Poetry Friday: Proud Son of an Honor Roll Student

January 2nd, 2009

Bill Varner is back with a poetry selection for the first Poetry Friday of the year.

Here’s a poem about teaching from Timothy Cook, a poet living in Asheville, NC. About it he says, “What is significant to me about this poem is the unconscious motivation behind one’s actions, that teaching is not just a job, but an answering to a call coming from deep within one’s self.”

Proud Son of an Honor Roll Student

Both strange & wise was my dad’s advice
when he told me to never tell my teachers
that he was an English professor . . .
& long was the road from his father’s shed
to the front of a classroom. When I think of
my dad, I have to consider him
as the son of a carpenter, the youngest son
who could never measure up to the oldest
no matter what he did. Despite the houses built,
the mountains cleared, the boats sailed,
the marathons run, nothing was ever enough.

So finally he gave up & went to college,
which was way too much because back in Holland
his father finished school by the sixth grade.
When I think of my dad, I have to remind myself
that he is the son of an immigrant,
growing up to amass a staggering amount
of books, shelves covering the living room wall
fifteen feet across, from floor to ceiling.
Not an idol in the house & yet we blessed
Our Lord and these thy gifts before every meal,

my dad’s greatest disappointment
that I no longer attend church. When I think of
my one-dollar-a-week allowance,
I have to realize that when my dad stuck
his hand out for money his father spit into it.
No matter how much I, the youngest son,
ever messed up, it was never too much.
I could still return to my dad
like when I’d come home from grade school
for lunch—a cuisine of frozen pizza
or macaroni & cheese with canned sardines.

I remember crying the one time I saw
my parents fight, my dad storming out to a bar
or something, although he never drank,
just a few rum & cokes in all those years
of working nights & watching me
during the days. When I think of my dad’s life,
I have to admit to the things he left undone,
the unfinished sections of the house, the carpentry
he didn’t teach me, the books he never wrote.

Then I remember that too often we dwell
on shortcomings, forgetting
that my dad worked his way to a Ph.D.,
stayed with one woman for his entire life,
& taught immigrants how to read and write
English, immigrants like his father . . .
& so it is that I love my dad
in silence, how men are allowed
to love one another, with simple gestures
like a head nod or a pat on the shoulder.

Entry Filed under: Poetry Friday

6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. carol Wilcox  |  January 2nd, 2009 at 10:57 am

    This could be my dad. No Ph.D., but lots and lots of good faithful living and loving actions.

  • 2. Maren Koepf  |  January 2nd, 2009 at 10:58 am

    Teaching is indeed “an answering to a call from deep within one’s self”. When I reflect on the people whose voices formed that call within me to teach young readers, I recognize the immense impact of simple comments and gestures that add up to my passion to make a difference. Dad always kept a pile of books and magazines active. Mom read aloud to me even into my high school years. My 5th-grade teacher never gave up on me. And, when I was 12, Grandma gave me a small book called “She Wanted To Read” that awakened a longing I hadn’t known existed.
    It’s important to realize the significance of our call!

  • 3. Maren Koepf  |  January 2nd, 2009 at 10:59 am

    Teaching is indeed “an answering to a call from deep within one’s self”. When I reflect on the people whose voices formed that call within me to teach young readers, I recognize the immense impact of simple comments and gestures that add up to my passion to make a difference. Dad always kept a pile of books and magazines active. Mom read aloud to me even into my high school years. My 5th-grade teacher never gave up on me. And, when I was 12, Grandma gave me a small book called “She Wanted To Read” that awakened a longing I hadn’t known existed.
    It’s important for teachers to realize the significance of our call!

  • 4. TadMack  |  January 2nd, 2009 at 3:57 pm

    Oh, wow, this is really — a mouthful said about teaching, about parenting, about immigrants and men. What a gorgeous poem.

  • 5. Mary Lee  |  January 3rd, 2009 at 8:10 am

    Bill, this poem makes me ache for my dad, and for the adult relationship we never had because he died too soon. Way too soon. Go hug your kids, read to them and talk to them. Now. Go.

  • 6. Kelly Polark  |  January 3rd, 2009 at 12:59 pm

    What a wonderful tribute to a father.

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