A mean son of a bitch taught me how to write in beautiful cursive.
Okay. It feels a little harsh to bring his mother into this when I never met her. If I was of Italian descent, I’d probably call him a “badstad.” So, for now, I’ll refer to him as a mean asshole.
A mean asshole taught me how to write in beautiful cursive.
He was the rector of our catholic school.
A rector is assigned by the order your school belongs to. We were Augustinians, so the Augustinian order in Spain chose the Spanish priest who would preside over our school. We had a principal, but the person running things was this priest.
I won’t tell you his name, but I’ll tell you that the students, unkindly, used to call him “el pingüino” because he could only move his short body forward by waddling.
One of the only things I knew about El pingüino gave me insight into who he was. Before becoming a priest, he served in the military under Dictator General Francisco Franco.
And it showed.
Our Catholic school was run in a military-like regimented way.
We parted our hair to the right, wore the same uniform every day, our shirts were supposed to be tucked in, and our shoes shiny.
The only way to walk around the school hallways was in what we called in Colombia “en fila india” (in indian line). The hall’s title was all red except for two lines that ran alongside the hall, offset by one tile at the end of each side. This tile was yellow with a black diamond in the middle. We could only walk on this line; stepping out of this line was stepping into trouble.
He wasn’t nice to me, but, to be honest, he was a lot meaner to other kids.
Whenever my mom fell behind on tuition, he would come by our classrooms and pull me out of classes with the other kids whose parents were struggling financially. We would spend the entire day under the sun in a region I’m convinced came up with the saying, “puedes fritar un nuevo en la sombra” (you can fry an egg in the shadow.)
But even that wasn’t as bad.
My best friend’s parents fell behind in their payments. On graduation day, you had to be current to graduate. But they couldn’t make that happen. He was the only one not allowed to walk and receive his diploma. Even people who still needed to do remedial work were allowed to.
My friend, much braver than I would’ve been, still showed up to our graduation and applauded every time every single one of his sixty friends in the class cohort he spent six years of his life graduated — while he cried.
When I heard the rector died, I brought it up with my friend, and his response was plain, “Cómo si me importara. Malparido perro.” (Like I care. Motherfucking dog.)
And it rightly so.
Death does not make an asshole a saint.
But I can write cursive — a fact no one appreciates except my wife when she has me address envelopes.
I recently toured a Waldorf school for my daughter. Everything my wife and I do to raise our daughter is diametrically opposed to the controlled structure in which I was raised.
I’m striving to raise my daughter in a gentler way, but it doesn’t make the internalized voices of my past go away. The judgments I was taught in that repressive school system were drilled into my head, and they popped out of nowhere, like when we finished the intro session at the school and we got up to tour the classrooms.
Me: What’s her deal?
Also, me: “Why are you such an asshole? She could be a perfectly decent human.
Me: Oh, am I the asshole? She is the one wearing four long coats, and they are all dragging through the mud?”
Also, me: Well, what about you
Also, me: You were the only asshole who walked with his dirty shoes through the rug kids do circle time on?
Me: Hey, I never said you weren’t an asshole, too.
Also, me: You got that right.
It is exhausting to fight this mental jiujitsu with my lower self and try to submit him into being a better human being, a kinder one, one who doesn’t rush to judgments.
My wife is the kind of human being I want to be more like.
She doesn’t rush to judgments. She makes plenty of accommodations for others, so she always comes to the connection with a blank slate.
This she does to a fault, the fault being that I can’t ever sit around the table and talk shit about others with her.
For that, I have to wait for her mom, who, like me, was raised catholic and comes from a crazy family, too. Her mom knows the score, the score being that some people, not all but most people, are nuts, and they deserve to be made fun of.
Like the dad who wasn’t buying into this unconventional teaching style and stood in the back with his hands in his pocket, the only question he asked was, “What about sports? It wasn’t the question as to the way it was asked if making an indictment on the type of education but also insinuating his son’s only purpose in life was to be an athlete.
Then my Franquista internal dialogue took over, “What about sports? Chill, dude! You are an average height and frame dude in one of the cushiest counties in the country. Your boy will not know the kind of hunger you need to be an elite athlete. He will take golf, make a few connections there, land a sales job, and, if lucky, maybe will know contentment. As for his ability as a golfer, he will be mediocre like the rest of us.”
Done with the tour and back in the room, a mom asked, “How do I best support my daughter if this is all foreign to me?”
I understood what she meant. It’s a question I ask myself every day. Whenever I am gentle-parenting my daughter, I also think, “Uh-oh, I’d have totally gotten spanked for this!”
I know that not all my harsh internal dialogues can be attributed to the school I went to. The schools are just a reflection of the culture or the philosophy parents align to. The epitome of a society repressive towards the healthy development of questioning, critical minds, where punishment was the preferred method to enforced learning.
I feel bad making these quick judgments about people, and I know I’m not right, that I don’t know people’s stories. But I don’t control the snap judgments, the voices, the authoritarian dictators speaking inside my head.
All I can do is show up to the fight every day, knowing who I’m up against.
I can do better for the world by choosing a different way for my daughters in hopes that they can become kinder human beings like her mom.
I can be the asshole who teaches them how to write in cursive without all the baggage because it is beautiful — truly something to look at.