My dad was honored this year by Alpha Kappa Psi at Seton Hall University where he’s been an influential member of the teaching staff for 25 years. He was presented his award by students who are just the tip of the iceberg of folks who have been affected by this man’s brilliance and his approachable manner. Telling his students to call him “Paul M.” was just one of the ways he differentiated himself in what can sometimes be an ego-filled minefield of academia.
I had the pleasure and honor to take his class one summer when I was earning some extra credits while home on the break. It was a wonder to see him “in his element” and doing what he was meant to do. I mean, he’s always taught. 35 years ago he set up an elaborate system (by a 5-year-old’s standards, that is) of reward featuring Chicklets. Every time I tied my shoes properly I got a Chicklet. Well, thanks to Dad, I now know how to tie a shoelace and have a mouth full of fillings, but, I digress.
It was fascinating to see my father interact with my peers in a way that wasn’t parent-like. He was treating these folks like the young adults they were and expecting adult-like behavior and results from them. Talk about a revelation! I decided then and there that I wanted to measure up. Who am I kidding? His opinion ALWAYS mattered to me, but that just solidified the fact that if these people could gain an atta boy from him I, too, stood a chance because I knew that he loved Butter Pecan ice cream and that he bought the dog homemade chocolates that he kept in the freezer (back before we knew it was poisonous — fear not, this purebred lived to be 17). Now, I don’t mean to give you the impression that his attention or praise were doled out infrequently. I just valued him so much that I knew it wasn’t just lip service and wanted to be worthy of it when I got it.
What a way to end a stellar career at SHU. And to do so into your 8th decade…You go, Popsicle! I just want to join those terrific students in saying Atta Boy to the best Teacher I know and the Best Father in the World. Happy Birthday, Dad! I love you.