Guard Dad on Duty

A few years after I crossed that invisible line to become both the child of my parents and a parent myself, I gave my parents a simple yet inspired gift. Inside the carefully wrapped box and tissue paper were a half-dozen 8-1/2 x 11 sheets of card stock. Typeset, each one had a title such as “Best Memories of Our House” followed by a bullet list.

One of these was called Best Memories of Dad. Compared to Best Memories of Mom, it was a much shorter list. It consisted mostly of vignettes like the day you helped me open my first checking account, or the day we bought my first car. I racked my brain to fill up the page so Dad wouldn’t feel slighted. Not that Dad wasn’t a significant presence in my life. He just wasn’t as physically present or hands-on as fathers often are today. It was a Father Knows Best arrangement much of the time; i.e., dads worked, came home in time for dinner, doled out sage advice at the dinner table, then disappeared into the den. Until I was at least twelve, I doubt I could’ve picked more than one or two of my friends’ fathers out of a police line up even if my life depended upon it.

Time has passed since I wrote Best Memories of Dad. My own child is now a young adult of twenty. From my new vantage point, I see glaring omissions. All the truly important moments were left out. Clearly, it’s time for an addendum.

One incident in particular comes to mind:

I had left Beverly Hills High School to attend my junior year at Oakwood School just over the hill, having begged my parents for just one year of private school. I understood the $$$ would come out of my college fund. The cost of Swiss boarding school was way, way out of reach, so, Oakwood was my consolation prize. The truth is, I’d felt adrift at Beverly High and a small school environment suited me better.

That December of my junior year, my first love, Jon, came home on extended holiday break from his freshman year at college in Vermont. With my consent, Jon set up a meeting for the two of us with BHHS assistant-principal, Mr. L, who’d supported his own accelerated leap to university the year before. The purpose was to map out my exit from high school, without returning to BHHS as a senior… so I’d be free to rejoin Jon on the East Coast. We left Mr. L’s office on a handshake with a plan, mission accomplished.

My relationship with Jon ended abruptly a couple months later. I didn’t know what hit me. Then went ahead with Part A of the Plan anyway, completing my summer school and correspondence courses.

In September, I called to check in with Mr. L, to find out he was no longer with the school. It was duly reported that Mr. L had been contacted, but recalled neither our meeting nor any agreement concerning me. It was strongly suggested that I get my ass back into class pronto. My correspondence courses might not even count on my transcript. (Now seems a perfect time to mention that Mr. L’s full name was “Lynch”.)

Well. Neither of my parents had been particularly invested in my plan to graduate early, or what motivated it, if they’d even understood. But I’d given them a thorough debrief of my meeting with Mr. Lynch. They knew I wasn’t inclined to exaggerate or lie. And, if there was one thing my father, Doug, hated more than a man who didn’t keep his promises, it was School. 

My dad had struggled miserably throughout school (before learning disability testing) and, could he ever hold a grudge. He polished up and brandished that grudge as a formidable weapon. I barely remember our meeting with the district superintendent, Dr. Kenneth Peters. Except when we emerged a compromise had been painlessly struck… no doubt, to get Dad the Hell out of that poor man’s office. I’d missed the first month, but if I attended school until Christmas break, I would get my diploma. And so I did, the following June, courtesy of the US Postal Service. I’d never have dared to take on the School District on my own, but Dad backed me up.

I returned in time to make an appearance in the class portrait on the high school lawn, but am otherwise entirely absent from the senior yearbook. In this veritable sea of kids, I manage to look quite alone. My body was roaming the halls, but my head was somewhere in a land far, far away.

Postscript:  If I could go back in time with my present mindset, I doubt I’d be in such a hurry to leave high school. My move was in large part motivated by a need to prove I could keep pace with my erstwhile boyfriend (whom few could keep pace with, in fact). At the time, returning to big, public BHHS felt like some kind of personal failure.

I’ve since wondered… if I could go back in time, would I return to graduate from tiny, intimate Oakwood? It’d taken a few months to acclimate and make friends, but I was happier there. And my parents could have managed it. OR, would I march fearlessly back into public school, committed to work harder at connecting with broader opportunities and more potentially awesome friends?

Then again, if my parents hadn’t trusted that I actually knew what I was doing (I didn’t), I might not have been on a flight to Europe the week that my BHHS peers graduated and stayed for 15 months. It was a life changing experience, which I wouldn’t trade for anything.

Apparently, things do happen for a reason.

Could I have missed something in that long-ago meeting with Mr. Lynch? Possibly. Could Mr. Lynch’s brain truly have clicked the “delete” button on our meeting? Hell, yeah. Six months had passed and he saw countless students. So, to Mr. Lynch I say, All is forgiven. And, thank you for teaching me this valuable lesson so early in life:  Document. Every. Damn. Thing.


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