Tuesday, March 17th, 2009
Ohhh, now I understand
I have good personal hygiene.
That was one of the qualities my college adviser used to describe me in a letter of recommendation. The letter was for a job application shortly after my graduation. Yeah, I didn’t use it.
This professor was a hard-as-nails type who demanded the best from his students. Either you despised him and performed poorly in his classes, or you rose to the challenge of producing satisfactory work every week and he became your mentor.
Your dream, what you strove for each week, was for him to like your work. It actually happened for me one time. I remember that day and kept that assignment, a newspaper article. He was a journalism professor.
In my senior year, discerning that he thought well of me, I asked him for a letter of recommendation for a university print shop job. His hygiene reference unsettled me, as if he hadn’t really known me these past few years, at least not enough to reveal great personal insights about my abilities. Maybe he did say nice things. All I remember is hygiene.
Meanwhile, an art professor wrote me a kickass letter that helped score an interview for the job. I wasn’t qualified to hold the position. The interview was a train wreck, and not because it was held in the middle of a heat wave in a room without air conditioning. Oh, but man, it was a great letter.
Fast forward 13 years, three years after my journalism professor’s death.
One of my daughter’s preschool friends shares my mentor’s last name. It turns out the kid’s dad is the son of the professor.
I haven’t had a conversation yet to learn what having a perfectionist as a parent is like for a child, but I’ve heard he tries not to be like his father. Don’t we all?
Over some toddler roller skating on Sunday, my wife discussed my personal hygiene with the professor’s son. Ummm, okay.
It turns out my adviser had a 1950s ethic — shine on your shoes, crease in your pants type stuff. Thinking back now, it fits his profile. He held a true cold spot in his heart for people who wear sweat pants or cowboy boots in public… and for him to compliment my hygiene, it means he thought very highly of me.
Here’s an old, sort of related video from Taylor Mali, a former high school teacher turned successful slam-poet, performing his poem What do Teachers Really Make?