Read Part 1 if you missed it.
He's a stocky fellow. His voice is loud and heavy. His eyes bore into his students with intensity. Legend says that he's thrown clipboards a hundred yards in one of his rages. He's intimidating when you're young.
I've seen him twice since I had him as a teacher. Both times I was struck by the insecurity that drips off him like a leaky faucet. He was a behemoth when I last saw him. What changed?
I changed. I grew up. I learned, as an adult, that adults struggle with many of the same issues that I dealt with as a child. And the need of acceptance, the quest for validation, the pursuit of control over your environment ...that never really goes away. But I couldn't see it when he was standing in front of the classroom or barking orders at his athletes. It was only later, seeing him in a different context, that his dominant personality was replaced by a much more timid character.
But then my mind wanders back to that moment when I should have seen it.
There was a lull in activity. Perhaps it was between class periods or directly after school. Whatever the case, he pulled me aside.
"Luke," he said in an almost hushed tone, "I really want to take part in this event. But I don't qualify. One of my friends has agreed to let me take his place. What do you think?"
I looked into his eyes. They were pleading. He really wanted to be a part of this.
"Besides," he continued, "there will be thousands of people there. No one is going to notice or care." He was building his case, psyching himself up, roping me in. He knew I was a Christian. I was more than vocal about my beliefs at that stage in my life. He had even called me "Bible Boy" when I questioned his use of the word fishes.* He wanted my validation.
Why? Why did a grown man want permission from me before stepping out into a gray area?
Perhaps because I was certain of myself. Perhaps. But I know it infuriated him as well. He once told me that he had seen a guy on TV who reminded him of me. "The guy had your smile, Luke. He was just waiting to tell the reporter how wrong he was."
But at this moment my teacher was asking me if he could bend the rules. If he asked me today I would say, "Go for it." But at the time I was a little more wary. "You could get away with it." I left it at that.
Weeks later, the teacher proudly displayed his fake ID and participant's badge to the class. He recounted the tale of walking up to the registration table, armed with a cover story, and skirting by without a hitch. He reveled in completing one of his life dreams. He smiled.
And I sat in the second row watching him, still believing he was a confident man.
Part 3 is up.
Filmmaker, Writer, Surrogate Father
Brought to you by Karen Joy