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Song for My Father(s)

(Listen to this while you read....Song for My Father, by Horace Silver)**

My fathers had a tremendous influence on my life and on my views of education.

Grandpa left Georgia as a 17 year-old with his 16 year-old bride seeking jobs and a better life up North. My grandfather was semi-illiterate but stressed education for his children and grandchildren. He made me read the daily newspaper aloud to him each evening when he got home from work.

His son, my father, also took getting educated very seriously. After serving two tours in Korea, then starting his own family, Dad went back to school as a role model for us and because he was truly a lifelong learner. I was my Dad’s typist. He worked midnight shift, and while he slept in the evenings preparing to go to work, I was wading through the legal pad drafts of his college papers, meticulously publishing them on our manual typewriter.

Daddy’s lessons to my siblings and I on education were consistent and pointed.

            Lousy report cards: “D is for didn’t do a damned thing.”

            Don’t like the teacher: “Teach yourself the subject, use the teacher to fill in the parts you can’t figure out on your own”

            Tests are hard:  “Learn the subject of the course until you understand it; the tests and grades will take care of themselves.”

The same man who flipped me over his knee and spanked me in front of the entire 6th grade for talking back to the teacher, led a parent protest at the magnet high school demanding that my classmates and I not be suspended because we had demonstrated against racism there.

My father first piqued my interest in journalism and writing by letting me join him in his daily critiques of the network news. We didn’t just watch the news, we challenged it. He gave me a copy of The Autobiography of Malcolm X, then challenged my thinking about various points in it. Dad was both a fierce patriot and one of America’s most ardent critics. Looking over his glasses at me as drafted yet another letter to the editor of a local paper, he declared, “I have earned the right to tell them when they’re wrong.”

He taught me how to think for myself (what we now call critical thinking), and not to be easily led, especially by media.

It’s one of many lessons from my fathers that I treasure and teach.


Photo by Renee Moore, Martin L. King Memorial, Night View

2 Comments

Deidra Gammill commented on June 15, 2014 at 9:03pm:

What a beautiful & loving tribute

Renee,

What a beautiful and loving tribute to your father. I'm sure he is very proud of you and the educator-citizen you are.

My father dropped out of school in the 9th grade but later finished his GED as part of his work with the California Contractor's Guild in the mid 60s. While he might have been a hippie, he was also highly intelligent and well-read. Traditional education simply did not fit with the way he learned. He often talked about his 8th grade English teacher and the passion for reading she ignited in him; I think of her and wonder if she knows the ripple effect she started. Do any of us ever think of the children and grandchildren yet to be born that will be influenced by the things we do (or don't)in our classrooms?

I grew up in a house full of books but no television. My imagination was fueled by the books my father read to me each night. Some of my best memories with him are times spent in bookstores. I didn't learn to read by myself until 3rd grade (my mother now thinks I had a learning disability), but once I caught on, my love of reading was insatiable.

My father did not expect me to keep straight As, only do my best. He believed in learning for the sake of learning, and he was generally a good judge of what my best actually was. I wasn't punished for a D in geometry my junior year, but once that grade dropped to an F, he was firm - failure was not my best. I still remember being grounded during spring break because of it. I was supposed to spend my days studying and reworking homework problems, drilling until geometry stuck! What my father didn't know was that I spent each day reading - the biography of France's Sun King was especially captivating; the biography of Mary, Queen of Scots even more so. I failed geometry that year (I knew I was beaten; why waste good reading time looking a theorems?)but I aced my AP European history test. That was the only time in high school my father was openly disappointed in me; he knew I had not given my best effort. His disappointment was worse than any grade, and I vowed then never to disappoint him again.

While neither of my parents had a higher education, they both instilled in me a passion for learning and a desire to understand my place in the world and in history. My father's highest hope for me was to complete a doctorate (he was talking graduate school while I was still in high school). It took me ten years to complete, working on it while teaching and raising three children. I would have thrown in the towel many, many times except I knew how important it was to him that I finish. My best meant that I finished what I started; disappointing him wasn't an option.

We live in a culture that has greatly diminished the importance of fathers and the influence and impact they have on their children. Renee, you and I had fathers who pushed us to excel and to learn, to participate in our democracy and make a difference for the students we teach. What a gift we've been given.

Renee Moore Renee Moore commented on June 16, 2014 at 10:02am:

Grateful for Father's Influence

Thank you Deidra, for your comment and for sharing the wonderful stories of your father.

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