There is nothing in the world like getting kicked in the balls.
It’s not just the pain, though that is certainly memorable. The defining characteristic is that it’s reliably delayed. When you get a solid shot to the crotch, it doesn’t hurt right away. But you know it’s going to be excruciating in three seconds. I think that anticipation supercharges the misery.
In what must have been December 1984, at the end of the school day, I went out to get on my bus. I looked through the south door of the main building and saw my Algebra I teacher, my principal, my father, and my mother walking slowly and talking.
Mom and Dad had divorced nearly three years earlier and basically couldn’t stand each other. For them to be behaving civilly and discussing something with two school authority figures was not a good sign.
The sight kicked me in the balls, and I knew the pain was coming.
My Algebra I teacher was an intelligent, no-nonsense woman named Duska Brickhouse. She was a capable teacher who believed in rote learning. She consistently assigned 20 to 30 problems every night. She was also a “show your work” person, which I didn’t like, because a lot of the time I could just look at the problem and tell you the answer. “(Showing) my work” was slowing and unnecessary.
So I decided I’d had enough. I didn’t see the point in doing all of the problems. That I could do five or ten of them demonstrated my grasp of the material, and grasping the material was the point. So the hell with the rest of it. I’m not doing all of this extraneous homework.
Oxford City Schools were on four nine-week periods, instead of six six-week periods. And the second nine-weeks of my freshman year in high school, I made a 55 in Algebra I.
That’s an F. It’s the only one I ever made.
The evening that followed me seeing my divorced parents, my teacher, and my principal walking and talking, my dad asked me how I had managed to fail algebra. As Dad and my new stepmother Martha stood over mine and my stepbrother Chris’s report cards, I remember her calmly saying “I don’t think Bo’s is that bad.”
My father replied, at significant volume: “Well, I think it sucks!”
I tearfully told him the story. Dad, I just shouldn’t have to do this. It’s unnecessary. You know how smart I am. She knows it too, that witch.
In one of the defining moments of my upbringing, he gently grasped my shoulders, and about six inches from my face, calmly, quietly, and furiously said “Bo, you’re trying to have a power struggle, but you don’t have any power.”
Is that an important life lesson, do you think? Contextually, doesn’t that go something like “pick your battles”? Or “if you keep the small rules, you can break the big ones“?
Then he said that for the third nine-weeks of my freshman year in high school, I would follow a meticulous routine. For each school day, I would keep a form, with sections for each class. In each section, I would write my understanding of the assigned homework, and my teacher would initial it. Then, upon completing said homework, my father would initial it.
Every class. Every day. For more than two months.
I did it. Good thing, too. Because the other thing Dad said was “if you do not complete these objectives, then for the next term I will take a leave of absence from work and sit behind you in every one of your classes to make sure you are taking care of your responsibilities.”
I laughed at this thought, and looked away dismissively.
And in another defining moment of my upbringing, Dad grabbed my shirt collar—the only time in my life he’s ever done so—and pulled me to less than an inch from his face.
I did put it back together, and I was never in significant academic trouble again.
Lots of times, right or wrong is thoroughly irrelevant.
Who has the power?