When I was in tenth grade (14-15) I needed my father’s help with geometry. He was a math genius, but the last thing he wanted to do was teach me anything at 11 pm, when he would generally finish with the last patient in his dental practice. His satellite office was in our basement. When he walked upstairs after a 14-hour work day, there I’d be, as bleary eyed as he.
At that late hour, dad had no patience for slow learners (he actually had no patience for slow learners at any hour), so as the minutes ticked away towards midnight, he would get more and more heated up as he tried to penetrate my thick skull with knowledge. I’d often wind up crying, but somehow he succeeded in getting me to understand geometry. I became an A math student. I got 97 on the New York geometry Regents exam.
Dad and I did this dance for other subjects, lest you think geometry was the only subject I didn’t quite grasp.
I graduated high school with a B+ average, but my dad taught me more than how to solve problems involving isosceles triangles. He passed on his lack of patience. Whenever I needed to explain something to someone in my adult life, I’d get exasperated if they didn’t “get it” right away. Fortunately, I learned how to control my frustration as the years went on (but I’m still far from perfect.)
I know this hasn’t been one of my most desirable traits. Terror drove my education. Terror that my father would continue screaming at me if I didn’t understand what he was saying; terror he wouldn’t love me if I didn’t do well in school.
I had a longtime boss named Don (I’ve changed his name to protect the guilty) who took over where my father left off. He terrorized the whole editorial and sales staff when he wanted us to accomplish something, but while employees left in droves, year after year, I stayed on and on. I spent decades wanting to please my dad and Don.
My father died 23 years ago, long before I understood the dynamics of our relationship. I finally realized that while Don taught me a great deal, he was a screwed up and unhappy man.
Don will be turning 76 this year. If he’s still with us, I hope he’s either retired or finally got therapy. I’m glad I did.
PS The moment both my kids were born, I started worrying that they’d ask me to help them with their high school math homework. Thank heavens, they were both excellent math students and didn’t need my help. Thank you, Colby and Simone!