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A Father's Story by Andre Dubus
Is it really so difficult to tell a good action from a bad one? I think one usually knows right away or a moment afterward, in a horrid flash of regret. – Mary McCarthy
We rose from our desks and filed out one door and in through the next. Seated again, we spoke in couples and quadruples; Señor spoke with “his” group of students.
Devyn raised her hand, “Señor, why do you play favorites?”
I did not know what to write for this paper. I enjoyed “A Father’s Story,” but what could I write? ‘Oh, yes, I very much liked this story and here is my thesis statement about what you want to hear because I do not care enough to write my ideas.’ That is what happens when I write about something I have no real opinion on. And then I remembered what you said about stopping; if you ever hit someone, stop. Stop the car. But still, that was not a topic I was interested in. It did make me think about what I would do in that situation though, and then I thought about how I probably would not stop if I thought I could get away with it, and then I remembered what I said in class about how the family of the victim would feel- helpless, lost- and I began to regret that not stopping would be my first instinct. I thought about what a bad person that made me, and I thought about times when I have been a bad person, about times I truly regret, and then I remembered Señor.
I cannot even remember his real name because his name, to my eighth grade class, was Señor. He was an extra in Bruce Almighty, and he directed the school plays. He was talented. He moved back to Los Angeles when I was a sophomore. We did not learn any Spanish in his class, and he would let us correct our own tests. He knew we all wrote in the right answers while we corrected them, but I do not think he cared. I liked Señor, even though Devyn was right; he had favorite students, Kyle and Jacob and Ben. They were pretty nice. Kyle somehow graduated in 2009 and Ben and Jacob went to high school with me; Jacob’s mom is in the hospital with breast cancer.
Señor was a good person, even if he was an immature twenty-something year old. We talked during every Spanish class, but never in Spanish. I think we all liked him, for the most part, except Devyn. She and I were good friends. She was black and had a skin disease so that she could not grow hair on the top of her head. I think Devyn had had a lot of unfair things happen to her because of her skin color and hair, and she had a clear idea of what justice was, even in eighth grade. Devyn did not think Señor was fair, she thought his favoritism was unjust. So she asked Señor: “Señor, why do you play favorites?”
I tried to ignore her; conflict was (is) frightening. In the last row of seats, Cameron and I began talking about Señor. Before Devyn raised her hand, Señor had told us about a girl he was dating. Cam and I wondered if Señor had really even been on a date, or if he was only entertaining us. As Devyn’s argument with Señor grew steadily more intense, we tried to tune them out. Señor quoted scripture; I think something from the Gospel of Matthew about strength or lying or both; I cannot remember, but it made sense at the time. I think they had finally begun to calm when I said to Cam, “I wonder if Señor will marry his date?” We tried pairing their names together, ‘Mrs. Señor’ and vice versa… we decided their marriage was plausible. “I wonder if they’ll have kids!” I said.
And then I made a mistake. I had hit an idea, and that idea had crumpled my hood and cracked my windshield. I did not stop the car. “Ask him.” I urged Cam, “Do it, I want to know!” Cam refused. So I asked. “Señor, will you ever have children?”
His already distressed face fell even more. “What?”
“You know, will you ever have kids?”
“Why are you asking me that?”
“Well Cam and I were talking and I just thought… I don’t know, since you’re so nice to us…”
“What about that? I’m nice to you, and that means…”
“Well, I don’t know… You’re a lot like a kid and I couldn’t see you with kids but we were thinking about your date and—.”
Señor cut me off, “Michela, why would you ask me that? You think I wouldn’t be a good parent…?” And that’s the last I can remember.
I realized what I had done. Devyn had begun the damage, and I had finished it. Me, a little eighth grader. As we left the classroom, Señor began to cry. We did not have Spanish again that week. Our teacher told us how ashamed she was. I wrote Señor a note that said I was sorry, and left it in his dark, empty classroom. I wish I had explained that it was a mistake, that I had not been listening to the conversation and it was coincidence that I had asked at that moment, that I did not think he would be a bad father, that it was the curiosity and fascination with sex and procreation that held all pre-pubescent children captive which made me ask. But all I said in the note was sorry, and then I signed my name. Sorry meant I knew he was angry and upset with me. Sorry did not mean I felt regret, that it was a mistake, sorry did not say that I had vomited words when I said I thought he would not be a good parent or that I knew he was a good person and that my apologies were sincere.
I had fucked up. After that, Señor’s class was not fun. We studied Spanish. We did not correct our own tests. A couple weeks before the end of the year, classes ended. I left for high school. When my little sisters were in his class two years later, they both nearly failed. I do not think Señor forgave me.
In my life to date, that is the one experience, moment, day that I wish I could change. I wish I had been too shy to say anything. I wish I had needed a drink of water, and asked to go get one instead. I wish Cam hated Señor like Devyn, I wish she had been part of the tirade of insults cast his way that day. I wish I had thought about my question. I wish I had gone back and apologized in person; I wish I remembered his name so I could contact him now and apologize. Devyn had run over Señor. I had taken the wheel, reversed the car and hit him again.
I will not analyze “A Father’s Story.” I will not make the final connection between Señor and Luke Ripley’s tale. But I will e-mail Kyle, Ben, and Jacob. I will ask them if they have Señor’s e-mail, and I will tell him I am sorry. I will explain that what I said was a mistake, that I had not been listening to the conversation and it was coincidence that I had asked at that moment. I will say that I do not think he will be a bad father, that it was the curiosity and fascination with sex and procreation that held all pre-pubescent children captive which made me ask. I will fix my mistake. And if I ever hit a person I will stop my car. I will get out, I will call the police, I will try to save that person. I will not call for help and leave. I will not leave a note for someone to find. I will stay until the person is safe. I will stay until someone hears my apology.