UPDATED: The Parent Trap: My real interest is beyond a child’s obsession

Like most parents, it would make me happy if my children liked what I like. I had dreams of going to the park and having a catch with my son, or getting my kids interested in literature or classic films. But those plans fall by the wayside when your children find interests of their own.

Keep reading to learn about Pat’s son’s real interests, and how Pat has incorporated them into his life. Photos from their SEPTA tour are below, as well.

I still tried, but attempts to have a catch with the boy turned out to be futile. He can’t catch, he can’t throw and he can’t hit – a triple threat. Moreover, he doesn’t even enjoy watching a baseball game. The last time that he sat still to watch a game was during the 1993 World Series. He was 9 months old at the time. Football held his attention for small stretches, until he realized that everybody just kept beating up on each other, to no immediate purpose. Golf was another failed experiment. Dreams of walking the links with my boy were shattered when he consistently began to drive the ball an average of 10 feet per shot.

My attempt at getting him to share in my love of books was even more difficult. Treasure Island changed my life, because it opened my eyes to great writing. But getting the boy to read the book, even while sitting in front of a computer screen, was painful. I quickly gave up any hope that he would pick up my love of great books.

No, his great love is trains. I’ve written about this on other occasions, but it bears repeating. I like trains. I used to love getting up on Christmas morning and playing with the Lionels after opening up my presents. But the boy likes the big machines. He can talk for hours about Amtrak, regional rail, subways and elevated lines – anything that runs on tracks.

Every parent worries about the time that their children spend on the Internet. There’s a lot of scary things out there – chat rooms, predators and porn. My son does go to chat rooms, but the subject matter isn’t about the latest Lindsay or Britney. No, the hot topic in his room is Amtrak, and why they cannot seem to catch up with state-of-the-art transportation systems in Japan and Korea.

And he is not alone. I discovered this during a recent trip to Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station last month, during the observance of National Train Day. They call themselves “Trainiacs,” and hundreds of them converged on the station. Grown-ups joined children in wearing cardboard locomotive hats and staring in wonder at the walk-through display for the upcoming bio-friendly vehicle.

Mass transportation is his other great love. While other kids dream of playing center field for the Phillies, he talks of becoming an engineer on the Broad Street Subway. I try to feed his interests whenever possible, so we recently spent a day riding in the front seat of the Market-Frankford train. It made for a good story, and I figured that was that. Who knew that somebody from SEPTA would find the experience as interesting as my son?

Kim Scott Heinle is the man. The Assistant General Manager for Customer Service at SEPTA contacted me and set up an entire tour for my son and myself. Sometimes, it’s good to be the dad who writes for a living.

Last week, I got to watch my son spend an entire day with his eyes opened like saucers, while we toured the SEPTA offices at 1234 Market St. I was just along for the ride as we learned about how the buses are decorated by the graphic arts department. We were told that the Customer Service department handles thousands of calls per day and that a crew of dedicated professionals keep constant track of every bus and train. Ten years ago, it was all done with schedules and guesswork, but now, every bus has a GPS system and every train is tracked electronically.

Finally, we took a subway trip to the Fern Rock subway station and work shed, where every vehicle that runs on tracks is repaired and updated with the latest electronic equipment. It was pretty impressive, but to be frank, the boy was much more excited that we took the express instead of the local.

Nine thousand people work for SEPTA, and the men and women who showed us around were exactly what I expected – professional and friendly. Maybe there are people who work at SEPTA who aren’t as nice, but who cares when the G.M. of the entire system keeps my son riveted with his tales of going to Korea to check out their new high speed rail system?

Someday, he might want to pick up a golf club, and join me on the links. Someday, he might ask me to go to Citizens Bank Park to catch a Phillies game. I’m not holding my breath. Those are my interests, not his. But any time that somebody takes the time to focus their attention on your kid, it’s a good day. And in the long run, that is my real interest.

The Parent Trap is a weekly column by Patrick P. McNally that will appear on NEastPhilly.com every Tuesday. See others here. Read other NEast Philly columns here.

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