Julie Guyot Studio

Father’s Day 2011: Lessons my dad taught me after his passing

Julie Guyot

(This was originally published as a Facebook note in 2011. I am re-posting in recognition of the 20th anniversary of my dad's passing.)

It occurs to me that I haven’t acknowledged Father’s Day since my dad passed away 14 years ago.  Actually, I probably didn’t really pay much attention to it before then either since I don’t really think my dad cared that much about it.

You see, my dad wasn’t really home much when I was growing up.  It wasn’t his fault.  He had another family.  A few months after my dad died, I was having a really bad day, emotionally, and I ran into a woman whom I didn’t know but who clearly knew me.  Of course.  I was Mr. Guyot’s Daughter.   Anyway, this woman could tell I was having a difficult time keeping things together so she grabbed my hands in hers and said, “I know how you feel.  He was my dad too.” 

So there it was.  She had said it.  If I hadn’t been crying so hard I would have punched her in the face.  But she was telling the truth.  It was no secret.  My mom knew.  The whole town knew.  My sister and I knew.  My dad had several other families.  Every year a new crop of high school Seniors arrived to take my dad’s Senior English class.  And every year he recruited students for the three extra-curriculars that he coached.  Cross-country, Speech and Drama Team, and Track.  My dad was a small-town celebrity.  My dad was one of the best high school teachers that ever lived.  My dad was a legend. 

It’s hard being the daughter of a legend.  You get called Mr. Guyot’s Daughter a lot and it starts to get really old.  In college I started saying things like, “I do have my own identity you know.”   You have to share a legend with a lot of other people who need him.  You start saying things like, “He may be a great teacher/coach but he’s not a great dad.”  I actually said these things to people!

I stopped acknowledging Father’s Day because it was too painful.  I thought that not only had my dad been taken away from me for the rest of my adult years but I had clearly been robbed of him as a child as well.  To be honest…I was really angry.  I thought that he had spent all of his time teaching lessons to other people’s kids instead of being a father to me.  What I can see now is that teaching all those other people’s kids actually made him a great dad.

My dad took a teaching job that was supposed to last a semester, just until his writing career took off.  Little did he know that teaching was not a job for him, it was a calling.  It sounds ridiculous but he was truly magnificent at it and although I considered him a workaholic, it was never really a job to him.  It was a way of life. 

But what I want to talk about was his coaching.  At the beginning of the year at registration, the coaches would set up tables to try and recruit Freshmen into going out for their sports.  Now, cross-country is clearly not the most popular sport so my dad took this recruiting very seriously.  Most boys and girls hurried over to the football or volleyball tables with the sporty, popular kids.  Although there were a few sporty, popular kids who wanted to be on the cross-country team, there were not enough to earn team points to win meets so my dad had to get smart.  He started looking for the kids who were scrawny or shy or didn’t make very good eye-contact.  In short, the awkward kids who might not have any other sporting options.  He recruited the kids that otherwise would not have participated in activities.  He gave them what they needed.  He believed in them until they believed in themselves.

He made them part of a team.  Most of my dad’s teams were like this.  They were made up of students from all of the groups in school.  Jocks, nerds, so called “burnouts”, and occasionally someone from the Special Education classes.  I’m sure he originally did this to have enough warm bodies to earn team points but what followed was a life philosophy. These students were no longer in separate cliques.  They were Runners and running is hard.  It hurts and there is sometimes puking and when you are in a group of people and you’re all in pain and all puking, you have a new clique.  Runners. 

It didn’t matter what happened at home or in school that day.  When the 3:30 bell rang, your team would be waiting for you out under the flagpole for practice.  There would be stretching and warm-ups and something called “hills” which was awful.  Individual goals would be set.  Just to try and get a better time at the next meet.  Each individual goal met meant that the team would earn more points.  Everyone bought into it.  Everyone supported and encouraged and cheered and helped out.  During meets the football team stopped their practices and cheered for our runners! (Thanks Coach Zim)

But it was more that just a cross-country team.  It spread into the hallways during school.  You wouldn’t just pass by a nerd and not say hello if they were a member of your team.  You wouldn’t let someone pick on someone else who was a member of your team.  Having something in common (pain, puking, goals) actually produced kindness, respect and friendship among students who wouldn’t ordinarily look in the general direction of someone outside of their social group. 

But it was even more than that.  My dad truly was a father to so many kids.  Once when I was in high school he bought a gently used pair of running shoes for someone on his team.  The student had been running in the only pair of shoes that she owned and they were not running shoes.  My dad said he was concerned that she would get injured in those shoes.  He told me not to say anything because he was going to tell her he found them in the locker room and that someone had left them there after last season.  He didn’t want her to know that he bought them.  At the time this happened I was mad.  I wanted a “new” pair of shoes.  I wanted him to pay attention to me.  I didn’t understand the impact of what he had done until years later.  It wasn’t about getting injured in those shoes.  It was about putting her on even playing ground in a social situation.  Anyone could take one look at the shoes she had been running in and know that her family couldn’t afford to buy her running shoes.  He saved her from the dirty looks and judgments at meets.  With the shoes he “found” she was just a Runner like everyone else.  She was a member of the team with her own personal goals to achieve while helping out her fellow teammates.

There are countless other stories like these which I won’t recall because I want to respect people’s privacy.  There were phone calls in the middle of the night, visits on Sundays to families, deaths, illnesses, abuse and shame that my dad helped kids and their families through.  I can only realize this now as I piece these things together because my dad never told us stories about these situations.  But I know they existed.  I am ashamed that I was ever jealous of these other kids. I don’t get called Mr. Guyot’s Daughter very often anymore.  I would be proud to wear that name.

Today we would call this “Building Community”.  The community that my dad built was huge.  There were so many people at his funeral that it was held in the high school gym in order to accommodate everyone.  The support was overwhelming and I am sad that I was too angry to receive any of it.

Occasionally, one of my dad’s really amazing runners would defect to the football team.  Although this was disappointing, my dad would let them know that there would always be a spot on the cross-country team for them if they ever decided to come back.  The team would always welcome them back. Sometimes I feel like I am one of my dad’s runners.  I don’t really fit into any group of people.  I’ve always been too nerdy for the cool kids and a little too weird for the straight-laced crowd. Sometimes I still wonder what my place in this world is.Although my dad taught me to find my voice through the Speech & Drama Team, and he taught me to respect others and to be generous with my time and efforts, today on Father’s Day I’m thinking of the big life lesson.  I think that when I’m having a day (or week or year) where I’m not quite sure where my place is, he would want me to know that my team is always waiting for me under the flagpole to start warming up so I can tackle those hills, reach my goals, and in turn, help out the rest of the members of my team.

Happy Father’s Day.

-Mr. Guyot’s Daughter