As a white male living in middle class America with two loving parents who both sacrificed for my sisters and myself I cannot even begin to think I have not had a positive life and am thankful for all of the things that have been given to me throughout my life. Beginning full time work early in my life, at a farm, taught me lifelong skills of responsibility, work ethic, care for others and care for your duty. During this time, when I was developing who I am, I had a teacher who argued it was important to surround yourself with people who would be able to benefit your life over time even at the jeopardy of real connections with others in your life. Circumstances relating to where I lived, distancing myself from friends who were moving in different directions from myself and other events that were beyond my control led me to develop an emotional wall surrounding me. Coincidentally, around this time I became a huge fan of Pink Floyd.
For years I have prided myself of lacking interest in having emotional reactions toward others. I am sure that this made me a difficult person to love. Apathy made it easy for me to move on from relationship to relationship with no shame. Truthfully I didn’t feel the loss of love because I don’t think I felt love in the first place.
After 6 years of marriage, that loving relationship ended. During those years I did try and manage the feeling of love and I would like to think that upon many occasions I met that task. Unfortunately, and I will acknowledge partial blame the marriage did not maintain, but that marriage produced my daughter. I often felt bad during the marriage about loving my daughter more than her mother. I thought that I was wrong for loving my daughter more, but then again until then I didn’t have much experience with love and therefore, I was able to ignore it and then soon after I got over it. I watched my daughter develop into a spectacular young woman. I watched her grow and growing with her I have become a better person. Perhaps I allowed myself to push through my apathy I have begun to care about others; or maybe it is just because there is a special bond between a father and his daughter that I begun to care.
For the vast majority of my career I have taught at the high school level. My thoughts have been that those were the ages I needed to be working with and the ages that I was going to be the most happy teaching. Due to a chance I felt was going to be worth the effort, in August of 2017 I took a job teaching English to 6th grade students, the same age as my daughter at that time.
These 80+ students between the ages of 10-12, my daughter included, opened my eyes to what it would be like to be vulnerable. Most people with whom I have gotten to know well have come to trust me to a point where they made themselves vulnerable to me. I don’t know if I have a trusting face, trustworthy mannerism or if there is something else about me that permits others to share with me their insecurities, deeply personal feelings and vulnerabilities, but the experiences starting in August of 2017 forever changed my life.
Teaching students who were of the same age as my daughter allowed me a vastly different perspective than having taught students of the older ages. I also feel that this particular age was significant such that it would not have been as meaningful at an older or younger age, being similar to my daughter. The innocence paired with the wonder, the naivety partnered with the energy and the trust paralleled with the questioning spirit it was easy for me to develop strong connections with these students while at the same time understanding the importance of building bonds with my daughter. For this I will be forever thankful at having been given the opportunity to explore my own self and my own emotions as it has allowed me the ability to love in a more wholesome way than I could have ever done before.
I hope that the time I was permitted to be in those students lives meant a fraction of what they meant to me. They taught me now to love, they taught me what it meant to be a meaningful father, a caring parent and the importance of being vulnerable. Thank you for the lessons on love shared by the 80+ 10-12 year old students, including my daughter.