Friday, November 20, 2009

Bits of wisdom.

Y'all know that I teach college classes at the Prison in San Saba. Some of the classes they teach out there are designed to try to motivate the "offenders," er, criminals, inmates (ya know, losers) to walk a strait road when they get out and... Well, basically, stay the hell out of jail. It's hit and miss. Supposedly, the more education they get, the less likely they are to come back.

For the most part the classes are like traffic school. The offenders have to complete the classes before they get out of prison. My buddy Ellis teaches one called "Changes", and a few other folks teach a few others. They're totally different from the college classes I teach. More like high school, or, like I said, traffic school. It's all about getting them to think about how and why they got locked up. The choices and behaviors that got them where they are.

Anyway, when I teach my evening classes there Monday and Wednesday nights, I use one of the bigger, nicer rooms that houses one of these special classes during the day. The teacher usually has some motivational quote up on the board for the offenders to read and think about. This last Wednesday evening, I came into class and looked up on the board and this is what it read:

"When a door closes, look for an open window... But it may take a while to feel the breeze."

The author was anonymous.

Of course, I fully understood the meaning behind the words. You know, "don't let anything stand in your way. If you fail at something, pick yourself up and try again. It may take a while, but you will succeed if you keep trying... etc, etc, etc."

But I laughed when I read it. Maybe I'm just a twisted bastard, but I thought I saw something else in there. I went out to point out the message to my buddy John, the guard there at the jail. We both thought the same thing. "Hey, is she tryin' to teach them how to break and enter, or maybe how to escape?"

A while later, while I was lecturing about the Cold War, which will inevitably bring back memories from my life growing up in the Air Force in the 1960s and '70s, I saw another inscription on the teachers day time schedule planner. It's one of those paper desk top planners that also serves as a writing pad, where you peal off a month when it's over and the squares are big enough to write stuff in.

This one hit home. It said "A fathers love is the fuel that enables a normal human being to do the impossible." The author was someone named Garrety.

Yea, that's deep stuff. It set me off thinking about a lot of things. Things you've heard before around here.

You know, Dad and I had an interesting relationship. It was negative and adversarial through most of my youth, but then it grew into a more loving one as both of us got older and I decided to forget about a lot of things. I say "decided", because that's just what happened. I remember the time very well.

I was going through a lot of shit then, mulling over lots of things that seemed to have derailed my life in one way or another. At some point, back in the late 1980s, I just got sick of it all. The resentment was becoming a crutch that I used to explain away my own faults. I guess I just got sick of it, and I decided to try to put it behind me and be positive.

Just about then, one of those windows opened for me and my life changed. I'd piddled around for over a year after getting my Masters Degree, unable to get a teaching job. Then, in March of 1990, I got a call from someone here in Killeen. Central Texas College needed someone to go out on a Navy ship and teach two classes. One was US History and the other was an Introduction to Political Science.

I thought about it for about 24 hours and then said HELL YES! As I said, I walked through that door and my life changed forever. I haven't looked back since. Not too much anyway. And it was amazing to me, how much my relationship with my father warmed when I got a real job and started to move my life forward. I actually started to feel like he respected me for the very first time in my life. That made it much easier to forget the old days.

That's what I was thinking about when I read that inscription. I felt that old tinge of regret. What if my father had been the friend to me in my early years that he became so much later in my life? What if I'd been able to feel something like that respect and approval in those early days?

That feeling of love and respect from your father is so important. It allows a child to feel confident in their own mind and respect themselves, even with all the troubles every kids has to face. Your father is super human when you're little. If he obviously doesn't think very much of you, or doesn't seem to care what you do, then how can you possibly grow up to have any confidence in yourself?

That's they way it was between dad and I, but none of that matters now. He's gone, and all those issues are dust. He's no longer with me on those Friday evenings at the Chinese place or the ball game, but he'll always be running around in my imagination, and in my heart.

I miss him terribly. I can't go out to the cemetery and visit his plot without balling like a baby, so I don't go there very often. I prefer to imagine him here with me now, still watching me as I move my life forward and enjoy the success that I've worked towards for these twenty some-odd years.

In the end, he knew how I felt. He knew it before he died, and that's the only thing that matters now.

Postscript: Well, there was a funny end to the message on the white board. The folks out there found my little sticky note on the board and the shit hit the fan. I put a not up there sayin' "You tryin' to encourage folks to break out?" They thought an offender had left it, and spent hours this mornin' tryin' to find out who'd done it. Then it hit them that I'd left it, and everyone started to get the joke. By the time I got there today they were all laughin' and tellin' me about it. It was hilarious.


GUYK said...

Thanks my friend. I had much the same relationship with my Dad when I was a teenager....and it was my fault not his. We didn't start to get along until I married and by the time I retired from the USAF we were as close as any Father and son could be. And yes, I miss him every day.

BRUNO said...

And what's wrong with bawlin' like the rest of us do?(Yes, most of us still do---or maybe I should say, CAN?)If you get to the point where you CAN'T, well, then is when you DO need professional HELP. The "trick" is to not let it get that far.

On a lighter note, reminds me of a phrase---I think from Samuel Clemens? Goes somethin' like:"After having been away for several years, I returned as a young-adult, and was immediately surprised at how much my father had grown-up, and was seeing things my way now, more and more each day."

"It was amazing what he had learned from me over the years!"

Typical sarcasm, from the "king" of such!

Like father, like son. It tends to grow on ya', with each new day...!

Mushy said...

I've only been back to my dad's grave once and that was with my mom some 10 years after the fact. We didn't get along before, and I sure don't want to be confronted by him now...that would scare the hell out of me!

I'll wait to see him in the "here after"...we should both be mellow enough by then to forgive and forget. And, if that never happens, then neither of us will ever know the difference.

I'm sure on judgment day we'll all be too overjoyed, too busy hooping and hollering, to have animosities about who didn't visit whose grave.

FHB said...

Yea, Guy, I feel that much of what happened was my fault too. I was just too different from him for him to be able to understand me. It's as if we were born on different planets.

And Yea Bruno, I really don't mind the cryin'. I keep tellin' myself I need to take a hoe out there and work on the weeds, and fill the little sunk hole at the corner of the grave with sand. Maybe this weekend. Dad would love it, seein' me doin' the work. He'd be smilin'.

And yea Mushy, in the end, we'll all be too happy for anything else to matter. I feel that now.

Thanks guys. Great comments.

Vicki In GA said...

Great story. I'm both a retired CA state correctional officer and teacher. I now teach GED p/t at a local GA state detention center. Your post tickled me, and I totally relate to what you wrote about re Dad's, inmates, school, etc.

Sometimes little sayings just fly over the head's of our beloved detainees, doesn't it?

Thank you GuyK for linking me to this wonderful writer.

PRH....... said...

My old man was my hero....he died at 55{when I was 23} but I never felt shorted....he will be gone 37 years this Christmas Eve, but at times, I know he's still with me.

FHB said...

Yea, see, I think about your relationship with your father, or Pauls with his son, and I just yearn for things that couldn't have been. It makes it worse to see other fathers and sons who've been able to do it right. But that's all water under the bridge.