This Saturday marks the 23rd anniversary of the day my Dad passed away. To honor his memory, I will provide anecdotal evidence of the great teacher he was. I wish I could provide it to him in person, but I have faith that he will hear it anyway.
When I was a teenager, I became aware of a macabre habit: on Saturday mornings, Dad would get his coffee, sit at the end of the counter, and read the paper. And while I’m sure he read all the traditional parts (sports, front page, etc.), it was his custom to also read the obituaries. If he found someone he knew, even (especially) if it was someone he knew from a long time ago, he would get up from his counter stool, get dressed, and head to that funeral. As a teenager, I was horrified by this prospect. Just showing up at a funeral to express condolences to a group of strangers, for someone you haven’t seen in years, it’s insanity!
My Dad died relatively young (he was 52), he died suddenly, and our family is large, so we prepared for the crowds by having his wake in the church, rather than in the more traditional funeral home. I believe the doors opened at 7 pm, and I did not see the end of that line until after 11 pm. The crowds of people who came to pay their respects to that man still blow my mind. As a daughter, the people who made the most lasting impression on me were not the relatives or close family friends. Of course, I appreciated their presence, but I expected to see them. What stands out to me, even 23 years later, are the men who walked up to me, shook my hand, and told me what a great childhood friend my father was, or what a great co-worker he was, many years ago.
To this day, when I find out that someone has died, and I knew them even in a peripheral way, I attend their funeral.
If I may be so bold to characterize the parenting style in which I was raised, I would label it Fear-Based Parenting. “Wait until your father gets home” are words that still strike terror in my heart, and the man’s been dead for almost a quarter of a century. Lest you think I’m criticizing, I often long for my children to have that same fear of me, but, sadly, that ship has sailed.
One of the arenas in which the fear mongering played out was academics. I dreaded that quarterly report card as if it were a death sentence for 12 straight years, and the most ridiculous part of it was I was consistently on the honor roll. The one and only time I remember that fear being necessary was either second or third grade, and I received an “S-” in conduct. I could not contain the anxiety as I waited until evening, when my father got home. He sat at the counter (same spot where he read the paper), and I stood, trembling next to him as he studied the green cardstock. He looked down at me, and he said, “You did a good job on your report card. The teacher’s pen must have slipped near the “S” on the conduct line, she needs to be more careful.”
I almost fainted with relief.
Last weekend my daughter and I were driving in the car, and she bursts into tears. When she calmed enough to speak, she said, “I really screwed up, there’s nothing I can do to fix it, and I’m too scared to tell you what I did.”
Note to teenage children reading: This is a great strategy, because by the time you tell them what actually happened, your parents, having immediately conjured up things like homicide, pregnancy, and drug-related crimes, will want to hug you instead of kill you. Unless you did in fact murder someone, are pregnant, or have been arrested for a drug-related crime. In that case, I can’t help you to strategize your confession.
It turns out my that the inaugural experience with mid-terms did not have the best results. We talk through the how’s and why’s, and attempt to create some learning points for the future. But by the time we are heading for home, she is a wreck again, because now she has to tell Daddy, and oh my god he is going to kill me. I say I will talk to him first. I do, and armed with the facts, and me recounting the Tale of the “S-,” he calls her down and has a similar conversation. And her relief was as palpable as I’m sure mine was, all those years ago. And I’m sure the chuckle my husband and I shared was similar to the one my Mom and Dad had all those years ago.
When I was roughly the age my son is now (12), I had an ongoing Bickering War with my younger brother. Every day we would come home from school and proceed to taunt, bully, and scream at each other until my Mom got home from work. And then continued to taunt bully and scream at each other in a slightly more subdued way. My grandmother lived with us, but I don’t remember much her opinion on the situation, although as a parent now I can make an educated guess. I’m also sure my Mom threatened us numerous times, to no avail.
One day my Dad is home from work a little earlier than usual. I am called from whatever I was doing to set next to him at the counter (at the same spot where he read the paper and report cards). He tells me he is home from work early because his boss called him into the office to have a talk with him. Turns out, a neighbor has been complaining about the ruckus my brother and I have been causing on a regular basis, and the neighbor has complained to my Dad’s place of employment. The boss tells my Dad, “Jack, if you can’t control your kids at home, how can I expect you to control your truck at work?” He looks at me earnestly, and tells me how important my job is to him, to our family. Do I want him to lose his job?
I am in tears, and I solemnly vow to keep things under control while he is at work. I am permitted to leave the kitchen, and I hole myself away to plot my revenge against the neighbor who squealed. As I consider the possibilities, a few thoughts occur to me:
a. My Dad is a truck driver, and
b. I myself have no idea how to get a hold of him at work, let alone his boss.
My tears of shame turn into tears of outrage. But since I was raised under the Fear-Based Parenting model, I allow the rage to subside. And I did tone down the bickering, so I guess it was a successful strategy.
The lesson? A well-crafted tale can work wonders with children, but the details are critical to its success.
Despite his dying young, I have a multitude of stories from which to choose when writing this post. Hopefully I will get a chance to share them all!