Before I fell in love with football, I served on a public school district governing board. I was appointed to complete two years of a vacated term after two board members resigned following controversy over the district superintendent’s performance. At 23, I was the youngest school board member in the history of that school district. My middle school and high school teachers and principals were calling me boss. That was easy.
I then ran for election. I canvassed many Saturday mornings. Friends collected signatures and knocked on doors for me, and my Congressman allowed his campaign volunteers to carry my petitions. The only other two candidates to file were incumbents. One appointed at the same time as me, but who had previously served on the board. Those two gathered their signatures the weekend before the filing deadline from family and friends. That made three, and because there were only three openings, we were elected by acclamation. That was still relatively easy.
The next three and a half years were not easy. In fact, they were anything but easy. Controversy. Every day. Phone calls, emails – from trusted friends and anonymous characters. There were investigations by the attorney general, lawsuits, bad press and bad blood. But, there was some progress and there were awards - awards I hated accepting because I knew in my heart I had not done enough.
Six months shy of completing my term, I resigned. I was offered admission to a top-ten public administration program in another state. When I applied, I tried to prepare myself for rejection by telling myself it was a long shot and that the rejection letter would arrive in time for me to apply to an in-state program. But, I wanted it. I wanted it so badly, partly (there are many reasons) because I wanted out of the political climate I had been living in since I was 20 years-old and an intern at the state senate. Every day, that political climate chilled my heart and conscience. And, during those five and a half years on the school board, I questioned myself every day: Am I doing enough? The answer was always no. So, every day I felt extreme guilt, anxiety and over time, helplessness. And, still, every day I ask myself, and the answer is still no. It seems to me that I’ll ask myself this question until the end of my days. This is proof that I am my father’s daughter.
Our father taught my three sisters and me that perfect is the standard. He forgives us, I’m certain, for not being perfect, but the expectation is always there – even though it is nowhere near realistic. It is there as a reminder that nothing comes easily (even though at times it may seem so); it is there as a reminder of the sacrifice our parents made and their parents made and so on and so on. For a long time I felt a lot of pressure and a great fear of failure. I failed (or at least I felt that I had failed) in other aspects of my life – personal and/or professional – because I was trying to balance another, because I hadn’t done enough, or because I simply did not have the capacity. I know it wasn’t Dad’s intention to have his children live in a constant state of anxiety, but it took me until the summer of my twenty-sixth year to more or less learn to accept that it wasn’t what he wanted for any of us. All he wants is for us to do well, to be the best at what we do. But, as one might imagine, that kind of habit does not die easily.
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Earlier, I received a call from an unknown number. When everyone and their mom have your phone number, you learn to stop answering those and wait for the caller to leave a message. So, I waited for the message. My sister: Dad got his test results, can you give me call. I took a deep breath and called. I knew what she would say. And, I knew what Dad would say later when I talked to him. The cancer is still there and it has progressed some, but not by much. Sister: we need to talk to him about treatment. Dad: I think I will wait another six months and then decide. (This, by the way, after having gone through this some six months ago.)
I had to go to prepare for recitation after I hung up with my sister. I made my way from where I had made the phone call – a crowded street corner outside my program’s building in NYC to the university’s library to prepare for recitation. I fought back tears. I asked my Twitter “friends” to send positive vibes because, well, I’m new to this place and I have no friends I can call to come meet and counsel me as I try not to over think the situation.
Right before I had to head up to class is when I gave in and called Dad. He told me what the doctor said. Downplayed it, but I knew. He couldn’t fool me. I am my father’s daughter, after all. We talked for a while about how he might proceed – talk to his primary physician, get a second opinion, the whole bit about waiting another six months. Then he asked me about school; how are you doing? How am I doing? As if that mattered at that moment, right? I told him how I hate microeconomics, but every other class is interesting. “I’m thinking about a dual-degree,” I went on some more. He responded with a story about the time he studied economics. I drifted and started to think maybe I could just go home, you know, maybe not right then, but the following day. There I was with my phone against my ear, my hands shaking, standing on a street in the greatest city in the world, waiting to go to class at one of the best schools in the country, but wanting nothing more than to go home to be with my Dad who seemed only interested in knowing that I was enjoying and taking advantage of the opportunity for which I left home.
I tuned back in to Dad. He was on his roll: work hard; don’t let anything slip by; don’t waste any time; ask for help if you are struggling. I smiled. Dad will always be Dad. I was reminded that going home is not an option. Dad doesn’t like quitters and neither do I. So, Dad: you are going to fight like hell. Because, well, that is just the way it has to be. Neither my sisters nor I will accept anything less. You will work hard, you will not let anything slip by, you will not waste any time and you will ask for help when you are struggling. It will not be easy, but how many things really are? Dad, you have living to do, and cancer is going to have to wait.