Category Archives: Dads

Thankful Thanksgiving

It’s been an embarrassingly long time since I posted something here. I’m the writing teacher, should probably be a little more consistent in my posts…

In my defense, it’s been “one of those” semesters. Without belaboring the details, let me just say I’ve found renewed reasons to be thankful. Let’s get started.

It’s Thanksgiving, almost, in less than six hours. In the spirit of the season, I’ve been thinking about what I’m thankful for, and not surprisingly, the word “people” comes to mind. I am thankful for my family. Like most families, we’ve had our differences over the years, and very often, I feel kind of “out of the loop.” I’m that relative, the one who lives away, the one who’s always been different, the one that no one understands. I get that. I don’t understand myself, so it’s all good. Nevertheless, my sisters are solid supporters and my mom is, well, my mom. Moms never give up on their kids. We had a great time this summer when my mom visited me in Montana City, and one year after my dad’s death, all of us are starting to recalibrate our lives.

Other family…my cousins, I think I’m the luckiest woman in the world when it came to DNA relatives. I get so much love and support from people who are related to me only by a parent…and I never, ever, take that for granted. I’ll call them out: Paula, Lisa, Susan, Joselle, Gayle, Nikki, and Jamie. Jamie, more than any other person, saw me through the pain of the last year, not only supporting me but sometimes calling me on my shit, saying, “Karen…what’s the truth here?” These women are truly selfless and loving and…family.

These people are the foundation of my life, the ones who allow me to have any sense of who I am. However, none of these people live and interact with me daily. Let me mention Mark. We met online in May, both of us a little nervous about another round with love, but we connected with our mutual love for the outdoors. We both have histories, stuff in our lives we’d rather not revisit. We both have sons, which gives us something in common other than our love for hiking and kayaking. We both have jobs that interfere with being together. This is the reality, but we’ve had fun together and enjoy each other, and so far, things are working pretty well. My mom thinks he’s nice because he sends her snapchats frequently. I’m happy my mom likes him.

Then there’s my work: this is where I get most of my sense of self, my confidence, my joy, my motivation. Without my work, I’d not know who I am or what I should try to accomplish. It seems kind of wild considering I didn’t start this gig until ten years ago…and then it was only part-time as a graduate student. This year, especially, I’ve seen the rewards of years of growth, from that insecure, uncertain English teacher in 2007 (which, by the way, my journal confirms was a conflicted, confused individual), to the relatively secure, sure English teacher of 2017. Maybe knowing what one doesn’t know is the key. When I mention my work, what I’m really focusing on is my students. They know who they are: we had a semester that should never happen. We were attacked in a way that is unconscionable, unbelievable, unfair. There were others involved, too, who suffered the effects of being subjected to scrutiny only because of their association with us, and yet we prevailed. And no matter any legal outcome or any professional scrutiny, I know…with 100% certainty…that I have made a difference in the lives of people who are not as “connected” [as if I am] or as well off, or as educated as I have been. I have helped to empower the next generation of people who will continue to question those in power, those with the authority, earned or not. And, oh, by the way, my students in writing are doing amazing, academic, smart, powerful work, and to think that I have had the privilege of inspiring that kind of scholarship…it just does not get any better.

Thank you, universe, or whomever is in charge. On Thanksgiving Day, I’m very grateful.

Checking In: Fall 2017

We just passed the midterm of the semester, and I’ve written here exactly once since school began. “Where have you been, Henderson?” would not be an inappropriate question, and I do have some pretty good answers.

First, for much of the fall semester, I was a member of the hiring committee for the President of the University of Montana; an honor beyond my status in most ways, I was fortunate enough to represent Helena College in the process. I can say with complete confidence, I’m excited about our new President, Seth Bodnar. I think he’s going to bring a lot to the university and a diversity of thought that we need. I can’t wait for him to take over, and I know a lot of people feel that way.

Secondly, I’ve been in Missoula for not only meetings of the committee but also for football games! Mark is a Grizzly fan from way back and holds season tickets. As a hanger-on, I get to attend the home games when he’s going, which has been most of the time. I think we’ve missed one. It’s been fun; I’d never been to a live college football game before, having been a nontraditional, studies-focused student when I attended MSU and not one who made football a priority, except when Adam played in high school.

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Speaking of Adam, we met up a couple times this semester in Missoula, and I got to meet my grand-dog, Virgil, who has been challenging Adam in his parenting skills and patience. He’s a cute little guy, though—Virgil, that is—and reminded me why babies are so cute: otherwise, they’d never live to the teen years, and by then we’ve invested so much into them that we have to see it all play out.

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I also met up with my bestie, June, one time when I was there for committee meetings. She proudly showed me that I have been elevated to the status of having my photo on her mantle, not an insignificant feat, and I had to take a picture—of our picture—to prove it. We had a great visit and since had many phone conversations about school, work, families, and boyfriends, real and imagined.

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It won’t surprise anyone to know I’ve been working a lot, too. Work involves a variety of facets, above and beyond daily classroom activities. My clubs, specifically, demand a lot of my time and energy but also motivate and energize me by our accomplishments. The Helena Helm published its fourth and fifth editions this fall (sixth edition coming next week, God willing and the creeks don’t rise), and its FIRST EVER print edition the beginning of October. Considering that we started out with a ragtag group of journalist-wannabes (including and especially me!) who had no idea where to begin, to now having both online and print editions of quality news and entertainment and the collaboration of the Helena College Tech Club, which is helping us set up a new web-presence and domain, I think we have made amazing progress, and I could not be prouder of the students behind it. Joy, our editor, was also the inspiration behind the newspaper, but we’ve got some new blood this year who promise to add intrigue and levity to our otherwise scholarly publication. Here’s our new site:

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TRIO Club S2S has already accomplished a significant amount of work this fall. We partnered with the Helena College Psych/Soc Club for the NAMI Walk and had good fun doing it. We have several projects we’re working on for the future, including the first ever CAT/GRIZ Face-Off on November 18th. A family-friendly event, it will be an alcohol-free (hey, you can’t have everything!) event on the Helena College campus, open to faculty, staff, students, families, and friends of Helena College. Potluck will be the menu, with TRIO S2S providing dessert and drinks and featuring our “world-famous” photo booth, complete with swag generously donated by the MSU and UM Alumni Associations. During the event (and prior to, for a few weeks), we will also hold a food-drive for the Helena Food Bank, placing bins around campus for food donations dedicated to a specific team. No matter who wins the game, the winner of the food drive will retain bragging rights on HC campus, and the ultimate winner will be Helena Food Bank and those who need food donations during the Thanksgiving season.

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TRIO S2S has another event in the coming weeks: a dedication of our memorial trees (one on each campus) to students who’ve attended Helena College and died during or soon after they left the college. In my five and a half, almost six years, I know of at least six students who’ve been in my classes at some point (two of them at the time of their deaths) who have died. Last fall, with the death of Joe, I asked TRIO S2S to take on some kind of memorial for those students, and they did. It was not a project without challenges and obstacles, sometimes daunting ones, but through persistence, resilience, and determination, we managed to plant two trees and order two very heavy bronze plaques (“these will last 200 hundred years!” said the man at Crown Trophy) dedicated to the memory of students we’ve lost. Wherever I go, whatever I do in the future, this is something meaningful, tangible, honest, and important that I had a hand in. Doesn’t get much better than that.

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The rest of the semester is likely to whiz by just like the first part has. Next week will offer up some difficult memories for me from last year, as we will mark one year since my dad has passed and nearly one year since I began a new life as an unmarried woman. I’m optimistic that 2018 will be a good year, and I’m fairly confident that I will be busy. There’s that. 😊

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And So It Begins…

Students in Writ 095 are currently working on their blogs. The first assignment is an “About Me” piece. Simple, right? Maybe not. “Pay attention to length,” said I, “and grammar and mechanics matter. This is a writing class, after all…”

What about you, Teach? (Spoken in a true, Vinnie Barbarino accent…look it up, you young’uns). Yeah, so I have been teaching at Helena College for five and a half years now, was tenured this last May, and plan to die in my heels. In other words, I’m pretty sure this is my last professional stop, despite my young age…and I have no plans to permanently retire. At some point, I’ll cut back to 3/4 time or part time…but teaching runs through my blood as much as merlot. Not gonna get loose of me in the immediate future.

So, teaching, English, writing, literature, learning, all these are some of my priorities in life. Student success is my biggest celebration, and I would not quit teaching if I were rich, but I’d like to try rich for a while…

I live alone, but I do have a cockatiel who’s my companion. His name is Leo, short for Leonardo, and he and I have weathered 20 plus years together. I have a son who’s 30 years old, and an ex-husband who I don’t write about but who was an important part of 25-plus years of my life. My other passions are hiking, kayaking, music, reading, and teaching, not in that order.

Fall semester 2017 is a new experience for me: it’s the first fall semester, ever, that I’ve entered college with the status of “single.” It’s the first fall semester that I’ve entered college without my dad. It’s not that my dad was especially critical to my teaching, but he was critical to my sense of self: I always had a mom and dad (lucky, I know). He died last October 31st. Every day since then has been, “the first _____ since Dad died.” November 1st will change that, but October 31st will be a tough day for me to survive.

You want to know “about me”? I was a mediocre high school student who grew into a pretty darn smart mom, who became a really smart college student who excelled, who became a competent, committed, caring college teacher, who lives her life to the best of her abilities without regret. Let’s get to work.

Fall Semester 2017

I know people who love fall (Gina!), and though it’s not my favorite season (summer!), it ranks as number two for me. As we move through August, into September, we are in that season between seasons. Wasps remind us that winter is coming and will kill all those annoying insects for a few months’ reprieve. Trees begin to turn, the tops usually start first, just a few golden leaves then gradually more. The mornings…have you noticed? This morning was unusually cool, close to 50 degrees when I rose, too cool to run in my usual tank top; I wore sleeves. No one in western Montana can escape the smoke right now, which is also an indication of fall, at least over the last several years. And if you’re a teacher…well, you’re only too aware that summer is coming to an end. One of the first questions I get from teacher-friends is “are you ready?” It’s a silly question; I’m not ready and never will be, but this fall, for me, is different.

My dad’s birthday was September 1st; this is the first one since I’ve been alive that he won’t be. If you’ve lost a parent or someone very close to you, you understand the “firsts” that occur throughout the year that follows the loss. This is the first birthday; in June was the first Father’s Day. Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Day, my sisters’ and my birthdays, Mother’s Day, their anniversary, all of those passed during this first year, too. This year will be the first Halloween, the day he died, one year ago. My sister, Terri, always loved Halloween more than almost any holiday. I wonder how she’ll experience this coming one.

It seems cliché; my relationship with my father was strained, and now I regret that. Of course, I do. That’s how it works, and I’m not special. Many people before me have experienced the same thing, which is why it’s cliché. We like to believe we’re an evolved species, but I wonder about that. Even when we know better, we continue to make the same mistakes. It’s a form of hubris, I think, a very common human foible. Each of us believes we are the exception somehow.

I enter the fall semester of 2017 with trepidation. Last fall was one of my worst, personally, and one my best, professionally. I hate to think that one precludes the other, but it seemed to work that way. Aside from the fact that my dad is gone, I enter fall semester as an unmarried woman, the first time in twenty-four years. Nearly all of my personal relationships have undergone significant change; some didn’t survive my divorce, some resulted from my divorce, and some are still in transition. In many ways, I’m a different woman than the one who returned to campus for convocation 2016. I hope I’m not hardened; I hope I’m still the Pollyanna optimist I’ve always been, but I’m not sure…

I struggled after Dad died, and the memorial ceremony was one of my worst experiences. My marriage was crumbling, my dad had died unexpectedly, and emotionally, I was a wreck. I survived it, but that was all. Since I don’t live close, I was not there when his cremains were installed in the cemetery, and though I’d been to Billings several times, I never stopped at the cemetery. I thought about it; I wanted to, but I didn’t, until Sunday.

Mark and I went to Billings for a party to celebrate my sister Julie’s new firepit. I told him before we left that I wanted to stop in Laurel and see my dad’s final resting place. On the way home, I got involved in a phone call and forgot my plans (I wonder…), but Mark didn’t. He turned off in Laurel and found his way to the cemetery where we located my dad. It was August 6th, so nine months plus after he’d died. I guess that’s how long it took me to be ready, and I’m not going to apologize for that. To whom would I apologize anyway? Like many other examples I could conjure, I’m frequently late in my ability to make sense of things; I’m a pretty smart person, but sometimes it takes me a while to process.

A few years ago, my dad started playing on the internet. Soon, he discovered memes and “fake news,” which annoyed the living hell out of me. Political opposites, I finally told him to stop sending me that shit, which to his credit, he did. Occasionally, he’d send me something he thought I’d enjoy, and one email message he sent me remains in my “inbox,” and I revisit it from time to time. It’s incredibly emotional for me because I love Andre’ Rieu, I love strings, I love this song, and I loved my dad. See if you can get through it without tears; I can’t. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d1yfX6VnrSU

Fall semester 2017 is coming, like it or not. I guess I need to get ready.