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Saturday, June 18, 2011

I Don't Know Who My Dad Is

I'm a teacher for a number of reasons and I know that 'love of children' is supposed to be at the top of the list, but it's not. There are a number of reasons why I choose to make a difference in children's lives as a teacher. For me, the profession can't be reduced down to simple hugs though. For a number of years I was happy to make a difference in the life of just one child, my son.

I like to tell people that the reason my wife and I have only one child is because you can only hit the lottery once. The boy has always been perfect. He possesses a great demeanor, a tremendous sense of justice, is conscientious, caring, kind, and is a gentle, sensitive soul. I've thought for a long time that I should do my best to not screw up what is innate in him. If I could do that and have him still wanting to talk to me at age 24, I will have succeeded at least in part in helping him get off on the right start. Being a Dad is certainly more than just getting a child off on the right start, but as the old saying goes 'you can only construct a building one brick at a time.'

When I came home from my last day of work recently, our different school systems shared the same last day of class, I called out "Where's my new eighth grader?" It was an attempt to congratulate and recognize his accomplishment at the same time. As soon as the words left my mouth, I immediately wished he was three years old again. A rare emotion that hadn't made its presence known in years rushed to the forefront of my thoughts and I had to fight a lump in my throat.

The same feeling made an appearance at his ninth birthday while I tried to sing the 'Birthday Song' to him just before blowing out his candles. At that moment of celebration, I realized that half of my daily life with him was past and I began to weep mid-song. The thought that once he reached 18 years old, I would no longer have the luxury of spending part of everyday with him and it made me instantly sad. College, work, family, and other adventures would then get his daily attention. Time with Dad would be occasional and almost certainly somewhat infrequent. An event, not routine.

I've tried to be aware of my limited daily time with him since he was born and made conscious efforts to not take for granted my time with him. Time matters. I don't believe in the concept of 'quality time'. I think that my son deserves 'quantity time.' Life moments occur from being there, going there, doing something, and even the mundane with your kid. I try to be aware that setting a positive example on how to be a good person is something that is important and long lasting.

When he was younger he helped me occasionally repair some neighborhood boy’s bikes. My son would 'work' on his bike while I attended to flat tires, stripped stems, loose seats, etc. The five brothers lived with their grandma at the end of the block. We knew one of the boys because he attended school with my son. Xavier was a quiet and polite boy, easily one of the smallest kids amongst his peers. We knew his brothers because of their volume. We also knew them because our driveway was the perfect turnaround pad for a scorching bike trip to the end of the street. There was no doubt they were instructed to not go further than the house on the corner. One day I stopped one of the older boys because his handlebars were dangerously loose. I could see how he struggled to keep the bars in place on the deteriorating sidewalk, with its bumps and cracks, in our neighborhood. With a makeshift shim and a hefty wrist crank over torque, the bike was at least a little safer than when I started repair. Soon, the boys were stopping by frequently to have their mechanical needs taken care of. Occasionally, I bought some tubes, used some lube, pumped-up some tires, and twisted some wrenches to keep the brothers rolling. Even though I wasn’t aware, my son was witness to these minor efforts to help somebody else’s child remarking one time, “that it was nice of me to help them out.” He also said “that it was nice to have a Dad that could fix things.”

I’m reminded of these boys as we get ready to celebrate Father’s Day, because I know that not all kids are able to spend the day with their father. I asked Xavier one day, if his Dad knew how to fix anything similar to the way I knew how to fix bicycles. His pause in answering made me realize that I probably shouldn’t have asked. The awkward silence hung for a moment, then he replied, “I don’t know who my father is.” It was a good thing I had sunglasses on.

I’m not going to pretend to be anybody’s father, but I can be a figure of importance to children.  Being a teacher allows me the opportunity to impact children’s lives on a daily basis, to help kids get better, and lead better lives. I don’t make a lot, but I make a difference. That’s important to me. It is also important for those kids who didn’t win the Dad lottery.

Happy Father’s Day

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