I’m not sure who left more of an impression on my heart and life: my student or her dad. I’ll call her “Sarah.” I tutored her once a week after school, and we formed a somewhat unlikely friendship. I was a not-cool-at-all English teacher of all things, and she was the kind of middle school girl I would have envied at that age.
She was cute and sassy and all the guys liked her, even though most of them knew they didn’t have a chance. Add to her list of must-have traits, the fact that she had a single dad that pretty much let her do whatever she wanted, and I would have traded places with her in a heartbeat, at that age.
Sarah ended up coming over to my place on her dad’s “guys’ nights out.” There were rules, though. If she didn’t have too much homework, I’d ask Sarah to help me prepare dinner. She, my roommate, and I would sit and talk and eat and laugh. After dinner, she’d have to help me clear the table and do dishes.
(I found out that at home, she didn’t have any real chores or responsibilities. And they usually ate take-out or frozen pizzas that required no preparation—again, something I thought I would have loved.)
After dinner, we’d both do some homework, and I’d help her study if she had a test or quiz the next day.
If we had time before “bed time” (something else she didn’t have at home), I’d ask if she wanted to watch TV or a movie, but she never did. She’d rather just sit and talk or play a board game.
One day, as we talked, she told me that she wished her dad would talk to her, play games with her, ask her about her day, tell her about his. I was shocked, ”He doesn’t do that?!”
“No,” she said, “He just asks me what movie I want to watch. During dinner, he usually reads the paper, and I just sit there.”
When her dad came to pick her up that evening, we had a moment alone; I can still see him standing there in my apartment doorway, tan, as always, and dressed in a trendy ensemble that helped him look younger than I figured he must be.
“Maybe you could take more time to talk with Sarah. She doesn’t want movies. She needs a bed time and responsibilities. More than that, she needs you. She just wants to be part of your life and have you show interest in hers.”
“But I’m not cool,” he said.
I didn’t tell him that he actually was. “You’re not supposed to be cool,” I blurted out, “You’re her dad.”
I’m not sure where those words came from, but I remind myself of them, now that I’m a parent, and a not-so-cool one, at that. Parents aren’t supposed to be cool. They’re supposed to be parents.