Sunday, January 19, 2014

Adam Knighton - Father of the Year

Thailand has an absurd amount of holidays. As a teacher, this makes me happy. We get every holiday off. Not only that, but there are lots of arbitrary days where there is no school for no apparent reason. Sometimes there's a "meeting" that I don't have to go to. Other times the teachers have decided to go on a road trip, so there is no school. No matter what the reason, we're always celebrating something or other.

Oftentimes there will be a holiday celebration at school or somewhere nearby. This means going to school, but no actual teaching. Transportation is not very difficult because there are maybe 100 total students in the school. For the nearby locations, they load all of the girls up in to vans and slowly move them all to the other area. The boys are all thrown in the back of the janitor's pickup truck and moved while standing. Watching them leave reminds me of those horse trailers you see on the freeway sometimes. There are a few horses standing unsteadily with bewildered looks on their faces while moving at 50 mph. Well in this case it's 20ish students standing unsteadily with bewildered looks on their faces.

Boy and Girl scouts are very big here. Every Thursday, students must wear their uniform to school. After my last class, they practice marching, play instruments, and get yelled at. Sometimes they have to do push-ups as punishment. I always find this amusing, because if there's one thing a Thai 10 year old lacks, it's upper body strength. They invariably end up looking like the following picture.

Sometimes everyone is forced to do push-ups at the same time. It's an odd sight when you turn a corner and see 40 students in uniform, waving their bums in the air.

The students also play their instruments as a part of their Scout routine. The girls love to play this odd instrument called the melodica. It's a weird combination of a piano, harmonica, and accordion. It looks like this:

They blow into it while holding it with one hand and playing it with the other. It's not the most lovely sounding instrument-kind of a fusion between an accordion and a bagpipe. 

The boys usually play drums. As I mentioned before, the these children lack strength. So for each drum player there must be a designated drum spotter.

Doesn't look like much fun, but the good news it that they switch halfway through so at least it's fair.

Anyway, back to holidays, activities, and general horseplay at school. We're always doing something or other instead of actually teaching. One time it was an hour long Christmas party that ended at 10:00 a.m., and all of the students just went home after. Then there was the New Year's party where half of the students wore makeup and did dances. And finally, the most uncomfortable one: Father's Day.

School unexpectedly ended after lunch one day. Generally no one tells me about any special activities that are happening. They just kind of happen and I get caught up in all of it. I walk to the auditorium area and notice all the students are sitting in lines and there's a ton of Thai men behind them sitting in chairs. Everyone goes ahead and does a prayer for the king and the Thai dancing starts. I ask my coworker what this has to do with Father's Day and he just laughs.

When I look out at the students I notice that some of the girls are crying. My coworker says that their fathers probably aren't here,  but it started off a chain reaction of sadness. Some girls start crying because their father isn't there, then more girls start crying because their friends are sad, then even more girls start crying because everyone is crying. I look over there and start to get choked up because someone's sad that someone's sad about someone being sad. Lousy four degrees of separation sadness.

They set up a bunch of chairs on the stage and call one grade level's fathers up. After, the students from that class go up and kneel in front of their dads. But what's this? There is a student whose father isn't there. I feel bad for her because she's clearly heartbroken and sitting up there trying not to cry.

Up until this point there had been a fairly consistent stream of Thai being spoken by the director over the speakerphones. I generally ignored it. They speak too quickly for me to understand it properly, so I just pick up certain words here and there. But just then I heard a word I was very familiar with: Adam. I froze, furrowed my brow and slowly turned my head toward the director. I had no idea what was happening, I just knew I shouldn't be involved. The director smiles at me and says "Daddy Adam!". I stifle a scream and start walking to the stage.

I plop down next to a Thai man that I totally dwarf and look in the eyes of a weeping 7- year- old. She's not even my student, so I'm basically a stranger to her. I smile and try to telepathically communicate "Sorry I'm not your dad" to her. I don't think it worked.

Then things got even weirder. All of the students are already on their knees in front of their fathers (or Caucasian stand-ins). The director said something and suddenly they're on their hands and knees with their forehead on the ground. I like to think they were channeling positive, youthful energies into their elders, but I can't know. The director says something else and suddenly the girl's head is in my lap, face down. I recoil a little bit and look around. If I were a teacher in America and someone saw a 7-year-old girl's head face down in my lap, I'm fairly certain I'd be put in jail forever.

Quick side note about me. I like to play the cool, tough guy who is unaffected by anything. That's just to cover up the fact that I'm basically in a constant state of panic. My face may look calm and collected. Possibly even smug. But inside a storm is raging.

Well, my poker face must have cracked because I heard the now familiar "Daddy Adam" over the speaker system. I look over at the director. She's motioning for me to rub the child's head. Thai people are laughing at the befuddled white man, but I start rubbing her head and my face shifts back to Mr. Cool Guy.

The director says something again and the girl is standing with her arms outstretched. Everyone starts hugging, so I do the same. I held her for what felt like forever, and started to release. She began backing away, but I saw out of the corner of my eye that everyone else was still hugging. I was not about to look like a fool again! Right when she thought she had escaped my clutches, I pulled her back in. The end result was one of the most uncomfortable hugs I've ever been a part of. She was struggling to escape by the end of it, but I'd be damned if I wasn't going to execute the hug for the appropriate amount of time.

The students left the stage and the parents left shortly after. I sat down again relieved that it was over. Suddenly, I understood 2 words over the speaker system, "Daddy Adam".

At the end of the day, I was well practiced at hugging and rubbing the heads of pre-teens. I think my grand total was 4 adopted daughters and 2 adopted sons. I suppose the moral of the day was that I'm not quite ready for fatherhood. but that's more just a confirmation of something I knew already.

As a reward for reading this far, I present you with a picture that shall receive no context.

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