Critic at Large: My father wasn’t so ‘foolish’ after all

Monday, November 2, 2009
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This is for parents who believe they are obliged to guide and control their children’s educational direction.

Some might say my mother and father screwed up — big time.

After working and saving for years, they shelled out thousands of dollars each semester to put me through college. By the time I was ready for graduate school, my dad was forced to retire; he was 65.

I could have taken a loan, but my father, with no formal education, would not have it. He took a seasonal job at the track while my mother sewed garments at the coat factory. Yeah, I confess. I contributed only a pittance. Summer jobs, a few bucks here there tutoring, farming, renting cars, playing at dances.

When Jimmy G got a girl pregnant, his father cut off funds, told him to marry the girl and work in the factory. When my dad received similar news, he winced and, resting his weary head on his forehead, he quietly informed the girl’s parents that he and my mom would continue to finance my education and pay for an apartment with funds they would have expended anyway for college room and board. What the hell.

Some regarded my father as a fool. From where he stood, it was useless to stand on ceremony by playing a tyrannical father. Abandoning an education was never an option.

“See these hands?” I remember him saying as he held out his gnarled fingers. “See the calluses; feel how hard they are. I have made an honest living with them. But if you can help it, you will have smooth hands when you become a man. God willing, you will go to college and each day wear a white shirt and tie to work.”

My poor, uneducated father was not schooled in the modern ways of the world. He knew nothing about where the hot jobs were, even though he heard that those “big shots” in the factory were called engineers.

Key to confidence

For my father, it was enough that his son had an education, and God willling a college degree. It was not how much you made. If an education was something you had to earn, it was, in my father’s eyes, a gift.

He never articulated this philosophy, but long after I began to find my way, I clung to his belief that if you got yourself an education, worked hard and learned how to learn, you would somehow find your way and make a mark.

Never did I hear him caution me about intricacies of the job market, even though he maintained a healthy respect for the “big shots.” Wouldn’t he be proud if one day his son could descend to the factory floor and, donning a white shirt and bow tie, direct a transformer upward? My father never burdened me with this heavy expectation.

Only later did I realize that, along with my mother, it was my father’s trust, love, patience and unwavering faith which helped fuel my confidence.

I live with the knowledge that my regrets and failures are on me, and not on parents who hovered over my every turn, thinking they could control and engineer a child’s destiny.

Today, we are encountering a new breed of parent: a college-educated adult who has the temerity to call professors and university officials to lobby for their children’s grades, question a grade and, in some cases, ask for and oversee recommendations. It is a vulgar intrusion, threatening the sanctity of academic integrity.

It stems from the regrettable notion that a college is a job factory instead of an institute for learning.

Uneducated parents from another era knew better. They had what you might call an educated sense of humility.

Reach Dan DiNicola at

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November 2, 2009
10:57 a.m.
bubba53a says...

I thought infalliblilty of professionals went out when malpractice insurance became expensive and tenure became inviolable.

Since when is it a "vulgar intrusion" for parents to question authority in regards to their children's education?

If one is convinced of the veracity of their child's issue with a teacher, professor or administrator, it is that parents duty to respectfully question authority.

November 4, 2009
8:26 a.m.
CateMB says...

"This is for parents who believe they are obliged to guide and control their children’s educational direction."

This literally took my breath away! If parents aren't obliged to guide their children's education, then WHO IS? The state? Teachers' unions? WHO??

It is precisely because of this arrogance that I choose to educate my children at home, carefully guiding and (I guess) controlling their current educational direction. Shocking, I know.

I don't anticipate contacting their college professors because I would hope that by the time my kids enter college, they will be educated and mature enough to handle their own academic career.

But until they're mature enough to do so, I gladly accept my responsibility to guide them in the way that I see fit, according to my ideals and values.

Colleges shouldn't be job factories, and teachers shouldn't be politicians/social workers/engineers.

I love my kids and want what's best for them. If liberals are so pro-choice when it comes to having kids in the first place, why can't they be pro-choice when it comes to letting parents decide how to raise those kids?


November 5, 2009
10:45 p.m.
wanda1948 says...

There is a difference between advocating for your children and being involved in their lives and being a "helicopter parent." My daughter is a teacher in a major urban area (not in the Capital District, although she attended an urban high school in the Capital District. She earned a master's degree in urban education, has five certifications, and is working on a second master's in literacy. She is in her tenth year of teaching. Last year, she had two highly educated parents come into the school insisting that their child should not be "FORCED" to do his homework like the rest of the children in the class. He was the only one out of the entire sixth grade who wouldn't consistently do his homework. She worked with him, gave him chances to make it up (at reduced grades), and these parents had the nerve to show up with an assistant school superintendent to DEMAND that their little darling get special treatment, not because he had a learning disability or needed special help, but merely because he was their little darling.

The principal would not back up my daughter and forced her to change this child's grade to accommodate these parents. She was afraid that she would lose her job if she didn't.

Now, this child is very bright, has the vocabulary of a college freshman, is a voracious reader, and should have no problem doing simple homework assignments. Nothing too taxing, mind you--just writing a few sentences in a journal every night and turning the journal in once a week.

These parents are not doing this child any favors. When he has a job in 20 years, will mom and dad show up at work and say to the boss, "He doesn't feel like working today, so don't be too hard on him," or "This is MY child, and since I know the president of the company, you can't make him work as hard as you make the other employees work, or you will be risking losing your job!"

Will they follow him everywhere in college and say to the professors, "What do you mean, he has a mid-term to take? Oh, no, it's way too taxing for him!" And do they know that once he gets to college, if he is over the age of 18, professors aren't allowed to speak to them without written permission from their son?

November 5, 2009
10:46 p.m.
wanda1948 says...

(continued from above)
I guided my children's educational goals through their elementary, middle and high school careers. However, when I called the school when my children (most often my son) came home and told me some tall tale about a teacher, I would call the teacher and ask for the adult side of the story so that we could work out the problem. I was involved in every aspect of their education, from what happened in school to exposing them to music, art, and other forms of culture, as well as to participating with them in community service projects with people who are less fortunate than we are.

I don't know what being a liberal has to do with all this, Cate. Just as I believe strongly that it is up to you to decide to school your children at home, whether you are liberal, moderate, or conservative politically has nothing to do with that. Liberals, moderates and conservatives all love their children in their own ways.

However, there are so many unwanted children who don't have the benefit of a mother like Cate or a father like Dan DiNicola's. What is the answer for them? By asking that question, does that make me a liberal? Pro-choice? Conservative? Pro-life? I'd rather think that it makes me a humanitarian.

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