Critic at Large: My father wasn’t so ‘foolish’ after all
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.