My father died 25 years ago. I was 14 and in my freshman year of high school. It seems so long ago and yet like many folks… distant memories come back when you least expect them. He was an English teacher for many years at Norwood High School in Norwood, MA and last night I googled his name just for the heck of it. I was happily surprised to see his name come up in an interview that an author had done not too long ago… talking about how my dad was one of THE main reasons he became a writer… I googled some more. It turns out the author actually THANKED my father in the front of his first book… how cool… I had never known this.
So on a random Friday night I reached out to the author and emailed him a note… thanking him for the kind words I had found by accident. I told him I remembered coming to the classroom as a little kid and helping set it up for the new school year. I told him I remembered my dad’s Smith-Corona typewriter, his purple mimeographs, his bottle of white-out, his teacher notes in red pen, always neat and in all caps.
And today… he wrote me back with a long note of his own all about my father and his class… a note about how as a student the author had been a 16-year-old know it all.. but my dad pushed him and pushed him and pushed him some more… to write and to rewrite and to never accept anything less than perfection. He said my dad’s lessons kept coming back to him throughout his life… as an author and then as a teacher himself… he wrote “I got my master’s in journalism at Boston University and the lessons of Wilgoren came back to me. I kept telling myself what an idiot I was for not absorbing his guidance earlier”… he said it made all the difference. How different our two takes could be on the same man. I knew my dad as a demanding father… deeply flawed in his final years… never as the brilliant teacher… although I had always heard the rumors. Here was proof, the other side to my dad, and how much his work as a teacher meant.
The former student ended the note by talking about two of his friends who also had my dad as a teacher… two friends who ALSO became writers and he said “obviously he had an impact on their lives as well”. My sister reminded me that our dad’s birthday would have been this weekend. 74. I can’t even imagine it. It’s been so long and yet I’m still learning things I never knew before. On a random Friday night… three thousand miles away from home… a person I’ve never met before gave me new insight… and a special gift I hadn’t expected.
Here’s to my dad and to all the teachers.