I adore my student’s dad. Not in a creepy inappropriate way, but in a I-want-you-to-tell-me-stories way. Today was parent-teacher conferences, which still make me vaguely surprised that I am the teacher in this scenario (not that I expected to be the parent, but still), and he came in wearing his typical jeans, boots, and cowboy hat. His son is in my class, his daughter is in 5th grade and is on my basketball team, and his other daughter is in 7th grade and comes to practice with us sometimes. I spent all weekend at a basketball tournament (as per usual) and he was there too, but his daughter had a really hard time.
Let me tell you about this girl. She is quiet, polite, and incredibly kind to everyone. She is a hard worker in both school and sports. She will do anything you ask her to do, and do it well. Oh yeah, and she rocks at basketball. The only thing holding her back is that she doesn’t want to play aggressively because she doesn’t want to be mean. We joke that she needs to bring her mean alter ego to games with her. But sweet as she is, two weekends ago she set a screen, a perfectly non-moving, non-fouling screen, and the little girl she was screening didn’t see it. Long story short, girl hits the ground, throws a whole dramatic scene, crying and slapping the floor, her mom yelling at all my girls but especially at Abigail, who is pretty much stunned and traumatized. Of course, she did nothing wrong, but she didn’t believe that. When we played that team again this weekend she was a wreck. She was crying at halftime and wouldn’t tell me why, and then when we lost (by 1 point on a foul shot with 0:01 left) she was sobbing. Turns out she didn’t want to have to guard that girl again because she was still so upset about the last time.
Anyway, her dad told me what was up, and both he and I tried to talk to her this weekend but she was doing the whole “Yes, I’ll nod and agree, but no, I don’t believe you for a second” thing. So I asked him today how she was doing. And as he started telling me about all the life lessons he was trying to teach her, all I could think was, please teach me life lessons too!
This guy is amazing. He went to boarding school when he was little, which at the time was some seriously bad news experiences. He hated school, not surprisingly, but in 3rd grade he realized how bad his grades were and decided to change that. So he did. He taught himself times tables and improved his reading. Now he reads every book his kids are reading so that he can quiz them to make sure they understand. He taught his kids their math facts and concepts young, checks their math homework every night, and gives them extra work to stretch them.
He’s pretty much a horse guy. He trains horses, shoes them, and used to ride and rope and steer wrestle in rodeos when he was young. About 5 years ago, he was training a horse and had this massive accident. He told me the whole story, and I won’t try to retell it here because I can’t do justice to the way he told it. (Side note: Navajo storytelling is very circular, less beginning-middle-end and more details and events told in a spiral with repeats and side details and looping back to another story. It’s totally interesting and, I think, easy to understand the whole gist and flow of the story. But when you go to retell it, if you’re a biligana who doesn’t tell stories that way, it’s hard to explain.) Basically, he was training a horse and it bucked him like crazy and fell on top of him twice, breaking his neck in two places and some of his ribs too. It took him a long time to recover, and then he got back on a horse. He was nervous, but he got back on. So when Abigail was saying she doesn’t want to play against this team and she doesn’t want to play anymore, he tells her, “You know, you have to keep trying again.” And she asks, “Is it like when you broke your neck?”
Abigail was really upset when he broke his neck. He said she couldn’t even look at him lying there in the hospital. And he said, “Abigail, it’s your daddy talking. Turn around, talk to me.” And she said, “I thought you were tough. You told me you were tough.”
He is like that, he says, always telling his kids to be tough and cowboy up and push through things. And there’s his little girl, asking him, “Why are you hurt? You’re supposed to be tough.”
“I am tough,” he says. “I am tough, but I’m human too. I break. We all break. That’s part of it.”
He had to spend this time undoing all that toughness talk, he said. Yes, you should be tough, but sometimes you get broken and that’s part of life too. It’s ups and downs, and you have to keep going through it. That’s how when he broke his neck really is like when Abigail set that screen.
“That’s what happened to you, you got broken a little bit. But you also kept going through it, and you’ll keep going from here.”
I wish all my kids had a man like this for their dad.