Daddy knew I wanted to pursue a teaching degree; but it was entirely at odds with his understanding of opportunities that existed for his children’s generation. I was “Teach”. Those times that I showed any conviction about any topic, Daddy would reply, “OK, Teach!” and chuckle…in his own way, he really was acknowledging my abilities, but I wouldn’t fully understand this for some time.
I wasn’t consciously seeking my identity as is so often described in today’s standards; in our home, to focus upon oneself or one’s particular goal (like a college education) was unheard of. Doing so would be viewed as selfish; I certainly didn’t want to appear selfish.
Dad’s schooling had ended at the high school level and some trade school. What worked for him he believed would work for any of us. His attitude regarding further education for my brother was that it was unnecessary; after all, my brother had a job in the floor covering business waiting for him upon high school graduation.
Financial security for one’s daughter was simply defined: marriage. Why waste college on a daughter when she (supposedly), would only marry and end up running a household and raising a family?
I formulated an acceptable, working identity, by burying myself inside textbooks. The plan worked fairly well; most of the time, I stayed out of my mother’s hair. She certainly didn’t want me in her kitchen; that was her territory as the mother. So, my preferred role as the good student afforded a safety and security that worked in tandem with my obedient daughter gig.
I returned home after school each day and shelved any dreams of college aside for the immediate priorities of homework. Maintaining my grade point average took most of my mental energies and a good deal of my emotion; any remaining coping skill was entirely used up by the week’s end. No surprise that my favorite time of day was bedtime when I could shut myself away from school, the family expectations, and all of life’s draining have-tos.
At one point, I decided that my asking for a college education would cause financial harm, so I applied for assistance; my reasoning was simple; the folks were nearing retirement. I picked up a form from my counselor and took it home. One of my most uncomfortable experiences as a high school senior was accompanying my father to his accountant’s office later that week. Sitting there, I listened to conversation mixed with an inside joke attitude that I truly didn’t understand;
I don’t see them granting her any financial aid, not with all your stock holdings!
Go ahead and fill it out anyway, this is important to her.
As the third party in the room, Her started connecting the dots, feeling very foolish. The accountant obviously knew that the folks were comfortable enough to never qualify as “needing assistance”. He obliged my father and filled out the form.
There is chuckling with and then there is laughing at. Daddy had joined in on the laughing at.
We arrived back home, one of us visibly upset. Hadn’t I earned the right to go to college? Hadn’t I been obedient and behaved ninety-nine percent of the time? Wasn’t I a good daughter? Mom helped calm me down for the present. But Teach was angry and carried that anger for many years.
I was running a business a few years later, and needed the folks’ support, physically and financially. Thankfully, maturity had begun to set in by this time; Dad and I shared a business acumen that was definitely entrepreneurial. We also shared a rather dry wit; we agreed that it was better to laugh than cry, so found humor in even the most mundane during those long, long days.
One of his sayings, “Take everything with a grain of salt” used to drive me absolutely nuts!!! But slowly, his consistent messages were helping unravel the reality around me. Some of the old wisdom started to make sense to me; under the circumstances, I no longer assumed. I was in the middle and had to find a way forward. His attitude about earnings was consoling:
I don’t care how much a man makes in a year; tell me how much he manages to keep.
I asked and I shared and I consulted with my father the businessman. We talked for hours, coming to agreement on several small but significant business issues. This time around, Daddy’s loving chuckle comforted me; I could now tell just how very proud he was of my handling an adverse but temporary set of circumstances.
Teach might let go of some of that anger after all.