I remember my first college course. I had worked two jobs throughout high school and so I had decided to attend community college and continue working. For the first semester I’d attend a local branch campus not far from our house. The satellite campus as we called it, was located in an old lumber yard. The college had re-purposed the sales area into several classrooms and office spaces. Dad had told me if I’d stay home the first semester before moving, he’d help me with books etc., and I could work and continue saving money. I had always dreamed of going away to Memphis State (now University of Memphis), or Carson-Newman. Both were still in Tennessee, but far enough away to make the separation from my parents and hometown to have a traditional college experience.
I had reluctantly taken my dad’s advice. I’d worked throughout my high school years, but hadn’t saved enough for much of anything, and truthfully, I just wasn’t ready. Although I was always creative, and in pursuit of dreams and adventure, I was incredibly immature. So against my inner will, I put that dream on hold, and enrolled in community college. Later I would learn that community college was the best thing I could have done for myself, but at the time, I really wasn’t happy. So I was even more mortified at what happened next.
I’d rearranged my work schedule so I could take Ms. Doris Chitwood’s algebra class. I’d had Ms. Chitwood in high school and thought the familiarity would be nice. Familiarity was important in this case because I stunk at math and always had. On the first day of class, I purchased my books, entered the classroom with several familiar faces and took a seat against the wall. I remember looking down and flipping through my book to avoid conversations. This wasn’t what I had intended. I had intended going away somewhere. Even if I had to work three jobs, so be it, I wanted to go do something, and this wasn’t what I wanted.
I continued flipping through my books, keeping my face down in my text book blocking out much of what was going on until I heard this laugh. Ms. Chitwood had said something funny, and others were laughing, but one of the laughs was a familiar guffaw. I looked across the room to find my dad with his textbooks, cutting up with the people in my class. MY Class. Not his class. What was he doing? My face turned red. Two shades of red, maybe purple, because there he was taking college courses with me. I was embarrassed and mad.
I had heard my dad a mechanics teacher, talking about going back to school for some time, but never dreamed he’d be at my school or in my classes and especially not this one. Dad had been hired based off his experience both in the military as a mechanic, and as a local dealership mechanic but lacked a college degree and often talked about checking that goal off his bucket list. I suppose we both survived. I don’t remember much of that experience, maybe it was the trauma of taking a course with my dad, a non-traditional college student.
A few years later, I was married but still in school though I had moved on to Tennessee Tech University, and my dad beat me. He had gone on to complete his four year degree in business at Tusculum College and finished well before me.
Fast forward a few more years, I was married with a baby boy and working as Projects Director for a US Congressman. My wife a school teacher and I were sitting on the couch watching Everybody Loves Raymond and eating freshly delivered pizza when we got the call. My brother-in-law was on the line with the news. My dad had been flown by life-flight helicopter to UT hospital after an apparent severe heart attack had caused him to cross the median and leave the road, his car landing on the other side. I remember feeling sick and calling a few friends requesting prayer.
Dad died on Memorial Day, 2001. Just day’s before his last words to me had been “I love you and I’m proud of you.” What are the chances of that? Throughout my years in education, politics, and advocacy, I’ve learned that there are many men whose lives have been haunted and hindered because they never heard those important words from their dad. And so I realize those words were the best gift if he could have left me.
I remember my mom, who has since passed on as well, asked me if there was anything of my dad’s I wanted. I walked over to the wall and took his college degree off the wall. To this day it hangs in our home as a reminder of that first college class, that my dad beat me in our quest for a college education, and more importantly of those last words, “I’m proud of you, and I love you.” I try to remember if I ever returned the sentiment, and I wrack my brain—did I ever tell him? Did I ever let him know I was proud of him? And it worries me, and so I lay it down right here on Father’s Day 2016. I love you dad, and I’m proud of you, and because of you, I tell my son the same thing every day. Thank you for that legacy.
Who is Chester? An expert in leadership, Chester is also a leading influencer in social reputation, education, non-profit advocacy, parenting issues, access, policy, and blogging culture. Chester has been quoted in major media outlets such as CNBC, Yahoo, the Washington Post, Forbes Leadership, and others. He is a contributing writer for the Huffington Post The Good Men Project, and Edutopia. You can learn more about Chester and his Amazon #1 Best Seller at www.purplepeopleleaderbook.com or www.chestergoad.com. He and his wife live in Tennessee with their teenage son. Thanks to the legacy his dad left, he tells his son he loves him every day.