Today is the first day of school for my neighborhood elementary school. As I drove to work this morning, I passed crowds of parents walking their kids to school. In front of the school there were pictures being taken and school buses lining the street. How could I have forgotten such an important thing like the first day of school, I thought. And then I remembered. My dad had not called to sing to me.
When I was in elementary school, my dad started every first day of school with the same song – sung loudly and proudly:
SCHOOL DAYS, SCHOOL DAYS
Good ol’ golden rule days
Reading and writing and ‘rithmatic
Taught to the tune of a hic’ry stick…
When I got into high school, I was so annoyed when he would throw open my bedroom door at 6 in the morning singing at the top of his lungs. I always complained and moaned, but when I went off to college, I realized how much I was going to miss that.
But to my delight, the first day of classes at FSU, my cell phone rings and it is my dad, singing in the new school year. And he continued to call on the first day of classes every semester. During college, I worked almost full-time, and he would even call me at my office. Where I was working. For a grown up paycheck. Like grown ups do. But that didn’t matter to my dad. “SCHOOL DAYS, SCHOOL DAYS…” he would sing. One year, I was working with the legislature at the state capitol in Tallahassee and I was running late for a Senate session. I was flying around my office, grabbing files, wiggling into my suit jacket, gulping down the last of my breakfast, and my office phone rang. “SCHOOL DAYS, SCHOOL DAYS…” In the midst of all of that commotion was my Dad’s singing, reminding me of what the most important priority in my life was at that time. I was late to Session, but I didn’t even care. When I graduated from college, there were lots of things I knew I would miss – my roommates, my job, my friends, but mostly it was the phone call from my dad.
And then, when I went back to get my Masters degree, I didn’t even think about him calling. I was working full-time and going to school on the weekends and at night. I barely remembered when my classes were starting, so there would be no way my dad could be in the loop. On the day of my first Saturday class, my cell phone rang as I walked into the building.
“Hello?” I said.
“SCHOOL DAYS, SCHOOL DAYS…”
How could I ever have doubted that he would remember. And he kept remembering. Every semester, ever first day, my phone rang. He’s a consistent man, and nothing was more reliable to me than that phone call of support every single semester.
So this morning, as I watched kids going into their school, meeting their new teachers, carrying their new backpacks, wearing their new clothes, I felt the tiniest sting of sadness. That I was not going back to school today. That I didn’t have new notebooks and freshly sharpened pencils. And mostly, that my phone didn’t ring.