I was seven years old the first time it occurred to me I might be different from my peers. On the verge of entering the second grade at a new school, I was tested and found to have a mild learning disability, one that surfaced as dyslexia.
Upon learning of this, my parents sat me down and explained it would be harder for me to learn the things I’d have to learn in the second grade. They told me I could either go back to the first grade or try to keep up with my classmates on a new level. My father reassured me he’d get up early to work with me and help however he could, whatever I chose. My father happened to have a serendipitous skill set. Though he spent most of his livelihood as a machinist, he had been academically trained and professionally qualified as an educator.
I chose the second option, and so began an arduous trek through a land of fragmented words and thoughts.
I fondly recall shopping with him for supplemental texts and workbooks to help with our morning lessons. I also recall how phonics never quite worked for me, as I’ve always been a little fussy about the structural inconsistencies of the English language. So we found work-arounds.
My wife claims I have excellent improvisational skills. Some of those come from ADHD, but the ability to use them effectively is a result of the winding paths my father helped me blaze in pursuit of the written word. The patchwork effort of reassembling broken words and concepts is a huge part of why I think about things the way I do.
It comes in handy sometimes, especially in a media landscape dominated by incomplete thoughts. Reconstructing complete thoughts out of (sometimes intentionally) chaotic patterns is often an advantage for me.
The happy ending of my second grade odyssey — aside from catching up with my peers and acquiring an abiding love for words and writing — was the bond my father and I formed along the way. Those learning sessions and the series of tiny triumphs they brought are woven into who I am.
There are millions of fathers who would’ve been equally determined, if not as well equipped, to help a child through the struggles I faced. I’m just grateful my father was there to help me. Of all the seemingly automatic sacrifices my father made for his family, the way he gave of himself and shaped my capacity to understand and appreciate words will echo through my life as much as any of them.
A simple thank you would never suffice for all my father has done, but anyone who knows him knows that’s all he would accept.
So to my father on this Fathers Day, thank you. I love you.