Lessons learned from a father who was a teacher in more ways than I can count
Since becoming a father, there have been moments when I have felt prepared and far more situations where I felt completely inadequate.
When Stephanie and I were welcoming our first boy, Clayton, she was nervous. She said she didn’t know anything about raising a boy, as if I had any tremendous experience other than having been one.
“Don’t worry. Boys bounce,” I remember telling her one evening. More than a year and a half later, we had done such a good job raising Clayton — or rather his big sister, Sarah Cameron, had done such a good job raising him — that we felt going from two children to three would be as easy as going from one to two.
That decision would fall under the “completely inadequate” category if you’re counting. As I tell people today, we wouldn’t change anything, but going from two to three was far more than going from one to two. We went from man-to-man defense to having to run a zone defense. It seemed one of the kids was always open.
My parents stopped at two children. I am the oldest and they often joke had my sister been first, I never would have been born.
And as Stephanie and I navigate being the parents of three very different and amazingly independent children, I often think about how my parents would have handled some of the challenges we find ourselves in today. And on this Father’s Day weekend, I wonder what my father would have done.
My father remains a very strong-willed man. He is not someone I would say is set in his ways, but someone who has a stronghold on what he believes and how he believes it.
I often think this comes from being raised the oldest of five children — eventually, eight children after my grandparents adopted three other children — and raised by a mother and father fresh off of World War II and they themselves children of the Great Depression.
He was a military brat, traveling from one Army installation to the next, one country to the next, before graduating high school in San Antonio, Texas.
With the country in the midst of the Vietnam War era, he enlisted in the United States Coast Guard where after basic training was stationed as a gunners mate in the Arctic — yes, the Arctic — on icebreakers. From there, he went from one extreme to the other, receiving orders — one of a few in the Coast Guard — for duty in Vietnam.
Like many other Vietnam veterans, there is not a lot of stories he shares from his time there. There are some funny stories he has shared, including how he came about a spider tattoo on his upper arm.
After time in the Coast Guard and marrying my mother, he finished college a far better student, earning a degree in criminal justice and then had a stint as a police officer in Mobile, Ala.
Mom later made him choose between remaining an officer or a father of a now very young me. It couldn’t be both. The late-night worries and listening to a scanner at all hours of the day and night was a life my mother did not want or need. He knew that and thankfully chose the latter.
He went to school and became a teacher, spending more than three decades in the profession — primarily as a high school English, speech and drama teacher — where he left a lasting impact on hundreds, if not thousands of children, including me.
It is those experiences, those professions that make me wonder how he would have handled this pandemic, the distance learning and parents having to take on the role of teacher, administrator and physical education coach. How would he have handled the shelter-in-place orders, knowing there could not be the weekend trips to see his elderly parents or spend time gathering with family?
As a man who to this day enjoys watching the local and evening news, how would he have explained to his children, us, about the charges of police brutality and the protests?
And to all of those questions, I would think he would have handled the challenges parents today face in the same way he did then; there would have been a confident tone, a joke and a lesson. He would have been reassuring and defusing and told me to “look it up” if I had a question.
The pandemic would have afforded a history lesson of the 1918 pandemic and maybe even his experiences of being afflicted with polio as a child. As for the protests, there would have been stories of his time on the force and directions to “look up” the First Amendment and the rights it assures and protects.
On this Father’s Day weekend, I think about the lessons I have learned as a father, but more so than that, I think about the lessons I was taught by the best teacher I ever had; my dad.
Tim Reeves is editor of The Vicksburg Post. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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