This afternoon I was having a moment of great fun with my students. Some of you aren’t shocked. One of the reasons I know teaching is in some way my vocation is by how easy it is for me. I mean that as in it never seems like work. I love my kids and every day brings truly great joy and really fun times.
In this particular class I was talking with the kids, going around the room. The lesson was on coming to understand the conscience as the seat of judgment. I mentioned my Dad as having among the best judgment of anyone I’ve known. This is significant because I had just told them that the grace of God made present in the sacraments enhances our ability to judge effectively. “Dad went to mass every day, kids,” I said. [I’ve got to get back to that.]
Something strange happened. While I was talking about him I began to feel like he was in the classroom with us. That’s not too unusual for me. I’ve always believed in the strong presence of those we’ve lost still in our lives. But I began to wonder a few things. He never saw me teach. Actually very few of my friends have. It’s a shame, really. I’m pretty freakin’ awesome at it. But it’s strange for me because I remember how he taught. He was not a teacher. In fact, he didn’t suffer most teachers well. The man was a genius though he lacked the patience to express what he knew to those of us who were not on his level. I still fear numbers because of how he corrected my math homework as a kid. “What the hell did you write all those extra numbers on the page for?” he’d ask. “Well, um, Daddy, Sister said that’s how you carried the, um, extra num” — “Can’t do it in your head?!” In truth it was funny and I certainly learned a few things like how to frustrate him when I wanted a laugh. Sitting at the piano one day I asked if he wanted me to teach him how to play. The conversation ended with “What’s the matter, can’t play both hands together?!” Of course I said it in a much more innocent tone than you’re imagining.
But Dad always admired those who could do things well, especially if he could not. He was never envious, just impressed with good work and, especially, with good performances. Don’t you know I taught one of my best classes ever this afternoon. I wanted him to see how good I was and wondered if he’d be impressed.
I mentioned a “memory” in the title and almost forgot to write about it. Driving home from work, still thinking about Dad, my mind wandered to an incident from years ago. I was 23 years-old, laid up with a bad back and the accompanying paralyzing sciatica. I spent weeks on the couch in Mom and Dad’s living room, awake all night and asleep all day thanks to the painkillers I was taking. Some days, I’d be awake for a few hours in the early afternoon, though, and these were the worst times because everyone was out and I had no company. I had dozed off one day, kind of depressed about a lot of things. When I opened my eyes I saw my father sitting on the couch next to the chair I was on. He never sat in that room for anything. He had noticed me sleeping and had decided I needed him nearby. He had even gotten us each a dish of ice cream. He must have known that would wake me up. You see, he was also looking for company. There was a game show on the History Channel and he had no one to watch it with – or at least no one who would give him a challenge. I felt better for a while. We sat together and shouted out answers about WWII at the screen. I think I even “won”. Who can’t carry the one now, old man?!
I don’t know why that memory has always stuck with me. But I’m glad it has and I’m very glad I thought of it today and I wanted to share it because maybe it will make you glad as well.