By: Jen Wainwright
It was like a scene from a movie.
A horror movie happening in real life …
She was so awkward, so painfully awkward. She epitomized all that can and does go wrong with limbs, and social awareness, and braces. In the thick of eighth grade, I’m not sure if she had any friends. Walking down the hall, head down always, surely praying to simply get to the next spot unnoticed, carrying her stacks of books under her arms through the gruesome hallways of middle school …
He was everything that was “right” in eighth grade. Tan, tall, muscular. Teachers waved at him. Every girl I knew had some sort of crush on him. I can still see his grin … I’m sure that grin lives in the eighth-grade memories of many.
But on that day, he came up behind her and, with a swift, fluid motion, knocked all of her belongings out from under her arms.
Books, folders, papers went flying down the carpeted, locker-lined hallway.
Pandemonium-style, everyone began gathering in a circle around her. Pointing.
Laughing and pointing, calling friends over, “Look at this …!”
She dropped to her knees in the center of the nightmare, flustered and scrambling to pick up her belongings … and I stood at my locker, frozen.
As far as my memory can stretch, I don’t recall him ever sitting me down and saying, “Jen. In life, you root for the underdog, okay? That’s what you do.”
Rather, it’s what he did … what he’s always done.
His unfaltering reply is the same whenever asked what team he’s hoping will win: “Oh, you know me. I’m always rooting for the underdog.”
Want to see him physically wince? Stand him next to someone carelessly and ignorantly using degrading slang terms. Regardless of where the ignorance was pointed – women, ethnic groups, no matter – I grew up noticing his winces.
He was a teacher, and worked with a non-profit organization educating folks with the proverbial cards of life stacked against them: Underserved, underrepresented, undereducated, many were newly immigrated to the area and didn’t speak English. He spent a fair time of his life teaching, grant writing, securing funding, overseeing opportunities and, eventually, he earned recognition and promotions. He retired as the executive director of the organization.
At a gathering recently, we bumped into a former teacher’s assistant of his. She remembered him in a crowd, and the two had a catch-up conversation … many lifetimes having passed between us standing there, the two of them now retired, and the moments in time when she was assisting in his classroom.
She approached me later, actually sought me out at the gathering to share, “I just had to tell you what an impact your father made upon me.” She continued, “I learned so much from watching him in the classroom, more than in any other classroom I was ever in again. He taught me about who I wanted to be.” She didn’t go into specifics, but she didn’t have to.
I knew exactly what she meant.
On that day, back in eighth grade, when her books were scattered everywhere.
When the circle got larger by the second, and everyone stood and jeered and laughed … she looked up for a second before darting her face back down to the ground, and I saw her tears.
I tried to walk away. I took a few steps even …
I went in, Pop.
I helped her.
This memory of mine belongs to you, too – it happened this way because of you, too.
Happy Father’s Day to the Great Ones.
— Because the damn dishes are never done. Laundry is a cruel joke. And because children are beautiful lessons in patience and counting. 10, 9, 8, 7 Breathe…
Jen is a freelance writer, parent to three, and she’s been a stepparent for over 15 years. She is well-equipped to discuss and write about the great, and the not-so-great, details of all-things-parenting. Along with spending quality time with her family, Jen enjoys music, chocolate, camping and relaxing. And laughing!