From the dog.
How he got the pen between his paws I’ll never know. Like my wife, Haze needs to work on his penmanship.
But while I know I have the love of a good dog, my own father, more importantly, is someone who I admire greatly. I often miss him on days like this, as miles separate us now.
One of my favorite stories of my dad and I comes from my 5th grade year at P.S. #23 in Yonkers.
My teacher had gotten pregnant and left on maternity leave. In her stead, was a male teacher who I’ll just call Mr. Jones. Mr. Jones thought a good way to keep us in line was to hit us.
Or better put, to punch us.
My friend Gene was the first culprit. He got pounded on the head by Mr. Jones for talking wise back to him. As he sat there crying, some of the students laughed. Others were horrified. Gene was angry. “You’re a mean old fat hippo!” he yelled back.
Time passed. Nobody breathed a word to their parents, Gene included.
I had a habit in class to look at the clock often. Mostly because I would finish my work pretty quickly and wanted to know how much time I’d have to spend writing or reading once I did so. (I’d always have a newspaper at the ready in class for free time). Mr. Jones didn’t like that.
“Michael, do your work! Stop looking around.”
“I’m just checking the time.” I replied.
“Well, there’s no need to do that. I’ll check it for you and tell you when the period is over.”
“Whatever.” I thought to myself.
Then it happened. Five minutes later I felt the fist of a man pounding on my head. Once, twice, three times. Dana, the little girl who sat next to me, was sitting with her mouth agape, not believing what she had seen.
“I told you to stop looking at that clock!” and then Jones moved on.
I went home and told my father and mother what happened. Then I told them what happened to Gene. And that I had heard another student, David crying that “He was just a little kid” as the sounds of fists hitting his much bulkier body than ours resounded in the math lab.
My father immediately called Gene’s father, who coached little league and was someone my dad respected a lot.
“Gene, it’s Mike Hayes. Are you aware that Mr Jones struck your son a few days ago.”
“WHAT?!” Gene’s dad was exploding with anger.
Together they decided they would go to the principal.
About a week later, I was sitting in a school assembly. We were watching some kind of psychedelic movie from the 70s that was filled with exploding colors and spinning shapes.
It was quite cool for the time.
I remember saying out loud, “Wow! Look at that!” Not even loud I might add. The rest of the auditorium would explode with “Ooohs and ahs.”
Mr. Jones grabbed me by the arm.
“That’s it! Get out! Go to the office for talking!”
“But Mr. Jones! I wasn’t talking. I was watching the movie!”
“Don’t tell me. I saw you. Now go!” he bellowed.
Mrs. Vanderwall (her actual name) was the school secretary. I sat in the office until dismissal with her and told her what happened. She never called the principal in. Somehow she knew something was wrong.
I lived across the street from the school. As I began to walk home a car pulled up alongside me.
“Well, now, that’s good timing.” my dad yelled from the car. He had gotten out early and was home already.
“Dad, Mr. Jones made me go to the office for something I didn’t do.”
I told him the whole story.
“Hold on!” he said. He parked his car illegally in the school lot. Knocked on the custodian’s door. “Ken, I’m leaving my car here for about 10 minutes. Is that OK?”
Ken assured him it would be fine and that he’d watch out for it.
“Let’s go!” Dad said.
“Where are we going? The principal?” I asked.
“Nope! Show me where your classroom is!”
We raced up to the third floor and hit room 509. Jones was still there. Keeping Darren and Dennis two of my friends afterschool.
“Yes? Oh hello, Mr. Hayes. How are you?”
My dad launched right in, “My son told me you pulled him out of an assembly for no reason.”
“No sir, he was talking with other students.”
Dad looked at me. “I was not! I said “Wow” when the film did something cool.”
“Look, Michael might be a lot of things. But a liar he is not. He can’t lie with a straight face. I know when he’s lying. And guess what, he’s telling the truth.”
Mr Jones, just shook his head.
My father got angrier and his voice raised a few decibels higher and he moved a step or two closer to my teacher so that he could look him directly in the eye.
“Now let me tell you something else… You gave him a couple of good cracks in the head the other day. And I’m taking that up with the principal. I’ve worked in these schools for more than 20 years. I know a lot of people here and intend to use every contact I have and every year of service I have here against you. Do you understand me?”
Mr. Jones nodded and said, “Mr. Hayes, look, your son is crying. I think he’s just a bit too sensitive. I just gave him a little love tap on the head.”
I yelled, “If that was a love tap, I’d hate to feel a punch.”
My dad repeated and stepped another step closer so he was almost jaw to jaw with Jones, “Every year of service, is going to be used against you.”
There was a five second stare down until Jones wished my father a good day and we walked down to the principal. Before we did my friend Darren walked out with me as his detention time was done.
“Wow! Your dad was mad!” he said.
Gene’s father was called in the next day and my father and him went together to the principal as a united front. I was called as a witness, as was Dana, the little girl who sat next to me. She confirmed my story and dozens confirmed Gene’s which happened in full view of the whole class.
Jones was dismissed. A new teacher was in, Mr. Gossert, and he rode with us, non-violently, for the rest of the year.
Dads can be fiercely protective. We hated to see someone lose their job but we also knew that justice needed to be done.
Fast forward about five years and my dad and I were taking in a softball game that friends were in not far from my childhood home.
“Hey dad! Look over there! That hot dog cart!”
There he was. Jones.
“We need to go and say hi.” my dad said.
We walked down to the hot dog cart.
“I’ll bet you don’t remember this fella, do you?” my dad asked as he bought two dogs and cokes for us.
Jones looked at me closely. “Oh yeah, Michael, right?”
I nodded as did my father.
“Just hoping that you remember us. Keep the change.” he said.
We kinda giggled as we returned to our seats. Fathers can be fiercely protective of their children. And my dad has always been like that for my sister and I. He’s been married to my mother for nearly 61 years and when I look him in the eye I know that he’s always been true to her, through much illness and even more stress.
Simply put my father is my hero. And there is nobody that can equal him.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad.