My father is eighty-six years old. He has a bad heart, bad lungs, bad kidneys. He uses a cane or a walker to get around. His memory is becoming an issue. He lives with me and my wife in a cozy little area of his own in the lower level of our home. He spends a lot of time these days sitting and staring and remembering.
For much of his life he taught high school English. He was a good teacher, in part because he didn’t just deal with academics. He taught about life in so many of its aspects: ethics and relationship and individual responsibility. He made a difference in the lives of a lot of kids. I say this not just because I’m his son, but because over the years he’s heard from a number of former students who have said basically the same thing. I went to my high school class’s 40th reunion last year, and I heard from a lot of my former classmates about the remarkable influence my father had on them.
Recently, I received an email from a woman who’d been taught by my father and with whom I’ve been out of touch for over forty years. She found me on Facebook, and a major part of her message to me concerned my father. I’ve asked her permission to include her words in this blog posting. This is what she wrote:
“I especially want to tell you what I wished I could have told your Dad over the many decades of my life, had I known where to find him. To this day, ‘Mr. Krueger’ remains one of those special people in my life. He was my favorite teacher and my definition of the ideal teacher. I thought he was a the most wonderful, gentle, respectful and ethical human being when I was his student, and I know I was lucky to have had the experience of knowing him at that time of my life. At so many times since, something he said will echo in my mind. Or the memory of him leading a class discussion while leaning against the windowsill at the side of the room, or walking through the hall or into the classroom with that purposeful but gentlemanly stride of his, will pop into my head for some reason. Given that he was a father of 4 and a husband, with the same demands, chores, and financial constraints most of our families faced in the 60’s, his constancy of respectful and intelligent discourse with classrooms full of teen-aged emotions, preoccupations and intellect seems even more remarkable. At the last reunion, Jerry Jacques said he had heard that Mr. Krueger had passed away the year before. It was wonderful to see your photo of your Dad on Facebook, and my heart warmed to see that familiar smile of his. I hope that on the other side, when people think of us with strong feelings, our spirits can witness and understand what our lives here have meant to others. I imagine him there, smiling with astonishment, often.”
Brett Favre just announced that he’s going to return for another year as quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings. It’s been reported that he could earn as much as 28 million dollars this year. I don’t mean to take anything away from Brett. He’s a good quarterback and fun to watch. But $28,000,000?
When my father taught school, he worked summers at other jobs, as did most teachers, in order to make ends meet. People don’t become teachers because they get paid well. And in the end, maybe that’s the point of this post. We give our athletes—and our actors and our celebrities—outrageous sums to entertain us. But the people who make a real difference in our lives—teachers and ministers and nurses and cops and librarians—often scrape by on what we pay them. There’s something abysmally out of whack in our priorities.
Ask my father if he would have done things differently—been a pro quarterback, maybe, or Hollywood star—and he’d tell you that what he received for all that he gave was worth more than money. And what he gave was invaluable.