Some years ago, I did some tutoring of some athletes. It was the startup team for the university I was a TA (Teaching Assistant) for. USF had just begun a football team and recruited mostly local athletes for, although the program has since had considerable success.
One of the athletes I worked with was a halfback—I think that’s it—from Sarasota. His name was John. He came from a mixed-race family, part Hispanic and part Black. Somehow, we hit it off. One of my favorite possessions was him giving me a framed copy of his football portrait, of his one moment of glory, when he blocked a kick that gave USF the win. I forget who it was against, some university in Illinois. He didn’t have anybody else to give it to. I told him I was so proud of him. I still have it somewhere in the house.
John didn’t have a father. As best I understood it, his father was a ne’er-do-well who abandoned his family. John grew up on the fringes of violence and drugs but was rescued by football and his native ability. Never an all-state player but good enough to be second-string all conference.
We’d get to talking about life and things during our tutoring sessions. I no longer recall what the tutoring was, maybe English or literature.
Once we got to talking about fathers. I told John about how my father died suddenly of a stroke, and how I had never told my father how much I loved him. Men in my family then did not say such things to each other.
John looked at me for a minute. Then he said “Your father knows.”
Sometimes students can teach their teachers.
I don’t know what happened to John. He got into trouble by getting drunk. The story I heard is that he dropped a cement block on a police cruiser, from seven floors up in a dormitory. He was expelled and transferred to another school where he played football. I’d love to know what happened to him.
I don’t have a son. Or a daughter. But I think John counts as a son, sort of. Sometimes teaching feels like family.