Redundant Tendencies

Please indulge a little pre-recess pondering. Educators don’t just flip a switch the last days of the semester. There’s a “de-climax” after the grades are submitted. The end-of-the-year celebrations and conversations dissolve into reflections of successes and short-comings.

“Story Time” became the most favored activity in the last hours of the school year. Some teachers played popular movies for those students who came to the school building. But due to streaming limitations, those students at home couldn’t participate.

One teacher took liberties that were not afforded to everyone. He drew from his semi-relevant bag of tricks. He discussed connections between the curriculum and the real world. And when the students realized that their teacher had been holding back on story-time all year, they began to question why.

“Why did you make us take notes on the text if the text wasn’t entirely true?” “What is the truth?” “How do we know that you’re telling us the truth now?”

Who could have predicted that students would engage on the last day of school? Had their teacher been deliberately withholding the “meat” of the lessons? Why had he waited so long to dispense with the “juice” of these tales?

To answer these questions, the circumstances must be disclosed. A year-long pandemic exasperated by a need to facilitate instruction doesn’t just happen! In addition to “multi-planning” to students with various learning abilities, proximity obstacles, and health restrictions. No amount of planning was going to make traditional lessons meaningful. These are the moments that spawn innovation.

This teacher used the text to model form. Preview, prepare, annotate, assess, repeat. His evaluations didn’t reflect the rubric. He was not commended for lesson planning. He was recognized for not giving up. He mustered passion and proceeded accordingly.

In the final hours, this teacher revealed the truth to his students. He told them (now that the grades were submitted) that they had ever only needed to show up. He revealed to them that he could not measure their understanding of the content. He alerted them to the dangers of being promoted without mastering participation. He warned them that this will never happen again.

They took a journey down winding paths that addressed colonial systems (without discussing critical race theory). They once explored the text, but now discussed why it was written in such a way. They compared traditional systems to their fantasy movies and comic books. They even grazed on Wonder Woman’s true identity, the differences between Marvel and DC comics, and that Superman was nothing more than an alien. One student asked if Batman was nothing more than a representation of American upper-class wealth and entitlement.

Proud of how the conversation progressed, now facilitated by the students, he paused. He no longer wanted to tether the discussion to simplistic observations—like how Marvel was colorful and and DC was more dark. Instead he watched the clock and mourned for the time lost to Western Civics and the rationale for writing a third draft.

His students had far more to offer than he’d even imagined. Were these his students or was he their student? It’s been said that mastery can be assessed by how well the students conveyed what they’ve learned. When they can teach it, they’ve mastered it!

On this day, the LAST day of the academic year, the students became the teachers. No one felt like they were victorious having survived a pandemic. Instead they felt like they progressed into the next level of Fort Nite, where they would have to assemble their team, gather their resources, and creep boldly into a world that they don’t understand.

Things Have Changed

There used to be a time when a newspaper delivered to the front yard was a welcomed arrival. Now it’s unexpected, unwanted, and unclaimed. The dew soaked newsprint wrapped in a plastic bag is ripe for the trashcan that is parked five feet away. Long gone are the days that we stand by our front doors in our bathrobes, holding our coffee cups, awaiting last night’s news in the morning post. The news comes differently now. Sometimes it’s welcomed but usually as cozy reminder of the way things used to be. Nowadays our news must be packaged differently. We get a notification in real time. We click the link for a summary. If we want more details, we tune in at 5pm, 6pm, 10pm or 11pm (if we can wait that long).

The way we communicate has changed. We once called a loved-one to see how they are doing. Now our morning greetings and semi-regular wellness checks are transmitted through text messages that can be replied to at-will, delayed, left on “unread”, or ignored entirely.

Remember when you used to compile a grocery list? You might poll family members to gather requests for favorite treats or specific toiletries. If you’re like me, you might even invite the kids to join you on a shopping trip. It was always a little more expensive, but the time together had a very special value of its own. Now your options include wish lists, virtual shopping carts, pick-up times, or delivery preferences.

How about when you’d wait until your tires were low to get air? Or when your engine would run rough before you got a tune up? Now onboard diagnostics detect anomalies and deficiencies. The “idiot lights” in cars are now well-informed and play critical rolls in our driving experience.

When you stop long enough to look around, you realize the the big changes all started with small ideas. The visions for something better evolved into drafts and plans and conversations and negotiations. Quickly things change and the ability to remember how the changes occurred becomes blurred and complicated.

Even conservative thought is buried by progressive intent. When we say the world is rapidly changing, it is only because of the need to improve. Our experiences are shared by many. The movers put distance between themselves and their starting points. They hit their targets because they are focused on their goals. But those who don’t move–those who are content in the world around them–make no progress. Instead they embrace the old and resist the change. We’ve had two very distinct kinds of characters playing absolute roles in an unforgiving world.

Progress is measured by passion and levels of determination. Things that were once thought impossible have been reassessed as feasible. A young entrepreneur I know named her business “From We Can’t 2 We Can.” No one can ever make a claim that she is not passionate. She makes things happen when others have lost focus of their resources. She is grasping a radically different characteristic of our culture.

Innovators change the world. Brief trials and errors were the precursors to either successes and failures. Decisions were made, in part, by individuals with traditional motives (money, fame, or both). We are living in a new age–an Age of Newness. We are motivated by efficiency and satisfaction. The feeling that you get when you buy something new is euphoric, not because it is better than anyone else’s or better than what you’ve had before. We enjoy our conquests because they represent a new way of doing things.

It is unlikely that you’ll subscribe to a newspaper ever again. It’s not probable that you’ll resume weekly trips to the grocery store to restock your cabinets. And once you’ve grown accustomed to the luxuries of a technologically advanced automobile, the desire to drive an ol’ fashioned car is a mere novelty.

Our lives improve because of our experiences. We try new things and abandoned the unpleasantries. Be on the lookout for the next best thing. You might not enjoy it, but you already know that once the masses experience it, the old ways will disappear.

Worst Father’s Day Ever

It’s been twenty years since the first Father’s Day without my dad. These years have been bitter-sweet. I have children of my own. I haven’t been able to celebrate him the way my kids celebrated me. But this year is different.

Riddled with confusion from being the best dad I can be, I struggle with the memories of my own dad. I can’t even speak with the last person who saw him alive. “Thanks, mom! You’ve done to me what you did to him! You’ve pushed me away the same way you pushed him…AWAY! I blame YOU. Are you happy now, mom?” Not with bullets or daggers; but with coldness and distance. Silence is as painful as any weapon. But it works both ways (mom)! “Mom, answer your PhOnE!”

She blamed HIM for my brother’s death. He got to hear it every day. My brother didn’t get to say good bye to his dad either. He never got to BE a dad. He didn’t even get to meet my daughter (who was only a few months old when he expired). But my dad did. Holding my daughter was one of the last things he did the day he died. But he never got to meet my son.

My son hears the stories that I tell about my own dad. He gets to hear the tales of the lessons my dad taught me. But there are some things my son can not be told. Not for fear of my own embarrassment, but for concern that he might behave in a similar way. But as I watch closer, I observe my son emulating traits that I was sure my dad had taken to his grave. If not for genetics, then what? How?

TWENTY YEARS AGO, I celebrated my first Father’s Day. I held my baby girl in my arms. I thought she’d always be Daddy’s Girl. Now the only thing that calls me “Daddy” is my Hulu account. The children have all grown up.

I refuse to accept the facts. I refuse to apologize for the things that have passed. I will not make amends. This isn’t a twelve step program!

Sure I have grief! But for sixteen of those twenty years, my mom insisted that her grief was more important. It wasn’t enough for her to attend the support groups, she had to facilitate them; she had to manage the pain for others; as if her service would alleviate the guilt. As if the guilt would exonerate the responsibility.

I’m still here! And I miss my dad.

I don’t know what the plan was. I don’t know if there WAS a plan. I don’t know if it worked. All I know is the wisdom of realizing that there’s plenty that I DON’T KNOW and plenty that I don’t understand. Is this what fatherhood is supposed to be? I’m pretty sure this is not what TWENTY YEARS of manhood is supposed to feel like.

I miss my dad. I miss my kids more. I was an even better dad than my own (I think). But how is that measured anyway? I mean, I am here for my kids. I serve kids who are not my own. I mentor and volunteer. I support and counsel my kids. I celebrate them and redirect them when needed.

I am most recently remembered for the way I wield a punishment. I call it motivation. My kids don’t cry from a spanking. My kids anger because I’ve taken away something that is important to them. Their mother never had to warn, “wait until your father gets home…” because I’ve always been close by.

Father’s Day offers more than just a recognition of dear old Dad. It’s a recognition of what it means to be a dad. For me, it’s the opportunity to reflect on the job I’ve done. It’s the self-analysis of how I’m doing. It’s the preparation of what’s to come.

I’ve had more years withOUT my dad than WITH my dad. That’s still more years than some have had with their dad at all. That’s still more than my siblings have had with our dad. That’s still more than my other brothers have had with their own dad. My dad RAISED my brothers whose own dad was busy saving the world. MY dad loved all of his kids, even when they stopped loving him (or at least that’s what my mom used to say before she stopped talking to me).

MY dad wasn’t just mine. He was a father, a step father, and a son. His dad also died too soon. I never met his dad. As a matter of fact, I never met my mom’s dad either. So I suppose I won’t be celebrating Grand Parent’s Day either.

This year Father’s Day will be different. My kids have lives of their own. And although they aren’t parents yet, I’m assured that when their day comes they may understand better. They may experience what it feels to give so much and receive so little. Appreciation hits differently after TWENTY YEARS.

Kids, this year my door will be open. So there will be no need to knock or ring the bell. The bell has tolled for many fathers. But not for me. There will be no visitors (and no invitations). I’ll be sitting on the couch watching Hulu. I’ll be selecting the account that is set up just for me. I’ll be there, but Daddy won’t be hugged up with his kids. I’ll watch other Dad’s with similar tales—because Hollywood portrays dads differently than moms.

Moms receive their flowers when they are living. Dad’s buy the flowers but rarely receive them. I’d prefer a bouquet of tools anyway. But Sears shut their doors years ago. “If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball!” This year, I’m dodging Father’s Day. That is all…