I’ve been thinking about my Dad. His name was Alexander. “Alexander the Great,” he used to tease. Dad was humble, open and honest. He would have been the last person to say anything he did was ‘great’. He enjoyed having fun, and he was cutting edge real. Sometimes it got him in trouble but he always said what he believed. For example, he believed church wasn’t a Sunday club or a place to put people on pedestals, but a place for people to truly hear God speak. He believed life wasn’t a ‘free ride’. It was about hard work and he was committed to giving it his all.
Thoughts about my father’s early teaching experiences were reignited when I caught a classic 1977 film, ‘Why Shoot the Teacher?’ on television recently. Why Shoot the Teacher? is a raw, humourous, sometimes painful, but entirely honest tale about the challenges faced by a young teacher from Eastern Canada at a rural Saskatchewan school house on the prairies in the early 1950s.
Watching the film, I caught echoes of my father’s own personal journey as a young man…the meagre wages he earned, the community challenges, the rugged one-room classrooms, the dreams he aspired to, and the sometimes dismal, lonely hours he must have faced. Sure seems a far cry from today’s teachers living on union-backed wages and striking for still higher wages and benefits in some jurisdictions. My Dad wouldn’t believe it if he was around today.
In my Dad’s day, he appreciated the ‘honour’ of having a job. Work was a lifeline to a better life, and it was about service. His work didn’t come with pay and benefits, but he could keep a roof over his head and feed his family. Work was work. It required ethics, diligence, endurance. Words you don’t hear much today.
Dad taught us kids early to value and appreciate life’s opportunities, great and small, and never to take anything for granted. There was no ‘entitlement’ teaching in our household. And perhaps it was my father’s early teaching days and his experiences in life’s sometimes tough school that ended up helping to set a firm standard for our home, because at our house, Dad’s word always meant business. We didn’t always like it when he ‘put down the law’, but as my parents both used to say, “One day, you just might thank us…”
They were right. I did. It took awhile. I was a bit of a rebel. But, I am grateful for the truths my father taught me.
I thank God for the heritage and solid values my parents worked so hard to instill in our lives. And this summer while attending a hometown and school reunion where my Dad had taught when I was a kid, I was amazed by the litany of ‘thank yous’ many of his former students shared with my mother. They spoke about the truths my Dad had taught that had helped them in their lives, they still applauded how he’d stood up and got them a year book, and a sports team, and taught them to fight for improvements while having fun along the way. #1, my father had instilled the importance of investing in a higher education, in an honest way — no cheating for marks or to get ahead in life.
My Dad was always big on truth, and tough on lies. He was honest, some might say, ‘to a fault’. Dad was the first guy to humbly admit he was far from perfect, and how he always wished he could have done more. Yet he instilled ethical boundaries such as his belief that rewards should be based on merit…and hard work…not on ‘entitlement’.
We could use a few more guys like my Dad around today. Lots of people talk about making the world a better place. My Dad didn’t talk. He just got out there and did it.