It was 1992. I’d just gotten home from spending an evening with my boyfriend (who became my husband a year later).
“Your dad called,” my roommate said, as though it were just an ordinary every-day occurrence.
“My DAD called?!? Are you SURE?” My dad didn’t call. Ever. It just wasn’t his thing. In all my life, I got only a handful phone calls from him, and the other four were various Christmas Eves when he needed me to pick up a last-minute present for Mom. This wasn’t Christmas Eve.
“Yeah, it was your dad. I’m sure of it.”
What did that mean? Was I in trouble? Did something happen to Mom? My heart leapt to my throat.
“It didn’t seem urgent. He just wanted you to call him back when you were home.”
Phoning Dad back wasn’t an easy thing either. His farming lifestyle meant that he was rarely in the house, and he didn’t come in for meals at the times when normal people did.
Eventually, I made contact. “Dad? You called?”
“I heard from Mom that you were thinking of becoming a teacher. I just wanted to tell you that I think you should. You’d be a good teacher.”
And that was about the extent of the phone call. My Dad was a man of few words. When he spoke, the words were usually calculated and important.
At that time, I was in the early stages of my government career. After finishing an English degree, I was wrestling with what I should do with my life and was contemplating an after-degree in Education. That’s what my dad had heard.
He hadn’t heard it directly from me though. I wasn’t in the habit of discussing my life’s plans with my dad.
It wasn’t always easy being my father’s daughter. He was a stubborn man whose love for his farm often seemed more evident than his love for his children. And yet, he was a wise, astute man, and there were many things I greatly admired and respected about him. He was a lifelong learner who placed great value on education (though he had very little formal education himself). He had clarity of vision on some things like few people I know. And, despite his rather conservative worldview (and the fact that he never allowed me to do scripture reading in church because of my gender), he admired strong and eloquent women. (Canadians of a certain age will remember journalist Barbara Frum – one of my Dad’s hero’s.)
Though we didn’t often have heart-to-hearts, my dad saw things in me I didn’t always see in myself. He offered very few compliments in my life, but those he offered were golden. He didn’t exist in a world where women were supposed to be leaders (and he never overtly encouraged it in me), but he saw me as a leader. Once, after we’d had to move all of his tools out of the old house that was about to be torn down, he’d said to me “I felt better when I knew you were the one taking the responsibility. I knew I could trust you to take charge.” And he saw me as one of those strong women he admired. Once, after I’d gone through a really difficult personal valley, he said “I knew you’d survive. You’re one of the strongest people I know.”
His recommendation that I become a teacher felt serious. I wasn’t sure at that point that I really wanted to be one, and yet if my dad saw it in me, perhaps…?
Despite my dad’s advice, I didn’t become a teacher – at least not then. I went through the process of applying for the after-degree program, but “forgot” to show up for my interview. Something about it didn’t sit right with me. I wasn’t sure I had enough patience to hang around with children all day every day.
I stayed in my government career at the time, and soon found my passion for communication and leadership. Before long, I was rising in the ranks and finding a place that fit.
My dad’s words never left me, though, and as the years evolved, I kept feeling a silent tug – my teacher heart wanting to emerge.
Last year, after several years of dreaming about being self employed and longing to leave my non-profit leadership job to work as a writer and consultant, I finally took the leap. I had no idea what was ahead, but the timing felt right. Within minutes of having a heart-to-heart conversation with my husband and deciding that it was time for me to quit my job, I got an email from the university, asking me if I would consider teaching a writing course. The message came completely out of the blue. Someone had recommended me for the position.
It was just the sign I needed to affirm that I was making the right move. I gave my notice the next day.
I taught that first course, and then I taught a couple more, and yesterday I was offered three new courses. Plus I have several one-day seminars lined up for the coming months.
From the first day I walked into a classroom, I knew I was where I belonged. I was energized, engaged, and happy. That first class full of students was just what I needed to affirm that I was doing the right thing. They embraced me and told me again and again how much they liked being in my classroom. I heard things like “you know how to build trust in your students” and “you taught us a lot about writing, but more importantly, you taught us how to live and work with integrity and boldness” and “you made us go deeper than we expected to go”.
Nearly twenty years after Dad gave me the advice, and eight years after he died, I am a teacher. I took a winding path to get here, but I don’t regret the path. I picked up a lot of the skills and confidence and wisdom and seasoning I needed along that path before I could stand fully in my teacher role.
Though I enjoy the courses I teach at the university, I know that this is not the end of the road. I don’t plan to spend the rest of my life teaching students how to write effective press releases or persuasive emails.
I want to teach people to write with passion, to live with boldness, to embrace creativity, to challenge themselves, and to dare to lead. I want to foster people’s imagination and help them re-experience the wonder they left behind with their childhood. I want to be a catalyst for positive change.
To start with, I’ll be offering an 8 week in-person course in “Creative Writing for Self Discovery“. (If you’re in Winnipeg, I hope you’ll check it out.) And in a few weeks, I’ll be opening registration for a few more online leadership workshops.
I wish you could see me now Dad. I am a teacher. Instead of taking the traditional route to get here, I’ve forged my own path. It’s been worth the journey.