The water was rising quickly, and I was drowning. Drowning in a sea of numbers and letters, better known as algebra. It was eighth grade, and my experience in math class each day was one of confusion, anxiety and frustration. I observed fellow students enthusiastically shouting out the answers to problems, or watched their arms shoot up into the air with zeal as they volunteered to work out equations on the board. My math teacher was a no-nonsense kind of guy, moving through concepts quickly and not having a lot of time or patience to come to the rear of the race and help me catch up. I needed a lifeline, something that would rescue me from the C’s, D’s, and (gasp!) F’s that I was staring at on my math tests. Homework was being completed, attention was focused during class, but the grades weren’t budging. That lifeline arrived in the form of my father, a career Air Force colonel who, after retirement, was teaching in an inner-city middle school in an unquestionably rough part of a Washington D.C. suburb. Upon realizing that math was my Achilles heel, my dad offered to tutor me. As enthusiastically as the students volunteering to solve math problems on the board, I jumped at the opportunity to have some help from one of the smartest people I knew, who just happened to be my dad (affectionately known as “Buddy” in our family). Math tutoring lessons were organized and clear. With a row of perfectly arranged sharpened pencils, plenty of paper and the dreaded algebra textbook, we embarked on the quite impossible task of helping me understanding algebraic concepts. Not an easy feat for a girl who would have sweat droplets appear on her paper as she was trying to figure out linear equations. However, something happened after the tutoring lessons started. I actually started getting problems right. I could “solve” equations with all of the 27 steps, and my breathing and heart rate were returning to normal levels while in the presence of numbers. What was different? What was different was that I had a teacher, my dad, who was patient and encouraging. His ability to clearly explain concepts to me and allow me to fail and succeed at solving math problems was what mattered. What he was teaching me started to make sense. My affinity for math didn’t increase, but my grades sure did. Over the course of several months, I was staring at Bs and the occasional A on my math tests. How is this possible, I thought? I had never seen a B on a math test. Ever. As my confidence increased, I realized that my dad and I were a team. We were slaying the algebra dragons together, like Batman and Robin or Starsky and Hutch. My dad seemed to know when I understood something, when he should probably explain something another way and when I needed a five-minute break. The lessons from math tutoring with my father extend beyond numerical equations and the x and y slopes. Through his guidance and teaching, I learned the meaning of perseverance, optimism and patience. I learned that a father can be encouraging, calming and devoted to the success of his child. I learned that the process is as important as the outcome, and that achievement is not always correlated with talent. Sometimes achievement happens in areas of life that we struggle with, if we have the influence of a person who takes the time to foster ability and success. Success for me in eighth grade algebra was earning a B for the class. It was a hard-earned B by a young lady who would have otherwise probably squeaked by with a low C, at best. My success is shared, for the B that I earned was the B that my dad and I earned together. I realize that my love for teaching and helping students learn and develop confidence in their abilities stems from my experiences sitting with the best teacher I’ve ever had, my father, on those many evenings, with sharpened pencils and a stack of graph paper. He provided me with life lessons that are more meaningful to me than the B that I saw on my report card. To my father, and all of the fathers who inspire, motivate and teach their children, thank you. Happy Father’s Day. Now, I have to go balance my checkbook. Thanks, Buddy. Until next time…be well. Diane Bigler is a licensed clinical social worker who lives in Platte City with her family. She may be reached by e-mail at editor@plattecountycitizen.com.