My Dad never told me that he was proud of me. Sure, when my brother Michael passed the bar and became a personal injury lawyer Dad threw a party at a ritzy hotel on the beach. And when my sister Jill got her medical degree he flew the entire family to Vegas to celebrate. And when Lonnie stayed sober for a hundred days he bought her a Volkswagen. But on the day I earned my single-subject credential and vowed to dedicate my life to helping children struggle and suffer…on that news Dad reclined his chair, swirled the ice in his whiskey and said, “Jesus. The schools must be desperate.” I remember how that first month I told him that my freshmen had read Great Expectations in a single day–telling him that the secret to such an achievement was to have great expectations for your students–he snorted, rolled his eyes and said: “You are a perfect idiot.” After that, I got shy about telling him things–fearing his vicious criticism–but over Thanksgiving one year I got drunk and related the story of how I made a bonfire inside my classroom from old copies of Fahrenheit 451 to demonstrate irony, and he said, “I can’t believe the state thinks it is perfectly okay for you to be around children!” The table got quiet and the tears rolled down my cheeks. Then Dad said, “I guess we can be happy that you have a job, but really Larry I don’t know how you did it.”
He died a few months later and at his funeral I whispered in his ear that one day I would make him proud. Now I wake up every morning and strive to be great–not to please him because of course he’s dead, but because I need someone somewhere to be proud of me and tell me that I am great.