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Best dad advice? How about “Be the adult”?

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Tom Hoopes - published on 06/17/24

“To me, school is mostly about teaching kids to be adults,” my dad writes in his book. “Everything we do or say will teach that message or thwart it.”

My dad wrote a book, and it’s really, really good.

For me, it’s like reading a manual on how I became me, because it’s literally my dad’s stories about how he formed young people for 30 years as a public school administrator. 

It’s called Be the Adult: How to Make a Positive Difference in Your Students’ Lives, and it is available on Amazon from the self-publisher iUniverse.

“To me, school is mostly about teaching kids to be adults,” he says at the beginning. “Everything we do or say will teach that message or thwart it.”

The book helps me discover what so many men before me have discovered: I am nothing like my dad, and exactly like my dad.

The differences between us are clear.

His preferences, pastimes, and politics are about as far from mine as you can possibly get: for instance, I’m an enthusiastically practicing Catholic. He is … not that, at all. His book doesn’t shy away from quotes of three students’ use of profanity. Mine probably would have.

Even the particulars of our lives are practically opposite. He was born in Kansas and moved to Arizona. I was born in Arizona and moved to Kansas. He married a woman from Mexico and had three children; I married a blond woman and had nine. He likes steak, I like chicken; he likes red wine, I like white wine; he likes jazz, I prefer pop.

But whatever the surface differences are, reading his book shows me how much we have in common.

He definitely has a flair as a storyteller. The book shares dozens of little stories with big lessons.

He tells some stories I have never heard before and others I experienced in real time. For instance, he tells the “bleacher creatures” story I remember from dinner table conversations as a little kid in the 1970s. 

He was a high school band director in Tucson, Arizona, as anti-smoking campaigns were getting serious for the first time. The school struck a deal with teen smokers: If they smoked on the bleachers by the practice field, they wouldn’t be bothered.

They were called the “bleacher creatures” and my dad made it his mission to rescue at least one of them. “The bleachers were definitely a teacher’s no-man’s-land,” he said, but he went there anyway. “I just asked if I could sit and talk.” 

He eventually coaxed a student into the band and helped propel her on a new mission in life.

Don’t tell my dad, but I think I recognized him in the Gospels when I discovered my faith. “You have to like your students to discipline them” sounds to me very much like Jesus’ approach. My dad and Jesus both looked at people with love, then challenged them; they both “ate with tax collectors and prostitutes,” then called them higher. 

My dad’s stories add up to life lessons that shaped me.

“Don’t talk to people who aren’t listening to you,” he says, and I have always tried to woo my audience before trying to win them. 

“Don’t try to have the principal control your class,” he says, and I’ve applied the principle of subsidiarity everywhere from my politics to my home life. 

Above all, I think I’ve been shaped by his basic advice to “Be the adult.” He follows it up with a passage that reveals my dad’s soul:

“I had to model adulthood in a band room, where I once had to duck drumsticks and several times had to catch my breath when the kids played a passage so beautifully it brought tears to my eyes,” he says. “I had to show what it means to be an adult on 110-degree football fields” and “I’ve had to be the adult who called the parents of drunken students to come and retrieve them from a school bus two hours away from home.”

That sums up my dad. Growing up, he only teared up for beauty, he never dealt with us in anger, but he never left us off the hook.

So thank you, Dad, for being the adult

In my 20s I realized that my sense of humor consists almost entirely of whatever would make you laugh. In my 30s I realized that all the rules I had for my children were recycled versions of yours. In my 40s I realized I saw my kids the way you saw me. And in my 50s when April suffered a stroke, I knew just what to do, because I saw how you acted when my mom had ALS.

I hope to be an adult one day, just like you.

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