To dad, about daughter's life choices

Teacher Talk

Posted: Friday, April 25, 2003

Dear Dad, We haven't talked for a while now, but I miss you every day. We left a lot unsaid you and I. It seems to be the way we functioned together - information on a need to know basis. Perhaps now I need you to hear me. There are things I need you to know. I still have questions for you. Is it too late?

Your words, your ways, your financial support, and your quiet form of love have made a big impression on me throughout my life. I don't think we have ever really had a chance to talk as adult-to-adult. We never made it that far. I want to tell you that I admired your strength, your determination, and your pursuit. You had a tough life. You overcame poverty, you battled depression, you put yourself through school, you established your own business, you supported six children, and you still managed to set yourself and mom up for a happy retirement. You died too young to enjoy it. You worked yourself to death. I am so sad for you and sorry we left so much unsaid.

I appreciate your gifts to me. Though you had strong views about everything, you let me make my own decisions. You entrusted me to public education. You put me through college. When I said I wanted to go to Alaska, you said, "OK." When I said I wasn't coming back, you said, "OK, do what you need to do." When I said I intended to become a teacher, you said nothing.

Perhaps you thought being a teacher was beneath me. I sense that many people do not respect the teaching profession. I know, though, that you believed in the power of education to overcome any obstacle. You were grounded in facts and numbers. You were well respected in your chosen profession. You were a life-long learner. People trusted your financial sense and they sought your advice because you kept on top of the rules of taxation. Your clients were smart. Do you still think my choice is "dumb?"

Dad, I, too, believe in the power of education. For you education was a means to an end. For me, education is a pursuit. In no other profession have I been so challenged. I learn rich, life-changing things everyday. Through teaching I have learned how to learn, to pursue knowledge, to make connections, to build community, and to live a life I want to live. Though you loved it when I worked for a corporation, your ultimate goal for me, I was not living. Though personal connections were not your forté, I need them.

I've always known, Dad, that I was your favorite. Perhaps you saw yourself in me, though our choices have been so different. We are more alike than you think. I, as you would often say, "make money the old- fashioned way - I earn it." Just like you did. Like you, I only get paid for the days I work, 182 or so each year. I don't get paid for holidays or school breaks or summers like you may have thought. I choose to not work during the summer, so I can explore the world, take classes, travel, and enjoy my time on this earth. I wish you had taken more time to play. Waiting until retirement left you short-changed.

I see you often in my life these days. You are in the people who hold the power over my world - you always held the purse strings. If you were alive today, would I be able to convince you that schools need to be fully funded, that cutting choices for students is a mistake, that improving school climate is important work?

Would we sit down one day and talk as adults? Would you listen to my goofy stories about my students and come to understand that teaching is a profession to be valued, a profession that has been good for your daughter? Or would you still be silently disappointed in my choice of profession? Dad, I'm proud of what I do and I hope, wherever you are, that you are proud of me too.

Love, Mary.

• Mary-Lou Gervais, daughter of Joseph and Louise Gervais of Lewiston, Maine, teaches math at Juneau-Douglas High School.

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