On Monday evening, after my father died, I realized that he had left me a puzzle. He always had elaborate schemes for keeping the lawns and plants and planters around the house well watered and, being that he loved to have gizmos and controls and automated thing-a-ma-jigs, there is an intricate system in place to make sure everything gets watered at the right time for the right amount of time with the right amount of water on the right day of the week. Mom said she was always after him to write the information down, but I think that he always knew I'd be back here on the day that some tinkering of the system was required.
And thus: his puzzle.
He left clues and hints scattered about. There is some Rosetta Stone-like chalkboard in the garage with all sorts of encrypted data waiting to be deciphered. There are three green digital sprinkler control boxes, which Mom - thankfully - knows how to turn off and there are endless miles of tubes and hoses and valves and shut-off knobs just begging to lead me on merry goose chases around the yard.
But Dad knew that. And he knew I love a good puzzle. And he knew that this one I couldn't - no - wouldn't - turn down.
My father was, as all of you gathered here know, a teacher. We now use titles like "educator" and "learning coordinator", but my dad was a teacher. Not because he could teach, but because he taught. And I don't think that there is anyone here who hasn't been taught something by my dad.
What I have learned from him and what made him so very good at everything he did in his life - from work, to raising a family, to finding his final steps in this leg of his long journey - was his awareness that there are no correct answers. He taught me that you must show by example and then hold out your hand to help the next person follow along. You cannot take the steps for them, even as much as we sometimes want to.
As a teacher Dad knew that the only true way to test a student was to give him a problem along with all the tools he needs and see if he can solve it. If the student can't solve the problem then another example is needed, preferably a different example, because so many of us approach life at such different angles.
If the student solves the problem then the teacher succeeds and is ready to move on to the next lesson. But if the student solves the problem and asks for the next lesson then the teacher can simply retire - his work is done.
My dad, in so many ways, taught us that just finding an answer isn't enough; it is more important to discover where that answer leads us and what new questions it might have us ask.
When I finished college in 1987 there were five days in-between the end of finals and the actual graduation ceremony which was called "Senior Week". It was a time when the seniors got to blow off steam and let it all hang out to get ready for the pomp and circumstance that accompanies many college graduations. For the most part this meant an excuse to party. At my college, the area in town just south of campus was the primary watering hole for most students and was where most of the activities (drinking) of Senior Week were held. On Wednesday, the main night of the activities (drinking), the students would mass at the two main cross streets and just hang out (drink). Of course, anytime you get a group of some four hundred students (drunks) in one location there is bound to be some civil unrest.
A friend of mine, who wasn't even a senior, decided to emulate a behavior she had witnessed some other students (drunks) enjoying, which was to pick up empty bottles left in the street and smash them on the pavement. She made two rather lame attempts at this fun game before my father - my father (!) - stepped up to her and said, "No, no. That's not how you do it. Let me show you."
Whereupon he snatched up a bottle from the street and demonstrated the correct over-the-head-wind-up-and-pitch-toward-the-sidewalk-toss for shattering glass bottles.
And all of you thought he was such a saint.
My friend learned how to break glass on cement and so did I. But in showing us this capability my dad also taught us the other lesson of why we don't do this. And a few years later on, after asking for those next lessons, instead of waiting for them, I found out why we don't want to put ourselves in situations where we have the opportunity to smash bottles on the street.
By the way, that same night he also let the air of some guy's tires who was trapped in the street trying to get home. That lesson I haven't figured out yet.
And thus I arrive back at the puzzle of the watering system.
He has given me all the tools. He long ago showed me how all the pipes are connected, how to connect two lines into one with a shut-off valve. He taught me how the timers and switches connect with the pipes to switch water on and off and I have heard him talk about the times that the canal water is available and when the best times to water are.
The only thing left to do is take the test. I might not get it right the first time and then I will have to try again, looking at it from a different angle hoping that there is a different approach I didn't see before. I hope I do get it right, but I don't plan on waiting around for his next lesson - I'll be looking for it - because I know he left the next lesson somewhere in the solution to this one.
It is said that if you give a man a fish, he can eat for the day, but if you teach a man how to fish, he can eat for life.
Thank you Dad - for teaching me how to fish.