Teachings of My Father, Part 1

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Teachings of My Father, Part 1

I have come to realize that I am in the extreme minority where my parents are concerned and am quite lucky as a result. They have both been married to each other now since a few months before I was born. Okay—that’s almost forty-five years. They are both still alive, and doing very well.

My mother is semi-retired. Dad has fixed her up pretty good, and he may retire in another year or two. The man knows three things very well: work, work, and work. I envision finding him dead in the garage someday (far in the future) hunched over the engine compartment with a wrench in his hand, a beer on the fender, and a smile on his face. Meanwhile Mexican music booms from his favorite a.m. station.

He was born into a family of eight brothers and four sisters. I don’t know in what order he was born, but it was definitely somewhere in the middle. His entire family lived in a one-room mud hut until he was in high school. Seriously! He has black and white photos of it. They scratched out a living from the land, his father a bean farmer until his death when my dad was just ten years old, sometime in 1953. So, I never knew my grandpa Bralio (BRAH-leo). My dad has told some stories of his youth, however, that made me laugh ’til I cried.

English was his second language. Spanish, albeit an ancient and somewhat broken version of it was his first. He was all but discouraged from going to school, his talents being more useful tending to the farm, such that it was. On his own accord he learned English, but not until his sixth grade year. Of all his siblings, something was different with my dad. He was a thinker. And he discovered early the value of a college education.

I was six years old when he graduated with a teaching degree from NMSU in 1972. It’s easy to write that one line, but getting there was difficult at best, and spiritually eviscerating during the worst times. Still, we never went hungry, and the utilities were never turned off. My childhood was a pretty good one.

His major was chemistry with a minor in biology. After he graduated, he did not teach for a living. Instead he used his degree to open doors for himself in the construction industry. It was rocky, but it worked. Of course it worked. He is not one to fail! Construction dried up in the “Great Recession of 1982.” (I wonder how many of those we’re going to have!) I graduated from high school in 1983. He still managed to send me to school, and of everything he has ever given me, payment for a college education far and away tops the list.

From as far back as I can remember, he drilled into my head that I was going to go to college and major in either law, medicine, or engineering. I still hear it in my head, and I have an engineering degree already! He taught me basic math before I started preschool, and by the second grade I was doing third grade math. I was “a natural,” they said, “gifted.” Looking back on it now, it wasn’t really natural for a four-year-old to do a dozen basic math problems after dinner, but before TV. It didn’t happen but maybe a few nights a month, but for my friends, it never happened at all. “Math is a tool,” he’d tell me, at a time when my idea of a tool was a monkey wrench. I didn’t understand his analogy; I was only four!

He pushed education to the hilt. It almost became mind-numbing. I do have a favorite motivator, however. I am not going to quote lines, as it would get too confusing, so I am just going to write it out hoping you’ll understand that these are his teachings to me:

The American model is a six-foot, two-inch, blonde-haired, blue-eyed, white football player. Every company wants to fill its ranks with men like that. If you are missing any one of those attributes, then you have a demerit against you, and you need to compensate for it. You compensate with education. The more demerits you have, the more education you will need. For instance, if you are a short, fat, black woman, maybe missing a leg or something, then the only thing that will compensate you fully is a medical degree in brain surgery. At that level of education and skill, no one cares what your demerits are,“just fix my brain!”

That is coarse, to be sure, but well intended, and well delivered to an impressionable youth such that I was. For all of its crudeness, it rings true, and it has served me well. Given my Bachelors degree in Electrical Engineering, I believe my demerits, as defined by my father, have been compensated.

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