I used to hate story problems when I was in grade school. You know, math problems that involve both numbers AND words, as if somehow math problems with just numbers alone aren't challenging enough.
I had a hard time with story problems because I always focused on the wrong elements. Take the following question, for example, which, BTW, is an actual problem I just found on a website for school teachers: "You have five mini-pizzas to share with four friends. You're cutting the pizzas in half. How much will each friend get? How can you make sure the leftovers get shared equally?"
Now if I were still in grade school, I would read this and go, "What kind of toppings do the mini-pizzas have?"
"Hey. Where did they get those mini-pizzas so I can tell my mom to buy some?"
"Wait. If I count myself, there are five kids, so why can't we just all have our own damn mini-pizzas?"
"Who said I had to share the mini-pizzas with my friends anyway? I don't see my friends sharing their mini-pizzas with me!"
See what I mean?
Anyway, I remember the night I asked my dad if he could help me with some homework. He said, sure! Why not? So he took my book and read through the story problems for himself, after which he handed me back my book and said, "I think kids should do their own math, don't you?"
He didn't say so, but I knew my dad didn't see the point of story problems anymore than I did. I also knew that neither he nor my mother was going to do my homework for me. EVER. Homework was my job, and eventually I grew up to be a parent who believed kids should do their own homework, too. As my friend Erynn says, sometimes it's the things we don't do for our kids that turn out to be the best gifts we give them.
Still. There are plenty of things my dad did for me over the years. Before I turned 6, he taught me how to swim, ride a bike, make a baby laugh, take a wrapper off a Popsicle, put salt on an apple and return a stolen candy bar to the grocery store.
When I was in grade school he taught me how to turn a cartwheel, do a back somersault off the diving board, pick fruit, tell a joke, play Black Magic on road trips and eat tomatoes straight out of the garden.
When I was in high school he taught me how to drive a stick shift, appreciate well-written dialogue in a movie or a television show and have difficult conversations without resorting to the use of verbal napalm.
When I became an adult he taught me how to enjoy Hank Williams and Johnny Cash, love a spouse, make a backup plan, deal a deck of cards, call an audible off the field and accept the fact that there's more than one way to get to the same place.
Or at least he tried to do those things. The truth is, I am and I always have been a stubborn student.
Here's another true thing: I didn't do anything to deserve a good dad anymore than a kid with a bad dad deserves that. I just lucked out in the dad department. That's all. Life, unfortunately, is pretty random that way.
But I am grateful for him. Always.
Happy Father's Day, Dad.
Ann Cannon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or facebook.com/anncannontrib.