By: Pat Stark, CFP
My dad passed away earlier this year at the age of 82 from congestive heart failure. My mom died in 2017 and I don’t think my dad ever recovered from her loss. He lived in Paradise, the small town in northern California where I grew up which was devastated by the wildfire in November 2018. He relocated to Sacramento after the fire destroyed our family home, but his health deteriorated quickly after the fire. At his funeral, my son Garrett played “Amazing Grace” on his sax and I gave the eulogy.
My dad was the principal of a continuation high school. My siblings and I didn’t attend his school, but I knew several kids who did. And they were always telling me stories about my dad, about how “no-nonsense” he was; when he said to do something you just did it. And I would tell them, “yeah, that kind of sounds like him.”
I don’t know if it was because he was the principal of a continuation high school, or because it was the ‘70s in general; but yes, my dad was pretty strict. Now I’ll be honest, I thought at times that he was too strict. But with age, and with being a parent now myself, comes a different perspective – and I came to realize how valuable my strict upbringing was, and how it’s paid off for me.
I think that one of the trickier things about being a parent is knowing when to discipline, how to discipline, and when to loosen up a little and provide your kids a bit more freedom. And frankly, it’s one of the things I find myself challenged with raising a high school freshman. And as my wife would attest to, it can be really difficult at times coming to agreement on how to handle things.
So even though there may have been times when I felt I was “over-disciplined”, there was definitely one time when I got lucky, when it could have ended very bad for me, but it didn’t. Largely because, well – I guess my dad knew better. Here’s the story I told during his eulogy:
It was the night before my high school graduation. I was a passenger in a car with four friends and we were pulled over by the police in front of our high school at about 1:00am. There had been some vandalism going on at the school that evening (which we weren’t a part of) and the police were investigating. They searched the car and requested IDs. They told us that they were going to turn our names in to the high school principal, who had informed them that anyone found at the school that evening would be barred from graduating the next day. Now this wasn’t my dad’s high school, but my dad knew this other principal well because it’s a small town.
I didn’t think much of the graduation threat, but the driver of the car was really freaked out. He wanted to get this resolved immediately as he was afraid what his parents would do if he didn’t graduate. He wanted to go see our principal right then, at 1:00 am.
But there was only one problem – of course, besides the fact that it was a bad idea to begin with. We didn’t know where the principal lived. But we knew someone who did: a friend of ours whose dad happened to be the superintendent of the entire school district – which means he was my dad’s boss and our principal’s boss.
We drove to our friend’s house and I banged on his bedroom window to wake him up. He gave us directions to the principal’s house and declined my invitation to join us. It was now approaching 2:00 am. We drove to the house and everyone sat in the car, silent. Finally, the driver said, “Hey Stark, your dad’s the other principal in town – you go talk to him.” So I got out of the car, walked up the sidewalk, took a deep breath, and knocked on the door.
The principal’s wife answered the door. I quickly introduced myself and asked to talk to her husband. He came to the door (in a bathrobe), recognized me, and said, “What can I do for you Mr. Stark?” I explained what had happened, and he said not to worry and that we would discuss it the next morning.
So I went back to the car, told everyone that all was good, the driver finally relaxed, and we all went home.
The next morning my dad walked into my room and said, “So what happened last night?” I told him that there was some vandalism going on at the high school and that the police pulled us over.
“Well, one of the guys was really upset with what the police said so we went to go see the principal.”
“At two in the morning?”
“Yeah, that’s what I heard.”
So we all went on to graduate that evening. And my dad? Well, I can’t say that he was OK with what had happened, but he didn’t make a big deal out of it. He really could have come down on me, but he didn’t. He knew that I was trying to do the right thing and maybe could have chosen a different way to do it. it’s something that I never forgot as I evolve and grow as a parent myself – when to discipline and when to lighten up a little.
Dad, I miss you and Mom so much. But I’m comforted that you two are together again.