It was Christmastime in Mrs. Bliss’ English class. Mrs. Terry Bliss, who is married to Mr. Terry Bliss. Nate was a favorite of Mrs. Bliss. They linked up in a shared devotion to Disneyana. The last day before the holiday break was loosely organized, and Nate’s aide, Mrs. Weir, had brought him a present: a 2’ X 3’ Simpsons poster packed with hundreds and hundreds of characters, from the most well-known to the most obscure, one-episode cameos. Nate was utterly fascinated. His classmates gathered around the large rectangle.
“Hey Nate, who’s this woman?” Ryan pointed.
“Homer’s mother, Mona.”
Tommy picked out a tough one. “Nate, who’s this?”
“Leopold. He’s from the PTA Disbands episode.”
“How about him?” asked Pat.
“Uhh, that’s Sleazy, one of the seven Duff beers,” a classic takeoff on the Seven Dwarfs.
With each question, and correct answer, Nate got giddier. Finally, he couldn’t contain his happiness any longer and left the class to calm himself down. He needed to process what had just happened. Mrs. Weir trailed him into the hallway, tearing up, as she too was overcome by the scene of Nate surrounded by his peers who reveled in his knowledge and rooted him on as he answered every question. With Nate out of the classroom, one of Nate’s classmates turned to Mrs. Bliss.
“Thanks for not teaching us anything today,” he happily blurted out.
“Tommy, there’s more to learning than what’s in books.”
I’ve been thinking of that story a lot this past week. Robbie and I were driving to Albany to pick up my friend Jimmy and we talked about the Katz family and our lives. With the Big 5-0 right around the corner for me, there’s been much reflecting.
It did my heart good to hear Rob talk glowingly about our family, his brothers and Karen and me as parents. I admit to being jealous of our kids. They’ve grown up with such strong support from us, real understanding and an undeniable closeness which is ongoing. I can’t imagine myself at Rob’s age, 19 going on 20, having such intimate conversations as we do daily.
“I wish I grew up in our family,” I said, but quickly realized something. I had. Nothing has made me grow up more, and become a better person, than being the father of Nate, Rob and Joey. Especially Nate, who poses challenges beyond the norm. A lot of parents break up or drift apart when presented with a “problem child,” whether that problem is medical, psychological or behavioral. Karen and I have always been together on Nate, instinctively, from the get-go.
Through Nate, my eyes were opened to the truly important things in my life every day. Turned out life was never about making money and having things. It was about being a good father, being there for my kids, and appreciating, not fighting, everything that made them unique and special.
Mrs. Bliss couldn’t have been more right. There are many ways to learn.