Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Boy genius or meddling father?

This week’s look at the past is an Associated Press story from June 13, 1988, that caught my eye and piqued my interest. Adragon Eastwood De Mello, an 11-year-old boy who had graduated from college in three years with a degree in mathematics, was in a conundrum: If he was not admitted to a graduate program he would be required by California state law to attend junior high school in the fall. His father, Augustin De Mello, was prepared to send him abroad to escape that fate. Mr. De Mello was a single father that started his son on a special learning program almost from birth.

Adragon knew the alphabet by age 2, could read and write by 3, and received an associate’s degree with highest honors by age 10. He spent just one year at Colwell College at the University of California-Santa Cruz to earn his bachelor’s degree. “I want to start learning scientific programming next year,” he said. “I want to go into astrophysics or particle physics, which hopefully will lead to the discovery of the creation of the universe, which is what I’m interested in.” He said he wouldn’t mind picking up a Nobel Prize along the way.

I read this story and thought, “I wonder what happened to this kid?” So I took to the Internet and did a little research.

According to an article in the June 3, 2003, Santa Cruz Sentinel, Adragon’s mother gained custody of him not long after his story appeared in news media across the country in 1988. The boy admitted his father “pushed him and pushed him hard to succeed,” the article said. After Adragon went to live with his mother, his father began exhibiting bizarre behavior and eventually died of cancer.

A Wikipedia article said Adragon opted to enroll in Sunnyvale Junior High School under an assumed name and eventually graduated from Homestead High School in 1994. In 2003, De Mello was working for Home Depot after training to be an estimator for a commercial painting company.

Follow-up articles from 2003 portrayed the father as a obsessive man who used his son to manipulate schools, universities and the national media to feed his own need for recognition and attention. Adragon survived and reclaimed the life his father had denied him — interaction with kids his own age and the chance to decide for himself who he wanted to be. A cautionary tale, perhaps, for parents who are so intent on their child attaining an idealized construct of success that they ignore the child’s own dreams and potential.

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