My favorite teacher was not a teacher of elementary or secondary school. He didn’t assign Robert Frost’s poetry or genetics.
My favorite teacher taught me measurable things, such as, how to say the alphabet, how to count, and how to tie my shoes. But he also taught me immeasurable things. He taught me to take the untraveled road. He taught me that eye color, hair color, and skin color were just a way to keep name with the people they belonged to. He taught me to listen, not to the “what” of a person, but to the “who.”
Everything he taught me, he taught by example. He sang the alphabet song with me until I could say it without music or his help. We counted my fingers and his fingers until I didn’t need fingers to count on. He taught me to do right and take the untraveled road by taking it himself. He taught me the “what” of a person isn’t important by treating people like people. He taught me to listen to the “who” of a person by listening to me, not as a child but, as a person, and by listening to a quadriplegic, not as someone helpless but, as a person.
My favorite teacher was my father. Because my parents divorced, I only lived with my father on a day-to-day basis for six and one half years. For six years after the divorce, I only saw him for a weekend, at first on a regular schedule, and later the visits were fewer and father apart. When I was twelve, my father moved to California and I only got to talk to him on the phone once in a while, until he died when I was fifteen.
Every school teacher that taught me built onto the foundation that my father laid. I can read and understand Robert Frost because of my father teaching me the alphabet and to take the untraveled road. I can study genetics and know that it makes up the “what” of a person, but be able to hear the “who” because of my father — my favorite teacher.
I found the above essay written for “Into to Education” in a folder of writings I have kept. It is dated Jan 21. I think it had to be 1986. Sister Cornine wrote on it “You write well!”
One of my early memories on one of the weekends with my dad was at Emmanuel Baptist Church way out in the country where my dad was the Music Minister. We often saw deer as we traveled the small twisty road in the early morning as the mist rose. I was standing in the front of the church singing for all I was worth, signing the words my dad had taught me, while he played the piano, and sang counterpoint to “O How He Loves You and Me.” Now when I hear the contemporary “O How He Loves Us” all of that comes flooding back to me.
My dad was also the first gay man I ever knew. He helped shape and form me as the Christian I am today. I know about God’s love, in part, because one of my first examples was watching my dad love his neighbor as himself.
I came back from CTCYM (Central Texas Conference Youth in Mission), where I was pretty much out of touch, to hear fully about what happened in Orlando. We Christians can’t let hate and fear have louder voices than love and grace. To quietly stand by talking about how sad it is for people die like that is not good enough. It is too much like those in the parable of the Good Samaritan who kept walking. There are people in danger! In both metaphorical and literal ways, we must step in and take care of them! We have to tend the wounds and stop the bleeding. We must keep people safe. People are people regardless of anything else. As Christians, we are called to care for one another.
I can’t help but think about my dad’s example on this Father’s Day. My dad knew God’s love. He showed God’s love. I learned about God’s love from watching him treat people as people. O how God loves you and me. We have to use more than our words to show God’s love.