Report Card

The year 1975 came and went without record. Literally.

On Jan. 1, 1976, in my shiny-new, dark brown Page-a-Day diary, the entry reads: “…another chance to start a diary which I have neglected for a year. It looks as if 1975 will be forgotten. Oh well! It was a so-so year.”

This is what freshly minted 16-year-olds do: Discard whole years in a blink.

Which is a shame because in the fall of 1975 I started high school.

Presently there are four grade levels at my old high school. That year we entered at the lowest rung—10th graders, sophomores. Also it was a new school regimen, a modular system, whereby depending on the day (an “A,” or “B,” mod day), you attended some classes and not others. Never understood the point of that, but it took some of the boredom out of going to school.

Into the winter of 1976 and through to June graduation in 1978, there is a diary and daily entry for the entire time, so posts going forward will carefully examine each of those years.

But first, a couple thoughts about Dad.

And one particular Sunday in January 1976.


Before we left Indiana for Maryland in 1966, Dad took me downtown to shop for my first wristwatch. It may have been my birthday—I don’t recall the time of year—but I always attach to that moment Petula Clark’s “Downtown,” likely because I may have heard it on the car radio on the trip in.

I distinctly remember it was Dad and not Mom who did this, and that it was just me and Dad, as Mom probably stayed at home with baby brother.

I recall the towering Indianapolis department store we walked into, the gleaming countertops and colorful racks of clothes.

In the men’s accessories department I got to pick out a watch, which I still have (photo above left), a Timex that, as John Cameron Swayze used to say, “Takes a lickin’ and keeps on tickin’.”

I was so proud of that watch I never left the house without it.


Dad was a self-made man.

While he finished training as a surveyor after his Army service, he really wanted to be an architect. He had impeccable printed handwriting and could always be found sketching or making building plans.

He loved to be up early in the morning, get to his desk, turn on a radio and have time alone to think, draw, and read. While he wasn’t particularly musical, his favorite song was “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” from Disney’s Song of the South, which he’d belt out while getting ready for work in the morning.

My father (b. 1932) guided his life in an entirely different direction than his father, Paul Sr. (b. 1911), who did the same with his father, Roscoe Lee (b. 1869), before him.

So I guess I hail from a long line of father-son contrarians.

But Dad highly regarded formal education, even though he never completed a college degree (the photo at left is a work portrait in his office at the University of Minnesota, where he was project coordinator on the decades-in-the-making health sciences buildings). He wanted his sons to do well in school and insisted to see our grade reports whenever they arrived.

After starting high school, I immediately fell in with a bad crowd. Like, from Day One (more on that in posts to come).

As early as January 1976, I was working part-time as a bus boy at a local country club and generally came home late to watch Monty Python on TV. Saturday, January 24, my brother Brian and I received our report cards in the mail.

The following Sunday I reported the verdict in my diary: “Not so good.” After I arrived home from the club at 4 p.m., “Dad talked to me and Brian about our grades. He’s upset. Anyway I’m going to bed.”

It mattered to our parents that we made the best of all that school offered, but I was tearing away and choosing to not listen.

It would drive a wedge between me and my father for the next two years.

~ by completelyinthedark on June 19, 2011.

One Response to “Report Card”

  1. Reblogged this on Completely in the Dark and commented:

    From five summers ago, republishing this piece. Cheers, Mike


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