An Aspiration for My Son

In 26 days, my youngest son, Ben, will enter high school.  Times have certainly changed since I first walked on the campus at Socastee High School in 1989.

Textbooks were printed on paper and they were heavy.  They were stored in a locker between classes and we used a JanSport backpack to lug them from class to class.

Technology meant that the pay phone worked.

A parent only contacted you at school if it was extremely important…and you got called to the office via a PA system to take the call.

Your 15th birthday present from your parents consisted of a 35 foot phone cable that would reach to your bedroom.

And we went to class stressing about the latest quiz…and girls – rather than bullying, gunmen, dress codes, metal detectors, and anything other than whether our iPad was charged.

Times have changed, but thankfully, I am not sure that my son realizes this at all.  He just goes day by day and copes without knowing he is coping.

As I consider – and fret over – the endless number of things that are out of my control as I strive to get my son to age 18 as a functional, compassionate, centered young adult, I have one hope for him that stands out above all others.

I hope Ben has Bobby Chandler as a teacher.

I graduated from high school in 1992.  As I think back to high school, I am flooded with endless memories.  However, when I think back to the memories that still influence me today, I find that most are related to Mr. Chandler’s 11th grade AP US History class.  In fact, I still have the red 3-ring binder consisting of daily class notes taken – that once allowed me to pass a test – and now serves as a diary of sorts that means more to me than any other non-familial artifact of my existence.

With any luck, we all have teachers that leave an impact on our lives.  I certainly did.  Mr. Leach showed us that Chemistry was not a bad word.  Ms. Nay made English fun (strangely enough, I hated English throughout school and somehow wound up with a B.A. in English once the dust settled).  Mr. Campbell proved to us that music ability has as much to do with hard work as talent.  Mr. O’Brien showed us how to make argyle socks work.  And, of course, Coach D showed us all how “Shagging” was a dance that could get the girls to talk to us for at least 45 minutes a day.

With even more luck, we all have a Mr. Chandler.  It is difficult to articulate the impact that Mr. Chandler’s class had on me, so I will simply give examples.

Mr. Chandler’s class taught me:

History wasn’t actually about remembering facts.  Facts simply served as tent-poles to organizing our thoughts- and, as I’ve since learned, to winning trivia games.  History was actually about understanding the underlying currents of human progressions so that we can actively – and intelligently – participate in the process when the next wave comes.

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

-George Santayana

I certainly didn’t realize it at the time, but Mr. Chandler’s class taught me that the charisma and rhetoric that allowed Hitler to ascend to power in Germany is not entirely unlike the rhetoric currently prevalent in the Donald Trump Presidential campaign.   Trump is not Hitler, but perhaps we should all listen a bit closer to the previously silent minority of people suddenly emboldened to speak out in the midst of Trump’s popularity.

Learning can be fun.  When I walked into the classroom and saw the six string guitar, I knew it would be a good day.  Though I honestly cannot remember what the tie-in to U.S. history was, Mr. Chandler’s rendition of Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s in the Cradle” sticks with me to this day.  In fact, in college as a bad, amateur writer I wrote a screenplay based upon the story songs of Harry Chapin.  I even had the opportunity to present the screenplay to one of Harry’s brothers, Tom, after a performance of his in about 1994.  I have no idea if he ever read it, but the memory remains a highlight of my university years.

The Civil War was about way more than just slavery.  Beyond the obvious benefits of this lesson, I suppose this is at least a little bit responsible for my enjoying watching movies like “Lincoln” far more than sitting through the latest installment of “Fast & Furious”.  Thinking could be fun!

We’re all a part of history everyday – we each hold the power to effect change if we engage in the process.  I remember the day when we all learned the phrase, “Desert Shield”.  Both of the A-10 flight commanders recently sent to Kuwait from the safety of Myrtle Beach AFB had children in our class.  Mr. Chandler asked us, “What was the last war the U.S. fought in that lasted less than 4 years?  And how old are you today?”  Suddenly, it was real and not just a program on CNN.

It turns out that I had classmates that eventually enlisted and joined what would ultimately become “Desert Storm”.  “Operation Freedom” became no less significant to our generation.  Our generation was far more fortunate that previous ones, but the impact of that single class remains with me to this day.

To over-simplify, Mr. Chandler’s class taught me to understand the past so as to inform the present and hopefully guide the future.  It likely wasn’t intentional, but Mr. Chandler’s class taught me a lot about being a father. When you become a father, you wonder how best to care for your child in the present and how best to equip him for his future.  I do not claim to be a “great” father any more than Mr. Chandler’s hubris would allow him to claim to be a “great” teacher, but we all hope the future will prove us as such.

The jury is out on my ability as a father, but I am as hopeful as ever.  The verdict is clear on Mr. Chandler.  Godspeed and thank you, sir.

And just like “Cat’s in the Cradle”, things seem to always come full circle. My son is entering high school about to face a different world than I. If I could hope for anything as he embarks on this journey…

I hope Ben has Bobby Chandler as a teacher.

And I am proud to be his father.

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