It has been about 24 years since my Dad died, but it seems only yesterday. It was at his urging that my sisters and I studied abroad. I chose Germany and spent almost three years in Heidelberg. When he asked me years later if sending me off to Germany had been a good thing in my life, I responded that it probably had been the best decision he and my mother could have made. Sending children off to college can be a bittersweet moment in the lives of parents. Sending children off to another country to study can prove daunting. I still recall the day I left the US and the envelope I was handed at the Colorado Springs airport as my parents bid me goodbye and wished me good luck. On the outside of the envelope in my father’s cursive writing were the words “do not open” until I was airborne.
What I found inside astonished me. There was a letter from the Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg telling me that I had not been accepted since I did not yet have a BA degree. My parents trusted that I would figure things out on my own. The German system is vastly different from the US system. There were no advisors to assist. Fortunately, a military couple from Pueblo who were stationed in the Army in Heidelberg provided an apartment in military housing in exchange for my babysitting services for their two young children. It was through them I met a student at the University of Heidelberg who was familiar with the system. This young German student was the key to dealing with university bureaucracy. After being accepted to study based solely on my grades in German, I went on to obtain two degrees in Germany. No, I was not angry that my parents had not told me prior to departure about the letter they received. The lesson I learned was more valuable than what was in books.
My parents had trusted me. As I reflect upon that today and remember my Dad standing next to me in the photo when I came back to Pueblo after my studies, I see in his eyes how very proud he was of my accomplishments, and of all of his daughters. My other sisters studied in Spain and Mexico and my mother joined them in Europe. As a teacher of German today, I have noticed a vast change in parenting styles. In retrospect, I truly value the fact that my parents gave me independence, expected me to be self-reliant and to make my own decisions.
When I received a Fulbright grant to be an exchange teacher in Germany, my parents were so proud of the achievement. Again my father withheld information until I was in Germany with my two children. In September of 1990, I received a letter in his cursive handwriting telling me he was dying of cancer. Crowded into a telephone booth in the small German village where we lived, I tearfully spoke with him, and he was crying on the other end of the phone as well. He said not to come back to the US in the event he died but to stay in Germany. He knew I was inconsolable so he added that he would wait for me to return the following summer. My Dad died Oct. 18 less than one month after our phone conversation. As I had promised, we remained in Germany and had a special Memorial Mass at the local church which happened to be on World Sunday. We recited the Our Father in both German and in English and sang Amazing Grace because the German priest who officiated wanted to make it a special commemoration for me and my children to remember and honor my Dad.
Next week’s blog entry will feature a poem from my book to mark my Dad’s death.