AMEND CORNER: Ordinary people — revisited

Posted 3/3/11

In the column in question, I quoted an answer my son had given to my wife concerning what he thought of me as a teacher. My wife asked the question in jest, and my son answered, also in jest, that I was “about as good as the rest of …

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AMEND CORNER: Ordinary people — revisited


I don’t know about other newspaper columnists, but I enjoy getting responses to what I write — not only the positive comments, but the negative ones as well.

Well, thanks to Facebook, my last column received some responses that were a little bit of both; they came from within my own family, and they almost sparked a bit of sibling controversy.

In the column in question, I quoted an answer my son had given to my wife concerning what he thought of me as a teacher. My wife asked the question in jest, and my son answered, also in jest, that I was “about as good as the rest of them.”

Apparently, I didn’t make that “in jest” part completely clear.

Consequently, my daughter, who reads my column on Facebook, fired off a proclamation that she didn’t care what her brother said, I was a great teacher.

My son, after reading his sister’s response, defended himself by asserting that he didn’t remember making such a comment, and, anyway, he thought I was one of his best teachers, including the ones he encountered at the well-regarded liberal arts college he attended and the state technical university where he did his graduate study.

Well, that was nice. After all, what could be more gratifying to a father than to have his kids say they think the old man was pretty good at what he did? I already knew they thought that, of course, since over the years they called me from the furthest regions of South Dakota, Minnesota and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula with questions ranging from, “What did Emily Dickinson mean by this?” to, “Why is my car making this funny noise?”

Still, meaning no disrespect to my kids, they are just a bit biased, and maybe just a bit forgetful. I can think of occasions when one or the other of them didn’t think I was a very good father, let alone a good teacher. They did, after all, have to make their way through those troublesome years between 14 and 16, and their dad does have a temper he sometimes has difficulty controlling.

Moreover, I’m 100 percent sure that, if they polled their school classmates, they would find a considerable range of opinion on the subject of their dad’s performance in the classroom.

But their current stance may have some validity, since they received a lot more instruction from me than anybody else did, and on subjects far removed from the English and government stuff I taught them in school — lessons taught on long drives to Grandma’s house, mandatory cultural trips to community concerts featuring opera, stuff like that — so maybe they have good reason for their current view of my teaching abilities.

I am a bit distressed, though, to think all that tuition money didn’t buy my son at least a few teachers who were superior to me, especially since, during the time my son was attending, his college was noted in a national survey for its excellent teaching.

Realistically, though, I know college professors are just like other teachers — or auto mechanics, doctors, Supreme Court justices, state legislators and newspaper writers, for that matter. We all have our good days and bad days, and we all have triumphs and failures. I suspect all of them aspire to be better than they are at what they do, just as I did during the teacher/father stage of my life.

In the end, aspiring to be better is the crucial component, for, as Robert Browning wrote, “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a Heaven for?”

Ordinary people who are striving to be better are what really make the world go around, because, when necessary, it is their aspirations that cause them to perform in extraordinary ways. Those extraordinary acts sometimes are spectacular, such as in natural or human-caused disasters. More often, though, they are small acts, such as a father taking extra time to help his child find his way in the world or a teacher finding a new way to help a struggling third-grader master reading.

So, thank you, kids, for thinking I was great, but I still consider myself an ordinary person, both as your dad, your teacher, and in my current pursuits here at the Tribune. I’ll keep trying to be better, because it’s we ordinary folks trying to do better who help make the world a better place.

And, by the way, I think both of you are doing just that.