My dad has always been a kind and gentle man. He carried me piggy-back and woke up in the middle of the night to make warm milk when the nightmares woke us from our slumber. When Mom was gone, he burnt our dinner, cut our bangs (crooked) before picture day and loved us unconditionally.
In fifth grade, my competitive side unleashed itself as I came home with a list of United States Presidents from Washington to Reagan. Tomorrow, there’d be a timed quiz where our memories would be challenged. We were to list as many of the Presidents, in order of term succession. Determined, I studied to be the first to complete this assignment.
After a long day, my dad walked through the door, tired and ready for some rest. I, with Presidents List in hand, met him at the door.
“Dad, I have to memorize this entire list before school tomorrow.” I said firmly.
He glanced at the paper and told me, “We’d work on it together after dinner.”
My dad stayed with me for hours as I wrote Presidents names in a list. After every “list”, he would time me with his stop watch. With every list, he’d review it, edit it for accuracy and record my time.
When my eyes burned in need of sleep, and my voice whimpered, “Just one more time”, Dad obliged.
The next day I headed to school ready to strut my stuff. Papers on desks and pencils in hand the teacher announced, “Go” Meticulously and with speed even Superman would have found threatening I wrote the Presidents’ names in succession, “Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Adams, Jackson….”
Long before the voice announced, “Time!” I had turned in my paper and sat patiently waiting for my teacher to congratulate me.
Every President was properly listed in the order of succession. The teacher, however, clarified that I needed to cover first name, middle initial and last name: not just the President’s last name.
Though I was the only student to finish that day, I couldn’t help feeling devastated.
When my dad came through the door, again tired from his day job. He whisked me up into his arms and asked, “How did you do today?”
My heart sank. I told him my fate in today’s test. In the most loving voice and with arms around me, he said, “We’ll work on it after dinner.”
As he and I sat around the kitchen table, he looked at me and made it exceedingly clear that he was proud of me. “You’ve already gotten the hard part done. You know the order to list them. Now you just need to add a little to the list.”
Again, my dad sat with me. He reviewed my answers. He timed me. He praised me and let me negotiate the “just one more time” before insisting I knew them backwards and forwards.
The next day, long before the teacher called, “Time!” , I finished my President’s list. I was the ONLY one to complete the task that day. I had met my goal. My dad was my tutor. He was my cheerleader. Through love, he taught me to be persistent; never let a set back to set you back and above all else, dream big.
And just in case you want to see if you have the stuff, my dad was made of, here’s a list of US Presidents from Washington to Obama, including first names.