarian. My husband, Dan, was in desperate need of a hobby.
And while he may have bypassed more troubling routes through this angst-ridden midlife terrain (break dancing, motor-cross), Dan's path was not without pain: He took up typing.
Dan is of the last generation for whom typing was considered a superfluous high school elective, of questionable utility to a burly Future Farmers of America boy. But over the subsequent two decades, the computer age seeped in around him, eventually submerging his family and isolating Dan on his dry, pencil-and-paper island.
Our 8-year-old blithely taught her father to point-and-click to retrieve WeatherChannel.com, and the 12-year-old bookmarked John Deere and Iowa State Extension websites for him. But without typing, Dan surfed without a surfboard, slogging in the undertow, water up his nose.
So it was with wide-eyed admiration (if also cockeyed disbelief) that we watched him dig out his sister's 1972 "Century 21 Typewriting" textbook and announce his clerical intent.
Peering over his shoulder, we snickered at the Chapter 1 pep talk: "You are about to learn a very useful skill. In our modern world ... typing is both faster and more legible than handwriting."
We then held our collective breath as Dan cupped his thick, farmer's fingers above the home row, like a lumbering circus bear balanced on a small, slippery ball. For several moments he hovered there, as "f j ff jj" stuttered onto the computer screen, sparking amazed gasps from the cluster of wife and offspring encircling his desk.
When the adrenaline of effort caused his hands to begin shaking, the night's entertainment drew to a close. We praised him lavishly - despite our skepticism of a repeat performance. The man was dubious secretarial material.
But the next evening, Dan again assumed "correct keyboard position," pointing to his text's illustration as evidence that he knew something the rest of us didn't: proper posture.
Lesson No. 2 added "d" and "k" to his repertoire.
"So Dad, are you typing tonight?" Dinnertime conversation was soon incomplete without the question. A week into his exertion, Dan had mastered the home row, arriving at the glory of real words: "as," "ask," "add," "lad."
The kids challenged their father to type favorite home-row combinations: "ask sad Sal," "add fads all fall." Dan gleefully performed. But after nearly a week of "alfalfa salad" and "sad lads," we began to wonder if his aspirations were a bit stunted.
A homebody at heart, Dan seemed unnaturally fond of his first eight keys. "The book says not to rush off home row," he said. "You can type a lot of good words with home row."
So when at last Dan ventured a quavering finger toward "h," then "e," we cheered: He was riding without training wheels.
As he gained stamina, Dan typed later into the nights. Mornings, I'd measure his progress by scanning the words left on the screen. Phrases gave way to full sentences, minimalist dramas of secretarial tone: "Jeff has all ads." "Lee sells desks." "Hal had a sale."
Boxed sidebars in his text urged our budding typist to "develop good work habits ... work quickly and efficiently." His practice lines were quaintly nonsensical, though grammatically correct - as if to remind young administrative-assistants-in-training to type, without question, every quirky tongue twister that might someday land upon their desks:
"Art asked if Cecil sells fresh fruit here for less." "Have her take all the jade to that lake sale."
One evening as Dan typed, he interrupted my reading in a nearby chair: "I bet ... you never ... thought I would be able ... to type and talk ... at the same time!"
Indeed, key by key, he has surpassed all our expectations. Twenty-six letters, semicolon, and shift key now lie at his nimble command: officially, a typing man.
And with this newfound competence, a spring has rejuvenated his step - as well as ours. If Dad can learn to type, all things are possible.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society