Remembering my father, my teacher
Reflecting on the lessons he taught me everyday through his actions
My father passed away recently, and since then I’ve thought a great deal about how he has been such an influential teacher.
We three kids grew up during the 1960s and ’70s. Those weren’t smooth times for parents. We all rebelled in our own ways, and we weren’t always easy.
Wearing ratty shirts and ripped jeans, we questioned authority and our parents. I constantly questioned my junior high school teachers, and then our pastor as I went through my confirmation process, convinced at 13 that I knew more about religion than he did.
Dad may have been upset about this, as he lived a singularly faithful life, but he never once told me so. He never told us we couldn’t carry our peace signs or wear our protest buttons. Instead, he stood proudly next to us at peace marches and marched beside us during hunger walks, providing strength, unconditional love, and the utmost belief in us as individuals. He never questioned our dreams, but instead, quietly empowered us to make our own choices.
In high school, I worked in my parents’ dental office. My favorite thing was observing my dad working with his patients. He taught by example how to treat people with integrity, decency, and compassion.
I remember one time when a young man opened his mouth and I almost recoiled from the decay in his teeth. My dad treated this young man with respect, explaining carefully how he would need to do extensive work.
Later, I asked my dad how he so calmly dealt with such issues and his response was to help me understand the devastation that poverty causes. I did not ask about the charges, because I knew there would be none.
Time after time, as I reviewed the bills with my father, I would ask what we should do about the unpaid one. Always, it was the same answer: “Just cross that off.” I learned that payments of $5 might be all we would see from some, and that we were happy to accept those. There were also those who came in with payments of bags full of tea from the local factory, or other unneeded items.
“Dad! What are we going to do with more bags of tea?” He would respond, “We are going to thank them for the payment.”
Photos of Dad show him sitting next to us, grinning and content to be exactly where he was in those moments. Everyone he loved was part of his family, from his lifelong friends, to his children’s husbands and wife, and then his grandchildren’s partners, to exchange students, the secretarial students who lived with my parents after we’d moved away.
Thank you, Dad, for teaching me about integrity, compassion, kindness, selflessness and grace and for showing me how to live such a wonderful life.
Elizabeth Feingold retired from Kearsarge Regional School District, where she worked for over 30 years as a special education teacher and coordinator at the elementary, middle and high school levels. She is now a consultant and advocate. Reach her at www.seacservices.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.