Upon My Father’s Retirement from Teaching
My Father is a teacher. And I have always been told that he is a good one. Like most young girls who idolise their fathers, I never doubted it (until I am quite grown up). But it is true that as early as I can remember, our house was occasionally thronged with big girls whom I was told were my Father’s (devoted) students. They sent him gifts that were hilarious – once he received an ash tray that if you pressed somewhere a voice would say ‘No Smoking’ (my Mother was enraged because Father apparently took the bad habit to school); there was also this Lu Xun ceramic figurine (it is a fact universally acknowledged that my Father resembles Lu Xun – the figurine even has a cigarette in his hand) with a makeshift twisted wire for his glasses. Even if I were the most cynical child in the world I would not be able to say that these spontaneous visits and ridiculous gifts were bribes.
His work at Good Hope School was equally enigmatic. He would dress up in a navy overall to help in the backstage during the school’s annual concerts, while we waited anxiously among the glamourous audience for him to emerge on the stage at the very end to receive a thank you gift, looking more like a mechanic than a teacher of English. According to my Mother, he even broke his head while playing ping pong with his students. As I grew older, I began to meet students from Good Hope School, and from them I learned many more wonderful things about my Father, including the claim that he drank coffee in class (what debauchery!).
Despite all that, I could not but be mesmerised, and among his library of impenetrable books smelling of old attic, his typewriter, heaps of test paper and answer sheets I began to dream my teacher dream, marking my picture books with a red ball pen enveloped in the odour of correction fluid. Though very soon I realised, despite testimonies of our likeness, that I possess no such gift as my Father’s. My experience with teachers (other than my Father) brought only dismay and disillusion of teaching. I believed that both teachers and students are better off left alone on their own devices instead of tormenting each other, and I still do. But I might be wrong. How can I not be, faced with so many praises of my Father as a teacher?
Perhaps this is a riddle I will never solve. From the day I had a Father he has always been a teacher, and I have never imagined a day when he will cease to be one. As inconceivable as it might be, his retirement from teaching is approaching, and I sincerely hope, that suddenly devoid of an audience, my Father will at least be consoled by the truth universally acknowledged, that a teacher in possession of a good reputation must always be remembered fondly.