No matter how many times Father Menner pounded my chest with fists attached to Popeye sized forearms I never knew the answer. No matter how much hair he pulled from my head the answers never came. It didn’t matter how many times he kicked me in the shins with those hard, pointed Priest shoes, a correct answer was never muttered from my voice.
To this day, I hate Algebra. And to this day, I’ve never had to use it.
But I don’t hate Father John Menner, may he rest in peace.
There was a time, when as a fifteen-year-old freshman at an all-boys Catholic High School in Houston, Texas when I hated as a boy should never hate. My evil thoughts towards the fiery, white-haired Priest would get me a permanent suspension in today’s school system.
Did he humiliate me in front of almost everyone in our freshman class? You bet.
Every time I walked into his math class I felt his glare, his beady eyes locked onto mine, a bright spotlight following me to my seat, announcing to the class – “Look, here comes the math dumb ass!”
“MY GOD MAN…WHAT IS THE ANSWER?”
That was his favorite question. Each word from his mouth, each syllable, came with a direct punch to the sternum, like a drummer keeping a beat. When each question was followed only with silence he repeated the question, and the punches. And I never knew the answer. (I received a degree in Journalism because there was no math requirements.)
I’m sure Father Menner is smiling now (do mean bastards go to Heaven?) because I finally found the answer. The answer has nothing to do with math or algebra or calculus.
The answer is you never stop trying. Never stop learning.
My fear of Fr. Menner’s punches motivated me to sign up for extra tutoring during school. I worked harder. I tried harder. Not because I wanted to be a mathematician, I just wanted the menacing math teacher to start beating on someone else in class. His motivation worked. I passed his class. With a D! I figured you can’t get lemonade every time you squeeze a lemon.
This past weekend I attended my first writers conference in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area. Many of the 450 or so attendees were retired, desiring to learn more about the writing profession. No matter our ages, we were all eager to learn more.
If you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, well, you can damn sure try!
As much as I learned from getting my butt whipped every day in freshman math, I’ve learned much easier lessons, and gained much more inspiration from just watching my father.
This October he will turn 79 years old. He still gets up before the roosters every morning, puts on his coat and tie and heads to work. Not because he has to. He could have retired many, many years ago, his financial security set with the numerous oil and gas wells he discovered. He goes to work each day because he wants to. He wants to discover more oil and gas. He loves his work. He loves the changes in technologies. He loves the challenge.
Every afternoon he has a woman come to his office and tutor him in Spanish. I don’t know how many years this has gone on, but the funny thing is, he is as fluent in Spanish as a native-born in Mexico. Yet, he still wants to learn more.
I look at my father and find my inspiration. Sometimes, a parent’s greatest lesson to a child is the one they don’t teach. They show by example and it is up to the child to figure it out on their own.
We are never too old to quit learning. We are never too old to quit trying. There is too much yet to discover and experience.
Just don’t expect me to go and sign up for Algebra tutoring.
What about you? Do you still have the drive and desire to learn new things? Have you ever had a Priest beat on you for your own good? Can you explain why Algebra is even necessary?
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