When I became a parent for the first time almost nine years ago, there were plenty of things for me to be worried about. Could we afford the huge cost of child care? What do I do if she gets sick? And how the hell do I put in this damn car seat?? Nobody is ever prepared to become a parent for the first time and the truth is we pretty much figure it out as we go along. However there was one thing in particular that I had been dreading since the day we brought her home. One question that I knew I’d be asked one day. And that one question was finally asked a couple of weeks ago when my daughter said to me “Daddy, where did you go to school?”
I know that for most of you that seems like a pretty simple and non-threatening question for a child to ask, but it’s a bit more complicated in my case. I tried to answer her questions, hoping that they wouldn’t lead to where I knew they inevitably would.
“It was called St.Anne’s” I answered her.
“What middle school did you go to?” she then asked.
I replied “That school went all the way up to 8th grade.”
“What high school did you go to?” she said.
And there it was. There was no more getting around it now. The shit had truly and absolutely hit the fan. For as many times as I had thought about her asking me this question over the years, I still didn’t know what the hell I was going to say to her. Do I tell her the truth? How much of the truth do I tell her? Do I make up some bullshit answer?
So here’s the thing, my daughter is currently in the 3rd grade and very soon she’s going to have completed more traditional schooling than I did…. because I never completed elementary school. I know it’s hard to believe that I didn’t attend some ivy league school when you read my blog posts which are so eloquently written, but it’s true. I stopped going at right about her age.
For years I tried to put my finger on why exactly that happened (it was a combination of anxiety issues, depression and difficulty dealing with my parent’s separation) but the why doesn’t really matter at this point. The bottom line is I didn’t want to go, and my mother was unable to force me to go because I’d just leave the school after I got there. Several times throughout the years I attempted to go back but it just never worked out and eventually I went back for my G.E.D. and that was that.
While I may have made my peace with that time of my life years ago, it was still something that I didn’t know how to talk to my daughter about. How do I explain that complicated series of events that even I don’t fully comprehend 30 years later? I want my children to look up to me and to set an example for them, but I was afraid of how my daughter would react to learning this. Would her opinion of me change? Would she view me as a failure? Or worse, would she think that it was okay and maybe she didn’t need to finish school because that’s what I did?
I decided that my only choice was just to be completely honest with her. There was no point in trying to lie or hide it from her, she would find out about it eventually anyway so I might as well bite the bullet and deal with it now.
“Well, Daddy never went to High School” I said to her “I had lots of trouble when I was a kid and I never finished school.”
“Did you go to college?” she asked
“No, I never did” I answered her, cringing while I awaited the oncoming wave of disappointment.
“How do you have a job then?” she wondered
“Well, you don’t need to go college to get a job, but it’s easier to get one if you do and you’ll usually find a much better one that way.”
She sat there processing the information. I could see the little gears turning in her head as she thought about what I had said. And here it comes….. oh god…. this is gonna be rough!
“Okay” she said and went back to her homework.
….wait, that’s it? Eight years of anxiety and anticipation and all she has to say to me is ‘okay’? No crushing disappointment in her failure of a father? No realization that she can just abandon her education and become a gypsy? Nope, apparently all of my fears were for nothing because she just accepted my answers and that was that. To be honest I’m not sure why I expected any other kind of response from her. My daughter is probably the most caring and compassionate person I’ve ever met in my life and it’s just not in her nature to be judgemental. She accepts and loves everybody around her for who they are, that’s just who she is.
I try not to live my life with any regrets, we can’t change the past so why bother? Every single one of us has something in our past that we wish had gone a different way, but those decisions that we make (both the good and the bad) make us who we are today. If finishing school as a kid and going off to college would have sent me down a different path in life where I would have never gotten the job I’m in now, therefor never meeting my wife, therefor never getting married and having my two amazing daughters, well….. then I guess I wouldn’t change a thing. I’m happy with the man that I’ve become, warts and all.
And as for those fears that my daughter might one day decide that she’s had it with school and she’s going to run away from home and join the circus? Well last week at her school conference her teacher told me that she’s exceeding her grade level in every single subject, she recently asked her teacher to double the amount of homework she gets, and today she’s giving a speech in class to run for student council. So I think I can say with confidence that she’s on the right track. But no matter where that track leads her, I couldn’t possibly be more proud.