Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Tanks Dad

I read a couple of whacky essays by Bertrand Russell last week. Bertrand Russell was a big brained guy who had a pretty firm grasp on what was happening in the world around him. I was reading his thoughts on education when I came upon this nugget:

“Teachers are more than any other class the defenders of civilization”

That one struck me like a ball-peen hammer right between the eyes. Defenders of civilization. I wish someone had told me that when I was a kid. What old Bertrand said about teachers got the little gerbil running around the little wheel inside my head. I thought about my dad and tanks and the silliest lie I ever told.

I needed my father to drive a tank. I needed my father to drive a tank like a ninja needs a pair of black pajamas. It was a very real need. But my father didn’t drive a tank. He was a wood shop teacher. And there was absolutely nothing I could do to make him into a tank driver. So I lied.

I told my entire second grade class that my father was a sergeant-major in the US Marine Corps and that he drove a tank for a living. On an aircraft carrier. Why would someone drive a tank on an aircraft carrier? Fortunately, none of my classmates asked that obvious follow up question.

I enhanced the lie about my dad driving a tank with the bit about the aircraft carrier for two important reasons. First: What is cooler than having a dad who drives a tank? Nothing. The only way to improve the situation would be to place the tank on an aircraft carrier. Check. If you are going to lie, go with the big lie.

The second reason for placing the tank on the aircraft carrier was that this portion of the lie came with hard evidence. My dad had recently retuned from a teacher’s conference in Florida. He and some of the other defenders of civilization toured the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga while they were in Jacksonville. He came back with all kinds of stories about how awesome aircraft carriers are. He also came home with an official USS Saratoga baseball cap, the kind with gold laurels embroidered on the bill.

I stole his hat and brought it to school for show-and-tell. I used it as irrefutable evidence that my dad was a tank driver on an aircraft carrier. The stupid lies of little kids are often jarring and easy unravel. I don’t think I convinced a single person, even with the hat. My teachers didn’t believe me because by time I got to second grade my dad had been teaching wood shop in my school district for over twenty years. He had, in fact, helped some of the teachers in my school construct gun racks and bird houses out of wood when they were in school themselves.

The funny thing is that I told this outrageous lie to conceal the truth, that my dad was a teacher. Because I so desperately needed him to be a defender of civilization. And now I understand the whole truth. I agree with Bertrand Russell. My father was as much a defender of civilization in his wood shop as any tank commander on any aircraft carrier anywhere.


Amanda Tippy said...

my dad was a wood shop teacher too... they don't come any better than that.

Will B said...

This is a great post! It's a very truthful statement.

Thanks for reminding of a lie I told to my 5th Grade class after a summer trip to Germany with my family. We went to West Berlin. I had to make it better than that so I said while we were coming back through the checkpoint after a tour of East Berlin the guards fired shots at men trying to escape from the East. I don't recall the response, but I doubt anyone believed it. :)

J Da said...

What a great story. I have always had great respect for people who choose to teach. Burtrand's quote says it all.

Kmk said...

Tom - I like this post!

Keep 'em coming.

Aaron Ortiz said...

Hi Tom, I'm a Mazapan alum from the 20th century :) a class of 94 grad. Are you teaching English?