For my younger kids, today marks the first day of school. For one person in my life, however, for the first time in over sixty years, there will be no such first day of school, this year.
I'm talking about my father.
My dad, you see, has been an elementary school principal for most of my life. First in Rhode Island, then in Massachusetts. Last year, however, he decided to call it quits, after almost fifty years in education. It was retirement time.
This past June, Dad invited our family to his retirement party, and I was actually given the honor of speaking on behalf of the family. For three hours, we heard stories from teachers and other educators who had been influenced and inspired by my dad throughout his career. It was a wonderful opportunity to see a side of my dad that I didn't normally have access to. Since I had been a little kid, I had always wondered what it was like to do what my dad did. Hearing the stories from the folks who knew him in the work world finally gave me some idea.
Anyway, I kind of suspected that Dad wouldn't feel that he was really retired until around August and September. I mean, being a principal and all, he usually has the first few summer months off. So, I figured that the first few months of retirement wouldn't seem any different than the others.
Around August, I started looking for signs that Dad might be starting to miss the day-to-grind. I'd ask in subtle ways whenever I spoke to him, I'd listen in on conversations between him and my mom at family gatherings. However, try as I might, I haven't been able to discover one sign...not one signal sign...that he's not experiencing a less-than-blissful retirement.
Just to continue with my experiment, I called him on the phone, yesterday. "So dad, today is the day before the kids go to school," I said.
"And this is around the time that you'd be going back to school, too."
I could hear the smile in his voice. "Yes, son, it would be."
"So, I just have one thing to say to you." And then, I cleared my throat, and began to sing.
"School days, school days,
Dear old golden rule days
Reading and writing and rithmatic
All to the tune of the hickory stick"
It was a song that Dad used to sing to us every day, bright and early, on the first day of school. How I hated that damn song!
Even just thinking about the first few lines of the song, sung in my father's strong tenor voice, was enough to make me squirm. Literally, on those first days of school in my youth, I would be begging dad to stop singing. Of course, that would only make him grin and show his dimples even more. He sang it every year, too, even into college. And my sister Kerrie, a teacher, tells me he woulds sing it to her, too, on her first days. It was not a tradition any of us enjoyed.
And there I was, singing it to him.
Dad didn't seem much phased by it. In fact, he put me on speakerphone and had my mom listen, too.
"Do you think he's missing school at all, Mom?" I asked her, later in the conversation. "Does he seemed bored at all?"
"No, not really. Why do you ask?" she said, sounding surprised with the question. "I mean, maybe he will once winter hits, but right now, we're doing too much to be bored."
Well, maybe so. But I still contend that this morning, when the class bell rings and the kids start filing into lines at the playground, my dad, a man who is always up bright and early, will at least feel one small twinge of regret. Perhaps he'll wish, just for a second, that he was the person in front of the entrance, introducing himself to everyone as principal and laying down the rules for the year. Or maybe I'm just a sentimental fool.
What will he actually be doing? Knowing him, he'll probably call up my sister Kerrie to sing "School Days."
She probably won't mind it, either. It's a tradition that perhaps, after all these years, has finally moved beyond annoying and into the realm of charming.