I heard a tale of two fathers last night at a Christmas party. Perhaps I should say that I heard a tale of two kinds of fathers! The first installment in the story unfolded as we sat around enjoying some traditional Mexican food. One the attendees at the party grew up in a home where both of his parents were educators in the public school system. I might add that they were employed by schools in a somewhat rural community. Brian told us that his mother was a teacher in the elementary school. During his formative years as a student mom was always right down the hall. I can’t imagine what that must have been like. It was bad enough that my mother always sided with the teacher, even when said instructor was clearly misguided in her analysis of my behavior. But Brian somehow survived and moved on to middle school.
By the time he became a high school student, his dad was serving as the principal on that campus. That must have made his mother being in the same school building look like paradise. I asked him if he ever got sent the principal’s office. I never got a straight answer on that one, but he did say that his father was waiting for him on the steps of the school on a morning when he was tardy. His father handed him the standard tardy slip and informed him in a way that only a dad can that he would never be late to school again.
The second installment in this tale of two fathers took place a little later at the same party. I casually asked a high school teacher how her year was going. I was not prepared for the response I received. She shared some of the difficulties of teaching in a public school in today’s world. Behavior issues are rampant. One evening after school she decided to go on a mission. She had four boys in one particular class that were especially destructive and disrespectful. Her mission: Call all of their fathers that evening and seek their assistance. Unfortunately I knew the outcome of this installment of the tale before she finished. There were no fathers in which to speak. They were in jail or they had abandoned the family. Some of the kids had virtually no guidance at the place they called home.
The final chapter in this tale has only been partially completed. Brian graduated from high school with only one tardy on his record to my knowledge. He is presently a supervisor with a very prestigious law enforcement agency. The four boys that struggle with their conduct in and probably out of the classroom are juniors in high school this year. So much of their story has not been written yet. I know for a fact that if they don’t encounter a mentor soon their future is bleak at best.
Last night’s tale of two fathers changed my perspective. I used to think that we need excellent teachers that are outstanding role models to remain in public education. I still firmly believe that to be true. But I am now persuaded that they cannot do it alone. Public schools must adopt a model similar to the concept of Community Policing that many law enforcement agencies have embraced. Public schools struggling for sufficient funding must aggressively recruit, welcome, and encourage adult volunteers to be a personal part of the educational process in the classroom.
The teacher I spoke with last night is imminently qualified in her field. But the presence of a strong male role model in her classroom would make quite a difference in my estimation. Of course I think men and women are needed for such a task. I am just thinking about the four fatherless boys… I know several retired police officers that are trained in a concept called Command Presence. Those kids need a good blend of Command Presence and genuine love. I am not convinced that school administrators across the board are buying into this concept. If we are going to retain the best educators and prepare this generation for life in the real world there had better be some buy in!
As I reflected on the tale I heard last night, I realized that I as my nest empties in the next couple of years; I may need to build a new one in a classroom. After all I know how to communicate with kids in ways that only a father can. And I want to be like Brian's father. I want to be a real man that loves kids enough to have some real expectations.