Philosophy and Nonsense
(Thoughts about writing, education, and experience.) Presented by Forrest D. Poston
The first goal of teaching is to strengthen, deepen and refine our intrinsic love of learning. All other goals and all methods must stem from that idea. Any that do not support that goal must at least be questioned and adjusted, if not eliminated. Otherwise, we are not teaching but training.
Think, I dare you.
and that has made all the difference.
Genes, We Inherit Our Dreams: The Story of a
Father by Forrest D.
Born eight years apart, my oldest brother and I knew Dad differently, the same father but a different man in a different time. Greg knew the younger days, and though the first seven years were in the coal camps, they were largely days of bright expectations mixed with mercurial moments. And Greg was a more traditional teenager with a more traditional life that included a lot of time away from the house after a certain age.
We both inherited a great deal, not all of which seems to be genetics. Oh, we have the nose, though Gregís is smaller than Dadís was and mine is smaller than Gregís, and I think Dad's was smaller than uncle Carl's, Dad's older brother. Itís still distinctly a family trait. And we canít resist telling stories, even if we talk much but reveal little. That part we seem to have breathed in as we grew.
But those eight years separated me in ways I only slowly understand. Showing me a different father, deeper in some ways, perhaps, often sadder, and hiding so much else. Perhaps it's not so much that he kept things hidden as that he rarely offered, and I rarely asked. Itís as if i was always a little late in learning, too slow in saying. I was late in learning that he could play music by ear, and by the time I heard him play his harmonica, coal mines, crawl spaces, and Camels had taken his breath.
He told me some stories, revealed a piece here and there. I knew that he dropped out of school after 8th grade. He told me that it was because he was bored, which was probably true. He didnít mention that he already had more siblings and half-siblings than one person could feed, and Dad had been old enough to remember the even tougher times when his father had walked out. So Dad went to work in the mines, which also began his determination that his own kids wouldnít grow up in the coal fields, and that determination was one of the other things he told me, if not all the reasons.
He drove a coal truck, a taxi, a newspaper route, working more jobs than I ever knew about, losing more of them than he would tell, and for reasons I would come to suspect and understand. It wasnít so much that he couldnít live by other peopleís rules. He just couldnít live on other peopleís time.
And the family moved from the coal fields, several times. But a week before I was born, the move took hold. Coal dust is likely in my blood but never in my lungs. And because of that move, I grew up with a different vision and different expectations. We were in a small but growing town where a large, new company helped build new schools and brought in new people, not just laborers and merchants but executives, something you didn't find living in coal camps. We may have lived in the working class part of town, but there was management in the air.
Greg finished high school and went on to study electronics, and his hands, like Dadís hands, seemed able to do anything had the need to be used and the feel to work and craft. I went to college and only later learned to wield a shovel well and hammer a nail more often than my finger. Dad was proud when despite assorted detours I became the first in known family history to graduate from college, but we were divided more than ever. We could still talk about the Cleveland Browns and the Cincinnati Reds, and I had even learned to do it without arguing, but that was pretty much the limit of our talks, which is probably why I love the father-son moments in movies such as "Breaking Away".
And I eventually worked with him in his plumbing and setting monuments. And I learned to dig ditches with straight sides and flat bottoms even if they were going to be filled in as soon as the pipe was laid. He could clean the ground with a shovel better than most people use a broom on a floor, which I never did learn, but I did learn to leave a place better than I found it. By the time I was 21, he told me I did a good job at something, and eventually he even said that I was like an old engine, I worked pretty well once I got started. But I eventually came to realize that he thought that I might look down on him, or not exactly that but not proud of him, and I never brought it up, never told him the truth. He was the main reason for what I had become, but what I had become seemed different, almost foreign.
He wasnít a tv Dad. He didnít teach me how to fish, and the one time he gave in to my begging to toss a football for a while, his bursitis caused him to suffer for days, even if I didnít find out for years. He was one of the most frustrating men to ever walk the earth. He delighted in arguing for its own sake, and his words were often prejudiced, though his actions never were. But I never looked down on him, would never accept any offer for a chance to go back and change fathers, no matter who might be offered. Of course, that could also be because of the stubborn streak that runs deep and wide in the family.
Still, some of the most important things I learned about him came late and from other sources. Not long before his health forced him to retire, I was helping with some labor at the local publishing company when the owner came by to chat. That was when I heard the story of the company growing too fast and taking on more work than its equipment could handle. Thatís when I heard how Dad took that 8th grade education, designed, built, and installed a new ink-supply system from standard plumbing parts.....and that after two years that system still had the process fast enough to handle even more work and had yet to require any repairs.
But the stories with the real revelations came even later, very late, while I stood beside his casket at the viewing and talked with Dadís friends that I hadnít seen since childhood. Abe, the barber who cut my hair for my first 7 years told me that Dad would spend 20 minutes fixing a faucet and 4 hours sitting at the kitchen table drinking coffee and telling stories. Thatís when some things fell into place.
He couldnít live on other peopleís time. Thatís why he eventually, absolutely had to work for himself. We never went without what we needed, but we were never going to have a pile of money in the bank. I donít know if he needed the time to tell the stories or if the stories were just a way to control his time, but it had to be that way because he was that way. He wouldnít rebel or try to change the world, but he needed that bit of control.
And then Dr. Monroe,the family doctor through my early years told me the story that told what Iíd never imagined, another side of a story I thought I knew, another side of the man I thought I'd known.
When I was seven, my mother died of a brain tumor that had been mis-diagnosed at the nearest hospital. Dad suspected the mis-diagnosis, but this was mid 1960s rural West Virginia. Hospital choices were few, roads narrow and slow, and time and money both limited.
So every morning the family doctor arrived at his office to find Dad waiting on the stoop, going in each day to read the medical books until he had to go to work, back when he still worked for someone else. And it was Dad, with his 8th grade education, who made the correct diagnosis and who knew as well the prognosis. His hands could do anything from drawing to making any hand tool an artistís tool, and his brain could do things formal education couldnít give, but this was something neither hands nor head could fix. This was beyond his control.
In all the years after, he only told me one story about my mother, the story about the first time they met when he gave her and another girl a lift. And he told me that it was then that he told himself that was the girl he was going to marry. When I asked him if the story was true, he only said, ďI did, didnít I?Ē I think now that the story was true, and that making that diagnosis killed the father that Greg grew up with, changing him into the father I grew up with.
The last time I saw him, he was in the hospital, as he had been many times in the recent years, but he was doing better. I had just gotten my Masters diploma and had been teaching as a graduate assistant for a few years, so I got to show him the diploma for his birthday, knowing that he was proud and happy to know that I had a career in mind, happy that he no longer had to worry about his somewhat different son.
The truth, however, is that Iím not so different, or at least I hope that Iím not. I think that in more ways I am what he might have been if he had been born with a shot at the same education, even if part of me believes he would have done much more with it. But his blood and spirit are in me as I tell stories and try to live on my time.
Iím glad that I got to show him that diploma, glad to know that he was proud, but as I showed it to him, I also knew that I should tell him how proud I had always been of him, how I could never be anything but proud that he was my father. I knew that I should say that and so much more, but neither storyteller said a word. He was doing better, and weíd have time. We would surely have time, plenty of time. A few days later, he died.
A Call For a Father (by Forrest D. Poston)
Dawn coming soon, darkness yet holding
sway, when the phone rings.
ďThe doctor says you should come.Ē
Bags always packed, we leave
with practiced hurry.
Determined, stubborn, he wins again,
defies not merely death but doctors,
stymies tests, refutes statistics.
We have more time.
We have two years of defiance
we love, pre-dawn calls we hate,
knowledge we fear.
But another dawn has come,
a day sunny and safe, a day
for errands run slowly, knowing
The Call won't come; breathe.
Ginny met me at the door.
The call had come about 2PM.
There was no more need
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Writing and Education
Four Meanings of Life
Godot and the Great Pumpkin
A Major is More Minor Than
The Poetry Process (A look at 4 versions of a poem.)
Thoughts About Picking a Major
Quick Points About Education
Quick Points About Writing
Reading Poetry and Cloud Watching
Using an Audience
What Makes a Story True?
What's the Subject of This Class? (Being revised.)
Writing and Einstein (The Difference Between Information and Meaning)
Writing and the Goldilocks Dilemma
Links to Other Sites
Other Essays and Poetry
Something Somewhat Vaguely Like a Resume
Alec Kirby, Memories of an Earnest Imp
Being Like Children
Beyond the Genes (Dad)
The Blessing and the Blues
Bookin' Down Brown Street
The Cat With a Bucket List
David and the Revelation
The Dawn, the Dark, and the Horse I Didn't Ride In On (an odd, meandering, semi-romantic story)
Getting a Clue
Ghost Dancer in the Twilight Zone
The Hair Connection and the Nature of Choices
I Believe in Capra
The Mug, the Magic, and the Mistake
Roto, Rooter and the Drainy Day
Sadie on the Bridge
Trumpet Player, USDA Approved
The Poetry Process
Links to Other Sites