Yes, at the tender age of 45, I am putting an end to an academic career, and let’s just say Albert Einstein never had to look over his shoulder at any time.
After three long years, I attained my master’s degree in management. While I’m proud to say I graduated summa cum laude, ‘tis a far cry from my “Summa Cum Lucky” nightmare that was my undergraduate study!
After the last week of class, my parents came over for Sunday dinner. We have a tradition in my house of putting great grades on the refrigerator, and my academic achievement was no exception! My dad looked at the grades and nodded approvingly.
“‘Tis a credit to yeh, really,” the Athenry native said over his bifocals. “Really, really nice work.”
He spun on his heel for a moment with a small gift bag. “We got yeh a little something for the occasion,” he said. “Oh, there’s a t-shirt that we got yeh for Father’s Day that we forgot to throw in the bag last time, so that’s in there, too.”
After opening an envelope with a gift card to my favorite boutique, I unfurled a kelly green t-shirt from the bag. On it was one word in big black block letters: EEJIT. Of course, this is the Irish slang for the word “idiot.”
I laughed out loud when I first saw my father wearing it a few weeks ago after he came home from a weekend Irish festival, and I had given him a right tongue-lashing for not thinking to buy one for his son.
Was this his way of making up for his mistake? Perhaps, but I can’t help but think the timing of this gift, at the same time as my graduation with an advanced degree, was a little suspect.
Coincidence? I think not.
If you don’t know what I’m on about by now you probably weren’t raised by real Irish parents the way I was. Giving me a t-shirt that said “eejit” sent a message home -- there’s not much difference between a f***in’ eejit and a learned eejit when you come right down to it. And nothing is worse than an eejit who puts on airs and thinks he’s the cock on the walk with his new degree!
Sure, my parents were intensely proud that their son achieved an education well beyond theirs and most of the family.
Indeed, this was the fulfillment of an immigrant’s dream, wasn’t it? You made sacrifices so that your kids got further up the ladder in the new land than you ever would.
Indeed, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to think that this accomplishment was just as much theirs as it was mine.
Still, you don’t get carried away with yourself. Gloating and carrying on about how great you are on Facebook is akin to an Amish boy discovered behind the wheel of an 1984 Camaro by his pastor -- you will be shunned if you keep that up.
Even though I have my master’s, I am not through learning from my parents. Saying everything without saying nothing at all is an art form.
Opening a care package from home in my dorm and finding a local Mass bulletin and Confession schedule taped to the baked goods. Placing a girlie magazine on the pillow when the stash was found while flipping the mattress.
These are all examples of the silent guidance that kept me on the straight and narrow during my teenage years, and I reflect on the brilliant, not-so-subtle messaging this week as I sit in a new student orientation at my oldest daughter’s high school.
My mom and dad may not have a master’s degree, but they raised a learned eejit who believes they are well deserving of an honorary Ph.D in parenting with a minor in handling a teenager!
(Mike Farragher has published a book of essays like these. For more information, log onto www.thisisyourbrainonshamrocks.com.)