Sunday, June 18, 2006

Father's Day

Friday was my dad's first day of summer vacation. As a teacher, he has always enjoyed the yearly ritual of sending off his graduating seniors, grading exams, completing report cards, and packing up his classroom for the summer. For 34 years, he has gone through the procedures of closing out the school year, only to wake up the next morning to a summer of lazy days stretching in front of him. Friday when he woke up, it wasn't just a summer that was stretching in front of him. It was the rest of his life.

My dad retired this year. One of the events Bigfella and I attended while visiting family was my dad's retirement dinner. In honor of Father's Day, I want to recreate the speech I gave. My dad is Bigfella's only grandfather, and therefore, will be the recipient of future daycare crafts, handmade cards and poems written in honor of "dad." While Bigfella is precocious, he wasn't quite able to create his own tribute this year, so I'm doing it for him.

So, without further ado:

During my years as president of our local education association, I was often asked to give speeches and soundbites to the media. When my father asked me to be his speaker tonight, I didn't think anything of it. But, it turns out this is the hardest speech I have had to write. I mean, how do you sum up the career of a teacher like my father in the three minutes allotted between drinks and salad?

As I struggled to get my thoughts and feelings crystallized, I spent some time looking for quotes that might be appropriate. I used quotes as a springboard for my students' daily writing assignments, so I have amassed quite a collection. In the end, I found two.

The first is by Lee Iacocca, who once said, "In a truly rational society, the best of us would strive to be teachers and the rest of us would have to settle for something else, because passing on civilization from one generation to the next is the highest honor and highest responsibility anyone could have."” Clearly, Mr. Iacocca has never met my father.

If he had, he would know that the best of us already are teachers. It's true. My father represents the best of humanity. He is patient, compassionate, generous, committed, professional and humble. Very, very humble. When he was appointed as state teacher of the year last year, he wrote a speech about his students, taking the opportunity of his new role to dispel myths and destroy stereotypes about urban students of color. When he was awarded an honorary doctorate this spring and gave the commencement address at a local university, he took the opportunity to talk about gay rights and the Constitution. The audience was moved to tears as he talked about my son--that same fussy little baby who was just removed from the room by my stepmother. My father is a humble man, with a strong vision of social justice. If only the rest of us had half his integrity and vision.

The second quote is from my favorite singer, Catie Curtis. She has a song that has always reminded me of my father. A couple of years ago, I saw her perform the song, "Dad's Yard" in concert, where I learned that she wrote it and first performed it at her father's retirement party, as he retired from a 30 plus year career as a teacher. "He can see the beauty beneath the dust and the grime. He can see potential where the rest of us are blind. He will polish the grey until it shines clear blue, and if you know my dad, well, he won't give up on you. So if you need something when times get hard, you can probably find it in my dad's yard. And if you need love, if you're coming apart, you can surely find it in my dad's heart."

So what did Bigfella do on his first of many Father's Days? Well, we let Dyke Two set the tone. Most of her life has been father-free, and since Bigfella's birth, her feelings toward her mostly absent father have changed from "live and let live" to lots and lots of anger and confusion. I figured Father's Day was going to be a lot harder for her than either me or Bigfella. So, Bigfella cooed at Grandpa over the phone, took a bunch of naps, and had his first trip to the swimming pool. Despite photographic evidence to the contrary, he seemed to settle in and enjoy himself.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting


At 11:22 AM, Blogger Pixie said...

What a beautiful baby boy!
He is absolutely precious!!!
So, its Monday morning- and here I am- moved to tears by this sweet and very touching speech.
Well put- it sounds like your dad is an amazing person....
Have a fabulous day!

At 8:39 PM, Blogger Northwoods Baby said...

Brava! Bravo! I hope he's enjoying retirement. My FIL says it takes about 6 months to really sink in. I don't know it'd take me that long. ;)


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