Monday, June 22, 2009

Sask Trip 5: Mushy Parental Edition

There's been a bad turn in the family recently, and I'm kind of hoping this post will be a bit of a morale booster. I'm also hoping it will go a bit of the distance towards a proper Father's Day gift, since the two minute phone call I made yesterday arguably falls a bit short.

For those still following at home, I'm nearing the end of day two of my Sask Trip. At this point, the shopping expedition is over, and my brothers and I are on a brief road trip, to attend my mother's Retirement Banquet. She is/was/always already (Althusser joke!) retiring after decades of teaching this year, and she and the other retirees in her school division were being honored by the division at a banquet. I'd changed my original departure date and skipped a class so that I could be there, and--to skip to the ending--I was really glad I was there.

It was, not that I have a lot of experience, a fairly typical event. The food was good, albeit slightly ridiculous (dessert was a cup of whip cream, with graham cracker crumbs--what is that? Did Jello prove too difficult?). The cash bar was well-stocked. The speeches were more or less what you'd expect from such an event--some really heart-felt reflections on teaching, a few good jokes, and a lot of jokes whose goodness depended heavily on how much you'd invested in the aforementioned cash bar.

I wasn't there for the event. I was there to spend some time with my parents--given that there was an NDP convention that weekend, our paths weren't going to cross too often. I was also there to give some support to my parents, something that isn't easy to do with a few hundred kilometers normally in the way. So basically, my role that evening was to look appreciative while ignoring the complaints of a brother who didn't like being out past 9 pm on a work day. (Seriously. That was his complaint. Now repeat 10 times a half-hour for about three hours.) But even though I was removed from most of it (except for the thank-you speech given on behalf of the retirees by my mother, which was well said, even if it was short on 18th century literary quotations), I couldn't help feel that there was something missing from the affair. Something that was not only a part of a teacher mass retirement, but a necessary condition. It was about half way through the proceedings when I figured it out.

What's missing was the students.

To me, growing up in a family with two teachers as parents, I know that students aren't the only part of the job. There's marking, dealing with parents, being forced into the bureaucracy, lesson plans, textbook budgets, and other thoroughly unpleasant activities. But the students that are the important part. That the auditorium wasn't filled to the roster with children giving testimonies these people made in their lives--that felt wrong to me. Now, I know that that wasn't the purpose of the banquet, and I know that, in my mother's case at least, the public student acknowledgement was coming later. But it was at that point that I really realized that I was glad to be there--not only glad, but lucky. Because for my mother, at least, the students weren't missing. There were three of them sitting right at that table, come especially for her.

Let me be explicit here: as a life spent in academia, I've had a lot of teachers. I've had elementary school teachers, guidance counselors, high school teachers, tutors, TAs, professors, and every possible variation you can imagine. But my first and most important teachers are my parents. While others have taught me how to do this subject or that, they've taught me how to be a person and everything you can say to me to my credit should properly be creditted to them.

All right, let's bring this Hallmark moment to a close.

Happy Father's Day, Dad.

Congratulations on the retirement, Mom.

And whatever happens in the next few days, your family member out east is thinking about you, and is proud to be your son.

Later Days.

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