Things I Learned While Vacationing in Arizona…

I could get used to this.

Retirement could be epic. I am looking forward to retirement, but I have 4 kids and may not be able to retire until I am about 72. Primarily because of the cost of health insurance.

Pimp My Ride: Golf Cart Edition.

It is way cheaper to eat healthy down here. You can buy a ton of vegetables at the local market for very little money. I am pretty sure my wife and I are the colors of the rainbow.

A bag of veggies? Six bucks.

I need the sun and heat. The winter months get really long in the Midwest – especially if you are a teacher. I was so much happier when I took a walk. I was much more content, and my sanity was intact.

It was hard to pull Heather away.

Birds can be assholes. It has been a long time since I was awakened by the sounds of birds. At first, it was delightful. Later in the trip, it became just plain annoying. I like birds, but I am pretty sure they were arguing with each other at dawn.

I need mountains. I am from Alaska, and it has been 20+ years since I have been home. So I have not seen an actual mountain in a long time. Until this trip, I had forgotten how happy I am driving through rock formations. I definitely took that for granted.

Superstition Mountains.

Snowbirds. Many people travel to Arizona for the winter months. I am definitely taking notes these snowbirds are definitely living life correctly. There is only so many -20 says I can stand before I snap.

These people are living life correctly.

Damn them Kids. I love my kids, but I have to get away from them. Do I miss them? A little. Do I feel bad about leaving them? Hell. No. I would love to take the kids along on an airplane, but they will have plenty of opportunities to travel with their peers. If the choir is taking a trip to Philadelphia, they’d better fa-la-la their asses onto that flight!

What kids?

Super-light packing. If there is a way to wash my clothes, then I pack the following: cargo shorts, walking shoes, a ball cap, shades, swim trunks, jeans, sweatshirt, and a t-shirt. Most of which I will be wearing. The rest should fit in a backpack. If it fits, it ships.

Whatever doesn’t fit, I’ll buy.

Rock-Grass. I suppose you can spend your money on better things than watering your grass. So, why not replace your lawn with colored landscaping rock – makes perfect sense!

Any kind; any color.

Life is too short. There are times when you are faced with your mortality. This trip was a wake-up call for me. There a lot of people who are 55+ in Arizona. It was refreshing to see so many of them going on about their lives: hiking, golfing, biking, etc. It reminded me of how quickly time passes and how important it is to not sweat the small stuff.

Vacationing is always better with a partner. Having a wingman (or woman) is invaluable. It would be best if you had someone who is down to do whatever. Someone who is on the same wave as you are. Who not better than your significant other. This is not something that I just picked up in Arizona, but it is nice knowing that your trip is going to be awesome.

Likeness Ownership, Digital Footprint, and Growing Up

For the past 12 years, I have brought you the ins and outs of my entire family, Mostly the times when I stick my foot in my mouth. I am sure you all enjoy typing “Heather is a Saint” in the comments.

My household has come to a milestone. A benchmark.

My first-born is a teenager…ish.

Shit.

Help me.

I am not ready for this bullshit.

For the past 12 years, I would see something funny, dumb, or light-hearted, and quickly publish it for the world to share.

And, whether you want to admit it or not, that shit is funny.

After a while, she would become perturbed.

“Dad! Really! Do you really have to take pictures of everything?”

“Yes.”

“Does it have to go to social media?”

“Yes.”

*Marches out of the room without swinging arms in a pre-teenagerly way.

(Just to dig one in) “I legally own your likeness until 16!”

*door slams

I have come to the conclusion that when she becomes a teenager, she is to own her likeness. Yes, really I own it, but she should have a say in how she is represented. I have to accept the fact that she is no longer a little girl and she should be able to choose the way that people interpret her actions. She has a personality, and (God help us) it is damn similar to mine.

Next, will come the lesson on digital citizenship and etiquette.

Part 2

Before I could even get this first part posted comes the other question:

Why can I not get a (insert social media here)?

I am usually the “because you are too young now shut up and go away” parent. But this time I decided to be the “transformational leader”.

I should have stuck with what I knew.

Do you know how hard it is to explain digital marketing and business ownership to a pre-teen? It is full of, “So, what,” and, “I know that,” and, “All of my friends have it.” Seriously, let’s just forget the chapter about owning your own likeness, digital theft, and copyright.

“Do I really need to know all of this if all I want to do is have fun?”

Fuck. Yes. Little girl.

First of all, the world is a cruel place with shitty people looking to make a buck anywhere they can get it. And second, what is the first thing a potential employer or recruiter does before contacting you about a position?

I’ll wait.

They Google your name. That’s right, you may not get a call back at 20 because of the shit you did at 13 and thought it was funny. So please forgive the long-winded, passionate overprotective speech that your dear, caring father is giving you.

…and spare me the eye roll please.

Am I going to give you your own social media, yes — prohibition in the digital age will work just as well as prohibition in the 1940’s. But you are going to learn the rules, you are going to give me the password to your accounts, and you are going to get used to constantly looking over your back to spot me on my helicopter.

Man Up: Lesson #3

Here is the thing, gentlemen. I have an attitude problem. I am very quick to get offended and I am the type of person who will use confrontation in order to resolve it. So, when I say this, I am coming from a place of caring and understanding.

The lesson of this post: Live to see another day.

This is a line that could save your life, your career, or your marriage.

Storytime:

I was driving home with both kids in the van when a car cuts across two lanes and almost puts me into a snowbank. Being the person that I am, I follow the car for another mile before the car pulls over and a young man gets out. Two things become obvious at this point:

  1. I can kick his ass for sure.
  2. I am going to kick his ass for sure.

So what did I do?

I drove away.

Here’s why.

First, I don’t know what this guy may have had on him. He could have had a weapon, and if he did, what was  I prepared to do about it — especially with kids in the van?

Second, I knew that I could kick this kid’s ass, but then what? Sure, I would have immediately felt better — until the consequences hit. People are not built like they used to. They admit wrongs and take their deserved lickings. He would have gone to the police, and I would have been arrested for assault, which may have resulted in the loss of my job and/or career. That would have messed with my money; and doing that is a no-no.

Third, he could have retaliated in an unforeseen way — always a bad deal.

Fourth, what example would I show my kids? That if you can overpower a person who offends you, kick their ass? Let me be clear; if there is a person who threatens the well-being of you and/or your loved ones. Kick their ass, enjoy kicking their ass, and make them remember it so you don’t have to kick their ass again. But, if what the person did was only offended you, keep walking.

So, what is my point?

It is super easy to get mad, threaten violence, and even act on that violence. But, in the end, where does that leave you? Always hurting yourself. When people get in trouble for violent acts, it is often because of a split-second lapse of judgment. By the time their wits are about them, they realize that they did something that they are unable to fix or take back. Don’t take the easy way out. I am not saying that you will not want to, I am saying try your best not to. In any given situation, you have more to lose than they do.

Public Figure

Previously, I had written about my pet-peeve of complaining about a situation without having a call to action. I discussed how the mentality that “somebody should really do something about that” is far too commonplace in our society. Individuals should get off of their butts and do something, rather than talking about what others should do.
It seems that I have arrived at one of those instances where I need to put my money where my mouth is. It is time for me to take the next step in being involved in my growing community. It is time for me to take the reigns and become a leader that envokes change and accepts constructive criticism.
It is time for me to run for public office.

No, I am not running for Mayor.

Not yet…

But I am going to run for a position on the City Council.

Never in a million years did I think I was going to run for office. However, as the years have gone by (and my house became more crowded), I realized that a person has to get involved in the community to improve it. So, I have worked to build our community and make an impact. But I want to make a more significant difference. A seat on the City Council can do that.

Running for office is not about me. This is about having the ability to make a powerful difference for the good of the community.

  • I want to improve the overall economic health of the community.
  • I want to be a person who actively listens to the community and votes with their considerations.
  • I want to create opportunities for our children to grow up in a community that gave them every opportunity to become successful citizens.

We live in a wonderful city. I want to help make it even better.

K.I.D.S. = Kleptomaniacs Invading, Devising, and Scheming

So, there I am. Sitting alone in the living room when an argument breaks out between my two daughters. My dear, bold, wife has informed them that their room is a pigsty, and she would like it clean. NOW.

“These are all her clothes!”
“These are all of her books!”
“That is her side of the room!”

All of this culminates in:

“If I had my own room, it would be spotless!”

Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t believe that bullshit for a minute. Instead of worrying about one room, I will now have to worry about two separate bedrooms, two separate attitudes, and two separate sets of excuses. Ultimately, this will result in too many glasses of wine at night.

But, being that both of my daughters are as tall as I am, and have appetites the size of two high school middle linebackers; they should probably get the chance to prove the inevitable, right?

Here is my point:

Nothing is my own.

Space
My child is taking over my beloved office, and she has requested that I clear the walls of all pictures, relics, and memories (probably so that she can put up posters of the latest boy band — heaven forbid).

Food
I sit down after a hard days’ work with a plate of food. All of a sudden, I am the most famous person in the house. “What’s that?” “Can I have some?” “I am hungry.”
(Or, if you are my youngest, you just grab whatever you want to any person’s plate).

Time
I want to go to the gym, but my child needs me to take them sledding/to the park/ to an event/ to get something for school/ to get something from school/etc. Me time? What me time? What the hell is that?

Sleep
Just when you think that you are ready to call it a day, you hear a cough, a gag, and…puke. Now it is a quick change of bed and bath time at 2 in the morning. Work is going to go so well tomorrow morning.

Nice things

Imagine. You finally get enough money squared away to replace all of the cabinetry in your kitchen. You get the work done, and when completed, you love what you see — custom cabinetry that is exactly like you envisioned it. Now imagine one of your little cherubs finding a permanent marker and playing Pablo Picasso using the cabinets as a canvas.

The Little Shit.

ManUP Lessons For My Sons #2

Boys,

It is my duty as your father to teach you how to be a man. Honestly, I do not know how to do it because, other than having a penis, I really don’t know how to be a man. So, I am going to do my best to figure this out and teach you. Most of the lessons will be based on my experiences and my mistakes.

Hopefully, by the end, you will still have some resemblance of respect for me.

I am not going to bore you with statistics or anything (you can find the numbers to justify anything). But I will give you an honest answer. Like I said before, I do not know how to be a man. People tell me that I am a good man, but I really don’t know what that means. And my personal definition of being a man has changed as I have grown older.

When I was in elementary school, I thought that to be a man was to be physically tough. Girls liked the tough guys. If people were too scared to mess with you, you were perceived to be a badass. Badass boys aways had girls that hung around them. Being a chubby elementary kid, I thought I would attempt to be a tough guy to increase popularity. This would have been successful, but for a couple of things:

  1. I was a nice guy and definitely not a fighter.
  2. I was afraid to get hit in the face.
  3. I was not very cute.
  4. I was prohibited by my parents to sag my pants.

In junior high school, I thought that being a man had a lot to do with the sports you played. Girls loved the boys who could jump high, run fast, or lift the most weight over their head. They also enjoyed sneakers — really dope sneakers. I thought to myself, “Hey, I play sports, I should be able to do this. I just need a pair of fresh kicks!” There were a few problems with this:

  1. I had only played streetball; organized ball was another story (I would never make the junior high varsity team).
  2. My mother did not believe brand-name shoes were necessary (especially Jordans). Hey, shoes are shoes!
  3. So, she bought me a pair of Kevin Johnsons instead. 
  4. Oh wait, she decided to get the knockoffs from Walmart. “They look just like them!”
  5. As the basketball season went on, the stitching in my “FakeJ’s” started to come undone. By mid-season, my shoes were shedding all over the court and looked like I was wearing a pair of Air Chia Pets. No Shit.

And then, there was high school. I started lifting weights, I got better at basketball, and I began to play football and track. And, I was sporting a pair of “Allen Iversons.” Surely, I had made it. I was on my way to popularity, which would put me on a sure path to manhood. Look at me! When I flexed, you can see a line in my bicep! Look at it.

It was not meant to be. Although my popularity grew, it was not until I went to college that my real journey into manhood would begin.

At first, I believed that I should be a strong, confident college man that have women swooning all over him, which was what I read in all of the men’s magazines: 

“How to get abs,”

“How to get the girl that is out of your league,”

“How to know her socks off in bed,”

“What foods you should eat to live longer and look good doing it,”

“What places you should visit before you die, what careers offer you the best payday….”

So that became my mission, to live up to what those magazines said was the ideal life. And you know what? I achieved most of what the magazine said I should. I had the abs, I had women, I spent a lot of money on travel, and I was in college and working towards my career. I believed that I was living the life that I was supposed to. But, as they said, if you tell God your plan, he laughs. 

What I was shown was that I was living a superficial lifestyle. I was shown that I was headed in the wrong direction. And then, I was taught that what I wanted was stupid.

Who showed me this? Your mother. And, she was nothing like I had ever imagined. And so, I married her.

I read a book that your mother gave me called Chasing Skinny Rabbits. Although it is not a “knock your socks off” book, there were takeaways within that book that would ultimately change my life. The author discusses people’s perceptions of what is fulfilling in their lives. People are always chasing after the next thing only to find that when they achieve it, the sense of accomplishment is not there, so they move onto the next thing. The skinny rabbit is impossible to catch. Manhood, or the perception of it, is a skinny rabbit. Manhood is subjective, so chasing after it only means that you are chasing after something else — whether that be love, lust, money, or material things. All of which lead to destructive behaviors.

The Lesson:

  1. Be kind
  2. When you make a mistake, own it
  3. Be chivalrous 
  4. Create realistic goals
  5. If you start something, finish it

For my Sons: ManUP lesson #1

“Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life! Because I lie and sign myself to lies! Because I am not worth the dust on the feet of them that hang!” – John Proctor, The Crucible

Your last name is everything. It may not seem like it now, but it is one thing that will carry more with it than you can imagine. It is not only an identifier, but it is an identity. That is why it is extremely important that you take ownership of that last name very seriously.

You are your own company

Pick a company — any company you want. Would you purchase the company’s product if it had very bad reviews? Would you purchase products from a company that treated you in a negative way? Would you spend your hard-earned money on that company’s product if you knew that it would make you look like an idiot? I believe you would answer no to all of these questions.

Think about it, your last name is your company.

There are millions of people in the world that wish that they could own companies. They think about the possible financial freedom that comes with it, the awesomeness of being your own boss, and the ability to influence others within the “company.”

The problem is, they cannot keep their own names clean. Seriously, if your company sold a product that was intended to be used on infants, do you trust yourself enough to buy the product and use it on your own newborn. If the answer is no; you have to seriously analyze who you are as a person. Being able to think of yourself as a business is something that athletes have to learn. Some learn it the easy way, and some learn it the hard way. Either way, reality usually hits them like a ton of bricks. They often find out that becoming an athlete and making the team was the easiest part of the journey. They find that teachers, bosses, community members, and teammates hold them to a totally different set of expectations — higher expectations. Talent is not enough to get them through, they need hard work, a set of values and beliefs, and a moral compass. Those who step up to those expectations find that the journey may become a little easier for them. Those who choose to go the other direction often find themselves in trouble the institution and/or the law.

Burning Bridges

There is going to come a time in your life when you are going to need someone to help you achieve a goal. Maybe it is a recommendation for a position that you wish to have, or maybe you need to get into a program and want one of the “higher-ups” to put in a good word for you. Here is a question: Did you do everything you could to make sure that the person you are asking sees you in a positive light? Like I said before, your last name is everything; that person’s last name is everything to them. When you ask somebody for a recommendation, you are asking a person to put their name, credibility, and reputation on the line in order to vouch for you — that is a big deal.

But how are you to know whom you would need a recommendation from? You’re not, which is the reason why you should be very careful about burning bridges.

“It takes a lifetime to build a reputation and only a second to destroy it.”

Chuck.

Back in junior high, I decided to try my hand at organized basketball. It was the sport that I grew up around. The Dream Team was big at the time, and everyone in my neighborhood of us would go to the local park for a pick-up game where we would pretend to be one of the members. In my eighth-grade year, I was excited to try out for the junior high varsity squad.

This was going to be my year!

During tryouts, I would hustle for every loose ball, grab every rebound with authority, and make every type of impossible layup that I could to impress the coach. When tryouts were over. The coach said that he would deliberate and paste a list on the locker room floor. I left out of there feeling like I conquered the world — of course I made it!
Until hours later, when I, along with another friend and teammate were summoned into the head coaches’ office:
“Well, I am going to come right out and say it, you two are at the bottom of the varsity list, so I will give you a choice. You either can choose to be on varsity squad were you may not play very much — if at all, or you can play junior varsity as an 8th grader, where you will most likely start. I will give you a day to think about it.”

Both of us looked at each other and said in unison,
“Nope. We don’t need a day, We’ll play junior varsity.”
Truthfully, we did not give a shit which team we played on, we just wanted to play basketball.

Towards the middle of the season, I started noticing a guy sitting awkwardly in the bleachers after halftime of each home game. He would sit with his back on the above bleachers with his elbows pulled up, chest level rested on them — like he was sitting in a Laz-E-Boy. He was lightly swinging a bottle of Diet Coke in one hand, his legs were crossed, and he was wearing a red and light blue jumpsuit. The expression on his face was as if he did not have a care in the world.

Who in the Hell is this joker?!
Whose dad is this?

Each home game, I would often make jokes about the awkward, guy white-haired guy who sat mid-bleacher.

Until one day, one of the varsity players overheard me.

“Dude, that is Chuck White. That is the head coach of the East Anchorage Thunderbirds!”

I will take this time to add context —

The East Anchorage Thunderbirds are a storied team coached by a legend. They literally were the “New York Yankees of Alaska” — everyone loved to hate us. We are talking about a team that not only won the basketball boys state championship almost every year but also had players going to play college ball somewhere in the country. As far as anyone in our school was concerned, making a Thunderbird roster was making it out of any kind of negative environment that you were in.

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I loved my years of high school basketball.

And so, I found my mission: play junior varsity this year, impress the coach with my play while I had him in the audience during the second half, and make a Thunderbird roster when I got to high school.

And, wouldn’t you know it, my sophomore year, I, along with four others made the team.

Let me be clear, there were significant benefits to making the varsity team. You received:

  • A practice jersey with shorts,
  • Travel sweats with your jersey number,
  • A travel jacket and pants embroidered with your name and number (the same red and blue ones that I would see him wear when in junior high), and,
  • Team shoes. Yup. As a sophomore, I had arrived.

What I did not realize was, making the team would be the easiest part of this journey. In the three years that I was on the squad, Coach White would continue to teach me lessons that I would carry with me for the rest of my life.

  1. Although you are small, you can still be mighty: I have no idea what Coach saw in me when he decided to put me on varsity sophomore year. I couldn’t shoot well, my free throw percentage was garbage, and at 5’11”, I played post — where everyone else was 6’2″ and up. Years later when I asked coached why he chose me, he said, “Just because you aren’t six-foot-five does not mean you can’t play like you are six-foot-five.”
  2. Coach them hard, love them harder: A majority of the tactics employed by coach would not be accepted by parents today. He expected a lot from you both on, and off, of the court. If you were not able to perform, keep promises, or take care of responsibilities, he did not have time for you. Being part of his team meant playing your part a system that required maximum time and effort; not everybody was cut out for that system. But if you stayed around long enough, you knew that you were part of a brotherhood – something that was bigger than you.
  3. A measure of a man is not by how much he uses profanity: Although this is true, I do use a lot of profanity still (Sorry, Chuck). Many would watch this man become splittingly mad (seriously, splittingly). But he would never curse. He would stomp his foot or hit his chair, exclaiming, “GOD BLESS IT!” But cursing was beneath him.

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    He was a fierce competitor as a coach. He yelled but never cursed.

  4. Although people are not perfect. It does not mean that you cannot expect it from your athletes. He would always say. “I know we can’t be perfect all of the time, but we can darn sure work towards it.” Coach paid attention to every detail, which is why his teams would execute every offensive and defensive play with precision.
  5. If your athletes make mistakes, it is the coach’s lack of preparation: Coach did not take too kindly to losing; we barely ever did. But he knew that when we did lose, we were not prepared physically, or mentally. So he did everything he could to help us get another victory.
  6. The “Our Father” prayer: He was careful to never participate with us. But he knew how important prayer was. So, every game, he would give us our pre-game talk, then quickly leave so that we had our moment of prayer.
  7. Not to give a damn what other people thought: I have never seen a person who was hated, but loved; respected, yet revered; accepted, but feared. I thought those things could not go together. But they can. And truth be told, I don’t think he gave one damn who was on what side. I watched him chew a ref out, get kicked out of a game, then joke around with the same referee 15 minutes after the game had ended. He never took it personally.
  8. Fake Hustle. This is something that he would yell constantly. (the other thing he would do – call you by your mother’s name while your mother sat behind you, laughing).
  9. Every tough guy has a soft spot: East High teams were known for their defensive schemes. You had to be able to interpret a crazy numbering system he had and be able to carry out any directives to perfection. This system, when done correctly, made our team one of the most feared in the state. This meant that players had to be in their top physical condition in order to keep up with these demands.We ran.A lot.And after we ran, we ran some more.
  10. But there was a way out of running — his daughter showing up to practice. We had finally found his kryptonite. She was the same age as I and would often go to the practices waiting for her father. When she did, he got a big smile on his face and eased up on the crushers. During classes, we would often beg her to show up at the end — before conditioning, of course.
  11. It doesn’t matter if the other team knows your plays, winning is about execution: Anyone who has played for or against a Coach White team knows the plays 2 High (or 4 High), 4 Low, Kentucky, Open and Basic (there were a few others, but it really didn’t deviate from there). So why did they work? How was he so successful? Because there was a lot of autonomy in those plays. There was always an option B, C, and D if A did not work. He played chess while the opposing coach played checkers.

I could go on and on with the lessons both big and small that I learned from Coach White. But, I was not the only athlete that had the privilege to be under his care. Upon his passing, hundreds of men gave testimony to his caring, nurturing, and tough-as-nails discipline. His 914 wins, 18 state titles, and 81 percent winning average pails in comparison to the impact that he left on so many young men. He gave 45 years of coaching and mentorship to a community that so desperately needed it; his wife gave a piece of her husband and gained many sons; his daughter and son gave a piece of their father and gained many brothers. Learning of his death was a sad day for many. A pivotal figure in our lives went to heaven. What a gift he gave us all. Rest in paradise, Coach. We love you.

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You could hear that laugh from a mile away.

#tbirds

#eagles

#family

Diary Entry from a Junior High Dad

Dear Diary,

Junior high sucks so far. First of all, why do the hallways of the school smell like teen spirit, angst, armpit, elbows and toes, and Axe? Every time I walk into a junior high school, I wonder how the custodians are going to clear the building of that smell. Do they open all of the doors and windows to the school for an hour before school starts and for an hour after school ends?

Nope. That odor is in the paint. Yup, definitely in the paint.

Like seriously, what is going on here?! First of all, my loving, innocent child is now doing everything to not noticeably be my child.

Attitude

She rolls her eyes at me;

she sucks her teeth at me;

she is constantly mumbling under her breath after I tell her to do the smallest task;

and, she has become a parenting guru — often stating how other parents “do not treat their children this way.”

This child is literally walking around my house as if I don’t pay for shit – like I am not her lifeline – like I am only her landlord, and she is my tenant. She barely looks up at her phone when discussing anything with us.

Cell Phone

Yes, the phone: The social connection with the virtual outside world that is ironically keeping her from physically connecting with the actual outside world. It is like pulling teeth to get her to part with that thing.

When an actual person talks to her, like, I don’t know, her mother and me; she stays fixated on the phone, smiling. The only time I get a response is when she looks up at me — usually with a scowl.

Screw it, she should move out. That will show her.

Shit. That is illegal.

Wait. Is it?

Chores

The chores are always half-assed completed. For example:

“Hey, can you put this in the garbage in the kitchen for me?”

(looks up from her phone, the one I pay for, sucks teeth) “Fine. Whatever.”

“Hey, thanks.”

(inaudible mumble)

Where do I find that item that was supposed to be in the garbage? Oh look, it is on the damn counter!

Next to the garbage can.

She’s trying to kill me.

Yup, that’s it. She is trying to kill me. She wants my blood pressure to go through the roof. She is trying to make me have a cardiac arrest. That has to be it – because there is no viable reason why she would be doing this to me, right?

Wait.

Money

There is a positive. My child is sweet to me when she wants money. Yup, money is definitely a motivator. I can get her to do a lot of chores for a dollar.

But she wants a $10 bill? Oh, hell, no!

Ope, there we go. I am the biggest asshole in the world again. I can hear her saying it under her breath.

And really? The entire world? All the people in this world, and I am the biggest asshole?

On second thought, maybe she is right, but that is not the point.

Holy shit, we are not even halfway through the year!

Pray for us.

A Force to be Reckoned With

When I was in junior high, I had the opportunity to take part in an accelerated language arts program. This meant that I was able to handle a bigger workload and take on more responsibility. The teacher was a plump man with a round face, facial hair, and a ponytail that went down to the middle of his back. He looked like the type of guy who loved books.

No, I love books.

I mean, LOOOOVES books.

The first assignment he gave us on the very first day of school (really, who does that!) was to read Fahrenheit 451 within the first two weeks of school. As I shockingly gazed at the thickness of the book, along with the “further required reading” list that accompanied the book. I knew that this class wasn’t for me.

I went to my counselor.

So my counselor took me out of the program and placed me in one of the regular classes. I walked into the class and gave the transfer sheet to the teacher. This was no ordinary teacher, this was a woman — a black woman, which was weird because I had only ever once encountered a black female teacher throughout my academic career (at that point).

She took the slip from me.

“Mmmmm-hmm. You can sit over there.”

I sat — still in shock.

She had a personality that was bigger than life, she had a loud, booming voice, she had a slight southern twang to her voice, and she did not take shit from anyone.

…and I mean anyone.

To tell the truth, I was scared of this woman for the first quarter of the school year. Every time she asked for a volunteer, I sank a little lower in my seat. When she wanted one of the students to diagram a sentence, I would stare directly at my paper, trying my damnedest not to make eye contact. When it was time to go, I would hurriedly get my shit together and get the hell out of that room.

One day, everything changed. That day, I did not get my shit together fast enough.

“How come you never give the answer?”

She smiled.

Oh, shit.

“What do you mean?”

“I know you have the answer. I know you came from the accelerated class. You need to start answering the questions in class. Don’t hide your genius.”

I was confused as hell. Although I have been trying to avoid her, she has been paying attention to me.

“Tell your mom and your sister, I said hello.”

Fuck.

From that moment on, she would push me academically and personally. She would be one of the most influential people in my life — often giving me lessons not only on being a man but a black man as well. She would teach me about responsibility, she would teach me about perseverance, and she would also teach me about respect for myself and for others. I had a mother at home, and I had a mother at school.

What started out as a teacher to student relationship would years later become a relationship as colleagues as I was hired in the same district that I grew up in, and that she still taught in. What I did not know was that she was always looking out for me and doing what she could to give me every opportunity to succeed.

Sixteen years after I sat in her classroom, moved to another state, and started a family, I embarked on a mission to attain my doctoral degree. In the orientation class, we were tasked with writing a letter of appreciation to the person who got you to this point. To tell the truth, many helped me along the way. But there was one person who took it upon herself to not only discuss just how successful I could be but to hold me to a higher standard based on that potential.

I found out that Mrs. Francine Jackson passed away on May 11th.  I never knew if she received that letter in particular, but I think she knew the impact that she would have on my life and the lives of countless students in our area. I can only hope that I am living my life in a way that would do her memory justice.

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