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That Day My Dad and I Built a Talking Robot (Puppet)


Artist and author Ben Zoltak writes essays about being creative, staying strong through adversity, parenting, self-care, humor and more.

Here's a Sketch of the Robot My Dad and I Created

I made this sketch quickly and it felt close to the original, but after the first blush was over I believe the original robot had two sections in the body.

I made this sketch quickly and it felt close to the original, but after the first blush was over I believe the original robot had two sections in the body.

In Measuring Up Human Strength, That One Still Stands Out Close to the Top of My List

Today is my dad‘s 71st birthday, happy birthday Dad! I was trying to think of the earliest memories I have and two of them came to mind. The first involves my Dad's brute strength, the other his reverse engineering skills building a robot. Hopefully he’s going to get some decent carry out in Minocqua, Wisconsin today for today while he reads this story about our makeshift robot.

Before the robot though... my first memory was following him in to the basement of the duplex my parents owned sometime back when I was a kindergartner in Milwaukee. There was a clog in the main house drain. He undid the sewage line cap, and after at first trying with tools to undo the clog without success, he then proceeded to shove his entire forearm past his bicep into the drain and rip out an unholy, hairy, Blackhole sort of clog the size of a volleyball. His tenacity impressed me, in measuring up human strength that one still stands out close to the top of my list.

In contrast I recall a more tender memory, back when I went to Catholic grade school, I think first grade. We were tasked with creating a robot. Many of the children were talking about making a Star Wars robot because that was you know, en vogue and what not. For days children were talking about R2-D2‘s that were being constructed at home. As children will do, I forgot to mention it until the day before it was due. Although he expressed dismay with the urgent deadline, he still took up the task with feverish enthusiasm. I asked predictably, “Dad can we make a Star Wars robot? Everybody’s making Star Wars stuff.“

He replied, “No. I’ve got something better in mind...“

I remember thinking something to the effect, better than Star Wars? I’ll believe it when I see it.

Here's a photo of my dad, my aunts and I in the late 1970s. This is the look my dad rocked back when we built our robot.

Here's a photo of my dad, my aunts and I in the late 1970s. This is the look my dad rocked back when we built our robot.

Read On For the Rest of the Story and to Find Out How You and Your Children Can Create the Robot with Wire, a Flashlight, Cardboard, Duct Tape and Aluminum Foil

We then proceeded to go into the basement workshop where he began dismantling a flashlight. We worked together on the robot, my dad handling the technical part with cut metal and pieces of flashlight. I was tasked with fabricating parts of his body, wrapping it in tinfoil that sort of thing. towards the end he told me to go play and he would finish it up. When I came back he said, “Here it is, it’s a talking robot.”

There he stood, holding in front of him, a two and a half foot tall, boxy, aluminum foil wrapped cycloptic robot. I asked, “How does it talk?”

He then pressed a thin sheet of cut metal he fabricated from some other thing and it completed the circuit from the light bulb of the battery along through to the wire he rigged on to a battery enclosed in the robots shoulder. It’s flashlight eye eerily blinked to life, and my Dad added the voice and the light blinked with every other word, “Hi Ben. I’m your robot.”

I couldn’t believe it, my Dad the letter-carrier had done it! He actually created a talking robot kind of puppet. I remember taking it to school and lots of my schoolmates were in awe. Sure the Star Wars robots drew a lot of attention, but there was something just a little more interesting about this unique looking talking robot that drew everyone's attention. Our teacher then had a us create a short robot play where the talking robot and the other Star Wars robot’s had a dialogue in front of the class; talking about robot things I’m certain but the details of that theater are lost to time.

The End of the Story and a Few Parting Words to Parents

What I remember most importantly from those two husker-dos is that you shouldn’t underestimate your dad. Maybe his job is ordinary but he’s probably hiding capabilities unknown to you because he’s caught up in making sure there’s food on the table and the mortgage is paid. If there are any dads or moms reading this remember that your children are paying attention to your positive traits and actions even if you think they don’t notice. I don’t remember who said it but it’s a great quote: In life try to let your children catch you being excellent. I'll post a "direct current circuit basics video" below if anyone is considering opening up their flashlight and creating a robot.

Happy birthday, Dad!

Very Basics of Creating a Complete Circuit and Simple Switch For Lighting a Lightbulb


Ben Zoltak (author) from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA on January 18, 2021:

Thank you Peggy, these are the earliest two memories I have. Hopefully more will bubble up some day soon. I agree, the news today has pulled most of us down, I dug deep to bring out some good from my past with my dad. It makes me infinitely content knowing you noticed.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on January 14, 2021:

What a sweet memory you have of your dad helping you make that robot. Thanks for sharing some of the admiration you have for your dad with us. It makes me smile. We can use more of that instead of what is dominating the news today.

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