Parenting Lessons From Metallurgy…

Written by Scott

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Way back in 1990 when I was at the Naval Nuclear Power School in (then) Orlando, we spent a significant amount of time on metallurgy (materials science and engineering that studies the physical and chemical behavior of metallic elements, their intermetallic compounds, and their mixtures), which is key to reactor design, cooling, safety, etc.

The basics are this: a metal’s properties are changed by a wide variety of factors (heat, addition of other metals to create an alloy, how it cooled, rolling, etc). A good overview is here.

There’s a really interesting technique used with ferrous metals like steel called tempering. Here’s the definition:

Tempering is a heat treatment technique applied to ferrous alloys, such as steel or cast iron, to achieve greater toughness by decreasing the hardness of the alloy. The reduction in hardness is usually accompanied by an increase in ductility, thereby decreasing the brittleness of the metal.

Did you catch that? Greater toughness…by decreasing the hardness. The problem with hardness–be it as a property of a metal, or the condition of your heart, or the words that you speak is this: it’s brittle. It shatters. It shears off. It breaks.

Temper it.

Go for toughness instead.

Each of the kids has taught me this lesson, but none more than Maddie, our almost-7 year old. She’s different: she’s a leftie, VERY right-brained, very strongly emotional–which seems like both a blessing and a curse at times, and (like her mother*) very stubborn.

Hardness doesn’t work so well.

I’ve had to work at tempering it. Ultimately, though, it makes me not only a better father to her, but to all the kids. And a better husband. And a better person.

Temper the hardness.

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