Dad G

Despite having such a great father, I sometimes still feel like a terrible son. I take on too many things at once, I am disorganized, I struggle with prioritizing tasks, am often pre-occupied, and frequently forgetful. All of these things were not taught to me by my dad, but somehow worked their way into my life-skillset anyway.

I’d like to blame him here, but know that none of this was modeled for me in the home. What I am happy to share are the amazing things that I did learn from this man whixh have contributed so much in making me the man, husband, father, and teacher I am today.

Did I mention easily distracted?

Sound funny? In its own way, yes and no. Right now though, is time to celebrate my pops. It’s Father’s Day, and instead of sending a card without ever enough money or gift card value to show my appreciation, I wanted to share something digitally with the world that would honour my dad Bill, and the blessings that he has given my life instead.

Wisdom

It is no lie that from the moment a child joins Team Earth, there is much to learn. My dad stepped into the role of Co-CIO(Chief Information Officer) in my life. Come to think of it, there were a lot of roles that he took on once family life started: Co-CFO, Co-Jurist, Co-Cop, Co-Logistics Manager, and Co-protector to name five.

From the get-go he was providing information and feedback. Somedays it was like come here, be quiet, get off of that, stop hurting your sister, stop bothering your brother, go to sleep, stay out of the forest, and so much more. Dad taught me what it was like to be a peacekeeper and how to maintain law and order.

As I grew a little older, it became more technical, iterative, and descriptive. By the time I was 5 much knowledge was gained. Always be learning, work hard, play hard, be honest, do your chores, quit hitting your brother and sister, don’t interrupt, pay attention to your surroundings, be respectful to others, be a problem solver, and learn new words everyday by reading. And then it was time to go to school.

School 

To a kindergarten kid, school is a giant indoor and outdoor playground. There were things to discover, games to play, songs to sing, and people too. At the end of the day, Dad would ask us what we had learnt and I am sure that the answer was always the same one, “Nothing”. Most days, I wanted to go to school and I wanted to show how much I was learning. There was so much to do, experience, and try even when we learnt “nothing”, we still managed to learn something.

My dad shared, that when he was growing up, he liked school too. He preferred playing sports, but also enjoyed his academic subjects. For him, the end of Grade 12 meant hitting the job market. You could get a job with a high school diploma in those days. I remember that he spoke about the importance of going to college/university and how a degree would be a benefit in our lives. Hard work mattered if any of us wanted to get ahead in this world. That meant I had to get a part-time job. 

Work 

Newspaper routes, washing dishes, bussing tables, and waiter were all lines on my resumé before turning 18. As Co-CFO, finances were important to my dad too. ‘Money did not grow on trees”, clichés about money did. Yet, despite having to get up early on weekends to go to work, the satisfaction of earning my own money for a job well done has never gone away. My first official paycheck at age 14 was a big event. It also signified the end of my allowance, but the beginning of my ability to generate income and start making some financial decisions for myself.

In many ways work was like freedom. It allowed me to do the things I’d never done before. The people skills and financial literacy are still in use. My parents’ hard work allowed us to have a wonderful home and security. This privilege also came with some responsibilities and expectations (a fair deal, although difficult to admit at the time).

Working was, is, and will be what we do. Even now, at 85 years old, dad is working full time, and probably loving every minute of it. I am still many years away from that milestone, but have already begun strategizing on what my 70s and 80s will hold beyond teacher life. Law school? Advertising? Barista? All threesta?

A strong work ethic shared by my dad has served me well as an entrepreneur and as an educator. Throughout all of my iterations as a child, adolescent, young adult, spouse, parent, and educator, my father’s ability to guide me towards make good decisions without deriding my choices has helped me in and out of the classroom. What still surprises me to this day is that even when I deserved to have my figurative ass kicked with an “I told you so.” or a “You should have…”, he allowed me to make my mistakes knowing that I would learn from them. That is how I try to do it too.

Here are a few of my dad’s pearls of wisdom (original and otherwise) that I am passing on to my son. Afterall, there will always more to parenting than just passing on DNA. Perhaps DNA stands for something else too.

Dad’s Natural Advice aka DNA 

“There’s no substitute for hard work.”
“If you have time to do it wrong, you’d better have time to do it over.”
“You can’t be a leader without a following.”
“You can fool some people some times, but you can’t fool all the people all the time.”
“Do nice things that help others.”
“Pay attention to the world around you. Take time to notice the little things.”
“Be kind to others without expecting anything in return.”
“A good vocabulary is the key to higher learning.”
and my all time favourite…
“Take French, you might get a job someday.”
Yay for second language learning!

I have shared each of these gems with my son and students over the years. Not a single one appears in a curriculum document, except perhaps the learn French one(only until Gr 9). Nevertheless, the wisdom at the core of each one is also at the heart of our collective humanity and capacity to learn and grow. My dad knows this, and continues to share it with a grace and wisdom beyond any of the degrees found conferred in academia.

It is with the knowledge that I pick up the mantle he has hewed before me, carry it forward, and prepare the future to hold it high.

Thanks Dad for the lessons. I still need more. May God continue to bless you with health, happiness, and wisdom for years and years to come so you can keep on kicking proverbial ass with wisdom. 

Love Will

 

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Wyoming 1971

This is a companion post to Building blocks published on the Heart and Art of Teaching and Learning blog for the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario. It is, as my wife puts it, a means to spare readers with commitment and time issues a chance to get some of the back story if they want it instead of a longer read.

In the early 1970s, my family moved to the State of Wyoming, USA. We settled in a little town of 10 000 people. It was there that I began 7 years of school from K to 6.

Our school year started in September and finished at the end of May. It was glorious. Once Alice Cooper’s anthem played on the radio we all knew that 3 months of vacation awaited. We would leave the house in the morning and only reture for a few reasons; food, medical attention, and the toilet. Neighbourhoods swarmed with kids of all ages on bikes, playing sports, fishing in the local creek, and cooling off in a pool. Parental supervision was at a minimum. The entire neighbourhood looked out for one another. There must have been at least 6 other families to turn to if trouble came my way. Summer vacation in Wyoming was spent outdoors, playing from dawn to dusk, and without talk of school. We all had chores to do, but even most of them were outdoors. My parents did not have a single school related task to fill those days; that I knew about.

The moment Labour Day weekend rolled around new clothes were purchased, maybe some shoes too if we outgrew the old ones, and like a switch got flipped, we were all back in school mode. Since I was new to all of this there was a lot of oblivion as it related to which class I would be in or who my teacher(s) might be. The only thing I knew about kindergarden was that a nap was scheduled in the afternoon, but I wondered who it was really for? Us or the teacher? By foot was how most of us arrived each day, with the only exception being a school bus full of tired farm kids whose commute was up to an hour each way.

Independence and the rust

From K to 1 someone walked me to school, but from Grade 2 on I joined the commuter class of children who walked to school on their own. It was a distance of about 700 metres that included 3 turns and crossing the street. We avoided cars, strangers, and loose dogs. At lunch, many of us would walk home and back, even though school lunch was provided in our lunch room for the price of 45 cents – milk included. It was nice to go home and relax in between classes. Our school had a nurse who checked our hearing, vision, and teeth. She applied iodine and bandages, which is probably why most kids chose not to go in when cuts or scrapes occured. It was better to take your chances with an infection than it was with the iodine. When my mom would ask me what happened, most of the time I couldn’t remember because we were too busy playing.

Of course it wasn’t only like Neverland in Wyoming. Once we settled into our classrooms each year there were the usual get to know you activities and expectations. Teachers would be trying to assess us on our abilities to read, write, do Science, and answer increasingly difficult pages of Math questions as fast as possible as our ages increased. Nothing like shaking the cobwebs off from the get-go. It was tantamount to a leap into frigid waters not felt since May. For some it was shock to the system and yet for others there were no effects.

For me, after being out of the classroom for 3 months, it was obvious some rust had formed and I knew it. However, it never seemed like our teachers were worried about what we remembered or forgot from the previous year. Perhaps, they believed that recalling knowledge was like riding a bike even though your feet haven’t touched the pedals in years. It just comes back to you after a little practice. Sure there were some wobbly moments and crashes, but eventually momentum was regained.

In that time, it never felt as though we weren’t getting better each year. Some subjects were harder for me and others came easier. We were taught, we tried to apply the lessons, we were tested, corrected(shown how to improve), and taught some more. Not much has changed 45 years later except I’m on the other side of the desks now. And students are a whole lot more connected and savvy than then. The Math we are asking them to understand is kilometres ahead of the drill and kill days. At least in some ways.

As I work with students who have been off for 10 weeks over the summer break, I am noticing that many are coming to school in September exhausted and anxious. They struggle to shake the rust off and pick up where they left off at the end of June. I wonder when/if they were able to be still, run, recharge or play without having every moment of their day prescribed by a camp, sports team, or club? Many of these programs seem more tied to child care than they do to fun and seem to be a necessary reality for children where all of the adults in the home are in the workforce.

As a result Math seems to suffer the greatest amount of rust over the summer. And this might contribute to some of the anxiety that we are now seeing in the classroom each September. Perhaps if we gave our students the time to savour the summer rather than sail through it, we might give them the opportunity to return to schoolready for another year at the speed of learning.

That leads to the blog I originally wrote called Building upon balance, which inspired this preamble and its companion Building blocks.

Thank you for reading. Please take time to share or comment to let me know your thoughts. If you would like to read a bit more about the experience of leaving this mid-west Shangri La and what it was like to return to Canada, please read Uprooted.

To the brother I have bothered

Tim, Mom, and writer.

He is 7 years 2 months and 2 days older than me.

He is 5 feet 9 inches, but I have have looked up to him ever since I could crawl across the floor or stick my head out my bunk bed cage to look at him up top.

At age 3, I followed him through a northern BC forest to school so I could play like he did. I am sure he would have been happier to cover me in syrup and leave me for the bears.

I wrecked his Beatles albums, his books, and his toys. Actions that I still regret to this day. He had nice things.

He is the brother that I have bothered for 52 of his 59 years on this planet. He has the patience of Job, the wit of a stand-up comedian, the generosity of a saint, and a golf swing like a rusty gate. Yet, he holds the record for most Ugly Jacket Golf Tour wins in our family.

When I was 8 he gave me money to buy candy before going off to day camp. He helped me sneak out the basement window of our house so I could run down the street and be back before anyone else knew what happened. I was instantly popular at camp that year.

He took me places. Sometimes willingly.

He was cool. He swam. I swam.
He worked. I worked.

He defended our sister from my tyrannous middle child ways. No one’s perfect.
He went away and I was sad. He came home and then we moved away.
He stayed. That was 40 years ago.

We still talk, laugh too much, and never forget to say I love you.

He will always be my favourite brother to bother.

Happy birthday Tim.