“When I am at my best, I am my father’s daughter”
This post is a follow up to my post on retiring from teaching earlier this year in February. You can read that here.
Soon after returning from a little getaway on Cape Cod a week ago last Friday, my former principal texted me to ask if I would be around and if so could she drop off a retirement gift from the school committee. It was a beautiful day when just hours before, I had been flying kites on the beach. Knowing the end of the year can be super busy in school, I offered to swing by and pick it up.
Over the years I had been present at the teachers’ retirement party to see several gifts just like this bestowed upon the retirees, but with the big interruption of Covid, I had forgotten all about it. I opened it when I got back home and sure enough, it was a beautiful mantel clock. While I know this is the customary gift for retirement in my district, it has special significance to me, which I’d like to share with you.
In the photo above you will see my new clock on the left and a clock beside it, which was a retirement gift when my father retired in 1990 as principal of the Potter Road School in Framingham after a 38 year career in education.
My father left high school at 17 to join the Navy in World War II and served aboard the USS Randolph in the Pacific Theater. When he returned from the war, he earned his bachelor’s degree from North Adams State College, where he met my mother, Barbara, also an educator. They married in 1953.
While working as a teacher in Natick, Massachusetts, my father earned his master’s degree from Boston College. His first administrative job was as a teaching principal at the Eliot School in Natick. In 1960, he became principal of the Southern Berkshire regional school district and our family then of six children moved from Natick to Mill River. We welcomed another sibling in the Berkshires and by 1962, my father took the job of principal at the Horse Pond Road School in Sudbury. We moved back to the metro west area of Boston, settling in Framingham. In 1966, my father became the principal of the Potter Road School in its inaugural year and found a home there, staying for 24 years until his retirement in 1990.
Growing up the daughter of a school principal was fantastic. My youngest brother was born in 1967, completing our family of eight children. When we had snow days my dad would be home with us to do all the fun stuff. And if he had to go into school on a snow day or during summer, we could go with him and play in the gym or outside on the playground. His work was less stressful in summer and he could often cut out early to take us swimming. And he always swam. Living in the same town as the school, though, he couldn’t go anywhere without being recognized, which usually ended up in a long conversation. I remember shifting from foot to foot as I waited for my father to finish talking with a parent outside the Liggett’s Rexall Drugs in Nobscot, for instance.
When my father retired he was celebrated with a few parties, including a dinner and cocktail event for the adults and an evening celebration at school where the fifth and sixth grade students performed skits, including a humorous one about my big family and how it grew, and sang songs. The student announcer personified my father the principal, Mr. Matthews, throughout the event. I was lucky to attend with my son, who was just six months old at the time. Someone recorded the tribute on video to give to my mother later in the form of a VCR tape. Here is a segment where my father thanks the audience and then sings Edelweiss. My father always sang at school, in fact he often did so over the intercom and also played his harmonica, as if it were his own personal radio station. The video ends with the students singing The Wind Beneath My Wings to him followed by the staff filing through to shake his hand, kiss him on the cheek, and give him a hug. I can’t watch this without tearing up.
At sixty-three when he retired, my father stayed active with the church, serving on the parish council and singing in the choir. He volunteered at a homeless shelter during the winter, and with the council on aging in Framingham. He enjoyed traveling with my mother to see their grown children and grandchildren in California, in Vermont, and in Connecticut.
When I helped my first husband, Richard, fight cancer from 1992 until March, 1993, my father and mother were always available to help with my son and my home as I continued to work full time in the printing industry. After Richard passed a year later, my father was a strong role model for my son, Dylan. I remember him driving the half hour to our house and back again just to help out with shoveling snow. My son couldn’t get enough of him. In fact, my father taught Dylan how to shave ten years or so later when he was in middle school.
My father was a storyteller, a joke teller, someone whose primary interest was in making everyone feel comfortable. He was smart yet never felt the need to show it off. He read, listened to music on Sunday afternoons, tinkered in the garage, and took care of the yard. He was always good to my mother and she was good to him. I am grateful to have grown up in their home, and although I’m sure eight children was a lot to manage for them, it worked. And I always had a playmate at the ready.
When I think about my father in the role of educator, I am impressed at what he accomplished and experienced in the radically changing years between 1952 and 1990. From post-war rigor to the open classrooms and implementation of special education in the 1970s, my father saw a lot of changes and a growing enlightenment in the way kids should be taught. During the years following the civil rights protests and discourse of the 1960s, my father was instrumental in ensuring METCO students bused to Potter Road from Boston received an equitable and inclusive top-notch education at his school. As education reform moved from the left to the right with Ronald Reagan’s A Nation At Risk report in the 1980s my father would have struggled to balance budgets with declining enrollment as baby boomers graduated out of school and disinterest spread among taxpayers, while at the same time responding to a push for higher standards for both students and teachers. I wish he were here now to talk about it with me. I have so many questions.
A few years after we entered the new millennium, my father began to experience symptoms of dementia, which was later diagnosed as Alzheimer’s Disease. My mother did all she could to care for him at home, but by 2006 we had to place him in a nursing home. His needs were met there and my mother’s daily visits and our family filled in the gaps. The hardest part for me was when the disease progressed and my father forgot my name, forever. However, I was grateful when I would walk in the room, his face would light up and he would smile, greeting me with “one of the good ones”. I was always glad to be “one of the good ones”, especially when I think back to my “not such a good one” teenage years. On a side note, my father continued to play his harmonica long after he had forgotten our names.
My father passed in 2008, the year my son graduated from high school. My mother stayed in our family home home for a while, but by 2010, she was ready to move from her big house to a senior residence. When we were clearing out our family home before before putting it on the market, it was decided that since I am the only one of my father’s eight children to become a teacher, I should have his retirement clock. I’ve treasured the clock since then because it reminds me of this sentiment I reflected on throughout my teaching career, “When I am at my best, I am my father’s daughter”.
I thank the Mendon Upton Regional School Committee for the gift of a mantel clock. I am glad to have a keepsake to commemorate 23 years in the best job ever in our supportive district. I am truly grateful to be reminded of my father daily. I look forward to displaying the two clocks together throughout my retired years.