Note: Part of this piece was originally posted one year ago on Father’s Day 2010, when I had very few followers. I thought I would post it again this year, in honor of my father. Please note, these items are listed in no apparent order, which will – no doubt – drive my father nuts.
The men in my life have to accept my flaws. They basically have no choice. When it comes to Father’s Day, everyone knows I’m bad at it. For a while I think I had Monkey fooled, but now I am pretty sure even he’s on to me. I think. Anyway, this is my last minute sincere attempt to tell my father that I love him in a song. Sorry, I lied. It’s not even in a song. It’s just words. Unless you can find a smooth groove that works along with my prose, then I meant it as a song. Totally.
• • •
I know that I never send a card. I mean, sometimes I manage to pull it all together, but not usually.
And I hope you know it is not because I don’t love about you, because I do. It’s just… what can I say to you in a card that I haven’t already said to you in one of our two-hour marathon phone conversations?
Even though we can’t be together today, please know that I am thinking of you. And in the meantime, here are a few things that I have learned from you. I thought you should know, I have been paying attention.
• • •
Turn Off The Lights When You Leave A Room. My whole life I have heard my father utter this refrain, but you know what? He is right. It is wasteful, and we can each do our part to try to save a little energy.
Be Neat. Neatness matters to my father. Before middle school, he sat me down and taught me to color-code my subject areas: How about a red folder and red notebook for math? he suggested. And how about a blue folder and blue notebook for English? And later, when I graduated to a three-ring binder, my father taught me about the benefits of dividers with rainbow-colored tabs. He likes my penmanship to be impeccable, my numbers to line up in straight columns. Errors made because of sloppiness drive him crazy.
A Crossword Puzzle A Day Will Keep The Doctor Away. At 73, my dad is sharp as a stick. He does a crossword every day, and – as people who do crosswords know – the puzzles increase in the level of difficulty as the week goes on. By Sunday, I am usually stumped. My dad is not a quitter. He works on those suckers until he beats ’em. A few years ago, a study came out that indicated doing crossword puzzles routinely helps delay Alzheimer’s disease. Wouldn’t you know, my dad was ahead of the curve on this one, too?
Leave For The Airport No Less Than 2.5 Hours In Advance of Your Departure Time. I don’t actually do this, but whenever we are going on vacation, I hear the echo of my father’s words in my head chiding us all to “hurry up,” because “we don’t want to be late and miss our flight.”
Stay Active By Doing the Things You Love To Do. My father loves all things associated with his alma mater, Syracuse University – especially sports: basketball, football, even lacrosse. He loves parking at Manley Field House, taking the bus to the Carrier Dome, jumping into the fray with the all other fans, and – win or lose – screaming for his favorite team. It reminds him of his college days, I’m sure. He also plays table tennis regularly, and sells real estate in Syracuse. These are all things he loves to do, and I am sure they help keep him feeling young.
Do Not Do Anything Less Than Your Best. He would say, “Everything you do is a reflection of you. If you don’t care about the product, why should anyone else?”
When You Think You’re Done, Check Your Work. Yep. This is the man who taught me to revise. To find the errors. To make the changes. To not be afraid to rip things apart and start over. To dissect and rework. While my English teachers certainly helped, it was my father who gave me an editor’s eye.
Be good to people. Always.
Family first, then friends.
Don’t live beyond your means. I grew up modestly, but comfortably. I never wanted for anything, but I didn’t get everything I wanted. My father talked about saving for college, and saving for retirement. He’s a saver. He taught me not to covet what other people have, but to be happy with what I’ve got.
Avoid Doctors, But if You Have to Go, Listen to what the Doctor Says.
Do Not Expect Special Treatment. That way you can be surprised and gracious if you get it.
Don’t Forget Your Roots. I grew up in a modest house with a pretty backyard. Though we could have had more stuff, mostly, we kept to the things that were necessary. We played board games: lots of Scrabble and Monopoly. Holidays were spent with my father’s side of the family, who lived nearby. We didn’t take fancy vacations, but visited my mother’s side of the family – my grandparents, aunt and uncles, and cousins – in the Catskill Mountains. We practiced our Judaism quietly but consistently, and we continue to do so.
Overnight Camp Rocks. That is a blog unto itself.
Your Health is Everything. Over the last few years, I have watched friends struggle with and succumb to cancer too young. Other friends have developed chronic illnesses with which they wrestle daily. These things make me feel sad and more than a little helpless. When I was in college, my father had one scary episode that involved shoveling snow, passing out, and waking up in a pile of freezing cold, slush. Suddenly, he had a stent and a whole set of new dietary habits. No more steaks (he eliminated red meat), and no more tall glasses of 2% chocolate milk (he cut out nearly all dairy). These days he looks and feels fantastic, and I pray he is around for a long, long time.
My dad has taught me a zillion other things too.
And I know he’s always got my back.
I love you dad.
(I know. I forgot the comma.)
For better or for worse, name one thing you have learned from your father.
Nearly every parent I know has wrestled with deciding how important it is to have their children take Advanced Placement (AP) courses. Parents want their children to have all the opportunities they can get so that they can succeed and be happy in life. (If only happiness could be achieved that easily!) Meanwhile, kids feel the pressure and report feeling exhausted, unhappy and anxious.
People often ask me, as a person who has spent nearly twenty years in the classroom, what I think about AP classes. Should their child take this AP or that AP. And they are often surprised when I respond with a question: “Does your child love French? Because if he doesn’t love it, why would you want him to take the AP which is going to require so much of his time and energy?”
What people (and by people, I mean parents) do not seem to understand is that the demand of an AP class is designed to be similar to a 100-level college class. The difference is that, in high school, that class will likely meet every day – while in college, there is usually an “off-day” where students have time to read and generally better manage coursework.
In RACE TO NOWHERE, filmmakers Vicki Abeles and Jessica Congdon speak to educators, parents, tweens, and teens about the pressures they face academically and emotionally, and the physical toll these expectations exact. What results is a picture of a fractured educational system that pushes kids to become successful — but at a cost.
During the Post World War II Advanced Placement pilot program, AP courses were designed to draw the top students into a small class of other students who LOVED the material. In 1952, AP classes were designed to be small so teachers could move at an accelerated pace because of the students’ voracious love of the subject matter. The idea was excellent.
Of course, what has happened over time, is that parents have demanded that their children be allowed entry into AP classes because, these days, there is a warped race to create the best college application. (Believe me, parents want those AP’s on their college applications.) So AP class sizes have ballooned, and there is less one-on-one with teachers. And kids who had no business being in an AP in the first place struggle. Because AP classes are hard. Really hard. When the idea was created, I don’t think anyone from the Ford Foundation would have recommended that any one student take five AP courses.
I always tell parents that AP courses are not the be all/end all. When I say this, they look at me like I have five heads. Then they ignore me completely. (I’m telling you, parents don’t like to hear this.)
I truly believe that the point of education is for children to love to learn. When students are getting sick, when they arrive at college unprepared and unmotivated, there is a problem. Students who feel too much pressure to perform, burn out. Feeling the pressure to achieve, students self-medicate, turn to drugs and alcohol as an escape, and sometimes cheat to complete the ever mounting pile of assignments which need to finished – now! From my vantage point, I see kids who are over-scheduled and overtired.
School should be the place where our teens learn about balance. Schools that allow students to skip lunch periods so they can take five Advanced Placement courses have bought into the hype (or caved into parental pressure). And that is sad. Lunch should not be optional. Humans need to stop and eat healthy food (not a bag of chips) to provide their bodies with energy. I don’t care how many times a parent calls and says, “I want my son to take 5 APs.” Administrators need to grow a set and say, “I’m sorry, but we just don’t think that is beneficial to your child.” Students need help learning how to make healthy choices. Sometimes that means they need the school to shield them from demanding parents. And anyway, kids don’t have to be enrolled in a course to take AP tests: a really self-motivated kid who loves to learn should be able to access all the material he needs to prepare him/herself for any AP test.
For the love of Pete, I’m a Tiger Momma. I believe our children need to pick the things they do and do them well. But we need to help guide them to understand they cannot do everything. Our kids need to study hard – absolutely – but they also need to eat. They need to be able to go to the bathroom without worrying they are missing crucial information. And they need to be allowed to tune school out for a while so they can exercise and nurture friendships. They should not be running from this practice to that recital just be sitting on their asses in front of their computers every night.
When I was in high school, I had the opportunity to take regular English, AP English, or Syracuse University Project Advance (SUPA English). At the time, SUPA was a college curriculum class taught by our own high school instructors who had been trained to teach the course. I worked my butt off in that class, and I did not always excel. I remember getting one paper back with a big fat “D” on it. (Maybe it was a “C,” but in my mind, I remember it as a “D.”) I also remember taking that paper to the library and weeping next to a huge potted plant. I had worked so hard on that paper. And English was the subject in which I was supposed to excel. I did not understand how I could have failed. My ego was battered, but my love for the subject matter made me want to figure things out. I busted my hump in that class. It was truly an amazing experience, and I believe it was the course that best prepared me for college.
When I think back on it, I cannot imagine how grueling it must put in that kind of work into every subject, every day. To me, taking all those APs seems utterly unnecessary. No one has ever asked me: “How many AP courses did you take in high school?” (Well, one pretentious fuck did, but it was after he had polished off an entire bottle of red wine himself.) In fact, many colleges don’t even accept AP credit anymore. It’s true.
So, my recommendation is this: If you’ve got a kid who is interested in some accelerated academic experience, have him/her enroll in a summer course at a real college. That looks good on college applications, too. And the credit might actually transfer somewhere, and it might help transition him or her to the realities of actual college life. Help your child live a balanced life. Have your kid go to summer camp, get a job, plant a garden, try something he/she has never done before. Not for the college application, just because.
In the United States, success has long meant making a lot of money. And the way to do this has traditionally meant attending a great college. But we need to redefine success for children. We have gotten caught up in this “race to nowhere,” as described by Abeles and Congdon. We need to teach our kids to do what they love – not pressure them into taking five AP classes because it will make them look good on paper.
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