My Father’s Story

Many have asked me, students of mine, friends & Social Media followers, who or what influenced me to become a teacher & writer! Always the answer is the same , “My Father.” Since Mother was featured on Mother’s Day, being close to Father’s Day, I believe it was fitting to include an excerpt from the chapter from my “Reaching For The Sky ” My childhood recollections, book: “Father- The Teacher”  Hope you enjoy it!!!

Father ____The Teacher

Shy, unassuming, blond, blue – eyed and very attractive, my father never appeared to be either carried away or even aware of his appeal. Father’s handsomeness was so striking that even my high school and college girlfriends commented on his appearance. Nonetheless, not once I did feel that he was conceited or even a bit vain.

At the time of his death, at the age of seventy-three (a victim to his long addiction to smoking,) he still carried his slim five foot eleven inch frame with grace and a trace of youthfulness. He was then suffering from cancer, much thinner and more wrinkled, but his full head of grayish-blond hair and his expressive blue eyes radiated a kind of youthfulness not often seen even in a much younger man (who was as ill as he was.)

He was always immaculately dressed. I never remember him looking unkempt, even during the difficult times when he only had two suits in his closet. He was a tidy dresser, very fussy and meticulous about his clothes and extremely fastidious about his appearance. One particular instance that will stay with me forever, the time he was preparing to go to the hospital, his last time (few days later he passed away.) He had arranged his clothes very carefully, new shirt, new tie, new socks and shoes, and his favorite charcoal suit. If anyone had seen him preparing his attire they would suspect that he was going on a business trip, to a meeting or a very special visit, but never to a hospital. Father was like that, always the perfectionist, the admirer of beautiful, perfect things.

He was the consummate teacher, and I believe that even if he had not trained to be one, somehow he would have found a way to teach, guide, educate and direct, that was his calling. He had that innate quality that one cannot find in books or special training. He was a natural. He had a talent of communicating to his students and a rapport that did not easily exist between teacher and student, in those days. He was of the era that did not spare the rod, and for years I believed that Dad was different and never hit any of his students. It was a real awakening for me, when years later, found out that he indeed used the ruler in many occasions. The only vindicating aspect of this was the fact the students themselves admitted that they truly needed to be disciplined, and if had not, they would not had been successful in life. Although I did not believe in that form of discipline, I had to admire their conviction.

At home, daddy was always serene. Not once did he use foul language, and most of the time he disciplined his children by advising and teaching them right from wrong. Mother was the disciplinarian of the family. However, when her method of a firm hand did not work, she would say, “I am going to tell your father.” This threat definitely had better results than any other form of punishment. We did not want to disappoint Dad. He radiated such respect that we always aimed to please him.

The only occasion, when I vividly remember, father using force was when I was in the third grade. My girlfriend and I, decided one day after school to take a walk. It was a beautiful day and we went farther than we expected. If that wasn’t enough, we sat under a tree to rest and we fell asleep. Three hours later, we nonchalantly we returned home. That “nothing had happened attitude,” immediately changed when we saw both families frantically waiting at my yard. Father was holding a fresh-cut switch and was very angry. In a various serious tone said to my friend, “Mary, go with your parents and I will deal with my daughter.” After they left and before saying a word to me (I suspect he didn’t want to change his mind,) he hit me with the stick several times. I suppose it did hurt. My legs were red for days, but I believe at that moment, my real pain was the fact that I had brought my father to the point that he had to hit me. It was understandable to expect our parents to be frantic over the disappearance of two small children. Our only defense was the fact we were immature and not aware of any danger in a small town, at that time.

I often remember what that event taught me, when I was trying to teach my children to be careful and not trust strangers. As for my father, he hurt more than I did. Being such a gentle person, it must have taken resolve and great pain to teach me a lesson in such a way. I am convinced that he must had hurt as well, because he was forced to use that method of punishment.

The greatest compliment I ever received from people who knew him well was,” You are as good a teacher as your father.”I could never be as good as he was, but even hearing it made me feel wonderful. He loved his profession and his students passionately. Teaching was an avocation, a labor of love for him. His greatest reward was his students’ progress. His ultimate gratification was to know that he had played a small part in their success.

Although I never had him as a teacher in school, I attribute to him my love for teaching and my passion for reading. He influenced me in a subtle way from a very young age. He started reading to us and encouraged us to read, read and read some more. He would not explain anything we had not understood, unless we had exhausted every avenue (re-reading the piece, finding the unknown words in the dictionary, looking for synonyms relating to the unknown vocabulary, and so forth.) After all that process was done and we still had difficulty comprehending what we had read, then he would help.

Since he had one of the best libraries (for that time) in our small town, we were fortunate to have enough books to read. When a subject came up and there was no other material available, he would immediately direct us to his treasured encyclopedia. I distinctly remember one incident when, in my early teens, I asked him if I could purchase the (newly- translated into Greek) book “Gone With The Wind.”Since the large volume was very expensive, I expected him to refuse. Instead he said, “Fine, however, before you get it, go to the encyclopedia and read about the American Civil War, write a report on it, and if it is satisfactory then I will gladly give you the money.”

Needles to say, I rushed to the encyclopedia, found the section on the Civil War, and for days I struggled to understand the reasons and rationale for that destructive war. I still have questions as to why so much blood was spilled and so much devastation had to occur between the North and the South! It was a good lesson for me though. The book report was sufficient , I acquired my favorite book, and I learned a lot about war, arrogance, hate, and human behavior in general.

That was one example of the incentives my father employed to make us avid readers. When my sister had a question, she knew what to expect and she would often say to me, “ I won’t ask daddy about this because I am not in the mood to read a book or two before I find out the answer.”

Father radiated an aura of destiny, not necessarily of prominence or wealth, but that of knowledge and cognizance. He projected seriousness and deep thought, an air of distinction and prudence. He was laconic. However, every word, phrase or sentence he uttered was something memorable. I still often remark, “As my father used to say…”and some maxim would come to mind. He loved to quote philosophers (Plato, Nietzsche, and Herbart, whom Father admired as an educator as well,) great writers and poets (Faulkner, Pope, Tolstoy, Fleming, Kazantzakis, Kavafy, Hemingway, etc…) Famous teachers (his favorite being Montessori and Decroly for their innovative approaches to education.) He loved to quote them a lot. I do believe, however, most of the times were his own words he was using, but being modest and self-effacing, he never wanted to get credit for them. On the other hand, perhaps he felt that he gave more credence and importance to what he was saying by attributing it to a famous, more knowledgeable person than himself! At any rate, he loved to teach by example and theory. When he related a subject he enjoyed, became animated and exuberant, something alien to his character. He conveyed his message with such enthusiasm that it was impossible not to be impressed.

Father was extremely honest. He could never lie, pretend, or conceal the truth. He gave me a good lesson in integrity and uprightness at a very young age. When the Truman Doctrine came about and the Marshall Plan/UNRRA was under way in Greece after the war, hundreds of packages began arriving. Dad was appointed head of the committee for dispersing the various items. They were to be distributed to the war victims, and to those families most affected by the devastating war. Most of the newly arrived items were practical and essential articles. However, my eye caught sight of a beautiful pair of moccasin slippers (two or three sizes larger than mine,) and I asked him if I could have them. He sternly refused, saying that others needed them more than I did.

I liked those moccasins so much, that I offered to give him my brand new shoes to give someone in exchange. He then gave me a lecture that I will never forget on fairness and the importance of not abusing a privilege. I am certain he thought that I understood that his role in allocating those items required trustworthiness and rectitude. Hopefully, people realized that he did not even keep a handkerchief for himself or his family, and he did his very best to be fair and equitable.

Father was the first male feminist that I can remember. Perhaps it had to do with the fact he was raised in a family of three sisters and then blessed with four daughters. The poor guy! He had no choice but to conform and support their cause. He believed that girls were as smart, if not smarter, than boys. That a girl could do anything she put her mind to, and with proper education and training she could equal, if not surpass, the work of any man.

His definition of feminism, however, should be qualified. He supported the right of a woman to go to any school and work in any profession she chose. Her role at home, though, was a different subject. He remained a steadfast believer in traditions and the (somewhat modified) status quo, that were passed on to him. The sexual revolution and the burning of bras appalled him. The behavior of some feminists was beyond his comprehension and tolerance. He would often say, “Why would a woman want to lose her femininity? Doesn’t she know that is her strength, her vulnerability, her beauty?” I suppose he could have given a different twist had he written: The Feminine Mystique!

He truly believed that a promiscuous woman who behaved in such a manner for the sake of the sexual revolution in actuality did not respect herself. He thought she demeaned her intelligence, underestimated her ability to achieve via her inherent gifts, and in essence, did not understand the true meaning of the word, “liberated”

I had many discussions with my dad, during that period (too many for this article,) since our parents had moved to the United States to be near their daughters. Being the visionary that he was, our father could see beyond the demonstrations and the rhetoric of the movement’s leaders. He would say: “The greatest obstacle is the traditional assumption that women fit well only at home. That presumption and barrier must be expunged and broken down altogether by women themselves. In order for that to be achieved, they have to work hard to achieve goals they have set, so they can advance in fields of their choice (and not the ones chosen for them.) Their most difficult task is to be resilient and persistent in sustaining that success and pass it on to future generations. These are the issues they should focus on and not how to be addressed: Ms. Miss or Mrs. Perhaps it’s not fair to have to prove their worth this way, but many things in life are not fair. “ If only someone had listened to him, the issue of equal pay for equal work, perhaps would not still be an objective at the second decade of the twenty-first century!!!

Father was a prudent man. He was intense and ambitious for others (especially his children and students,) yet he lacked ambition for his own advancement (although he was very intelligent, well – read and with his innovative mind could have achieved great things in education.) Reserved and introverted , he was not a risk taker. He could very well had become one of the great educators of his country, yet he never spread his wings. He was satisfied in being the best teacher and principal he could be. Naturally, many factors contributed to his lack of motivation to take advantage of his potential and talent. The political situation was not favorable at that time and perhaps the prevailing setting had discouraged him, and although he had registered at the university for graduate work he never went through with it. In addition, the death of his first-born and only son, I believe, dispirited and made him more reclusive, Although he very seldom discussed it, it was apparent, he never got over my brother’s death!

(A parenthesis here, I will not dwell on the very difficult times he went through, it’s too lengthy (in the book) for this article. I will conclude with the statements we, his children heard from his students who, as they put it, had the good fortune to cross his path!)

It is indeed a comfort to us to listen to people who remember him as a great teacher and a superb human being. One of his students, by now a successful professional, said to me, “I owe everything to your father. My widowed mother did not want her girl to continue her studies. When I told that to your father he immediately visited my home and told her, ‘It’s a shame to waste the child’s mind.” She continued,”I always remember him in my prayers and am grateful to him.” Well, I doubt that girl needed daddy”s intervention. She is extremely bright and dynamic and would had succeeded on her own, but it was refreshing to hear her giving credit to her teacher.

Compliments like these follow many successful individuals after his/her death. I often wish, my father was still present to understand how much he was appreciated!

Two of his most illustrious former students have summarized it best, one saying, “ Your father was a unique individual, the ultimate teacher, the consummate professional, and all in all a superb human being. We are better persons for having him touch our lives!” and the other commenting, “A tall tree’s true size is best measured when it has fallen. That maxim applies so well to your father, because he is more appreciated now that he is gone.”

I think those are the perfect epitaphs for my father, and if he could hear them he would be greatly pleased!!!

Happy Father’s Day to all Fathers!!!