I have worked at the University of Dayton for almost 12 years now. It’s been a good run, I think. Most days I love the work, the students, and my colleagues.
I concede that the daily commute is a grind. If I could magically uproot our home, our neighbors, our church, our friends, our schools, and a few other things from the area, and gently plop it all down 35 miles to the southeast, a block or two from my office, I might well do so. And the pay? It’s OK, but I’m aware that I have many classmates and cohorts from my former law firm who are annually clearing five times as much as I am, or more. Still, the benefits, both explicit and understood, are tremendous and I have no regrets about the decision to take the position and move to Greenville.
Last summer, at her mother’s “you can never plan too early” behest, the eldest amigo, Abby (now 14 years old and concluding eighth grade), took a guided walking tour of UD. In a few years, when she’s seriously considering her future post-high school, IF she decides to attend college, and IF I am still employed by UD (a substantial “if”), and IF she is admitted, and IF she elects to go to UD among the other options she might enjoy, THEN one of the most substantial perks of my job kicks in: free tuition for members of my immediate family. Currently, the cost for attending full time is a little over $40,000 per year. In. Tuition. Alone. Take that, large-law-firm-partner-buddies!
As Abby, Krista, and I sauntered around the campus that balmy day and listened to our undergraduate guide extoll the virtues of UD, my mind drifted backward in time, to my college days over 35 years ago. I attended Purdue and was extremely familiar with its campus because it was located only a couple of blocks from my home. I never took the sort of formal tour Abby was taking that day because I didn’t need to. I had walked and biked across that campus hundreds of times and explored most of its buildings by the time I was a young teenager. My father was a professor, as were most of my friends’ fathers. It wasn’t uncommon for my cohorts and I to find ourselves enrolled in classes taught by men or women in whose homes we had spent a considerable amount of time raising Cain.
My first week of classes I stopped by my dad’s office in the basement of the Education building (now long gone), then the HQ, so to speak, of Purdue’s Psychology Clinic. His secretary, Barb, had known me since I was in third or fourth grade and she smiled warmly when I arrived. After a few moments of small talk and a not-too-subtle-hint that I should ask her daughter out, she phoned my father who quickly opened his office door and ushered me inside.
I sat down on a couch across from his desk and marveled at the journals and books stacked about in varying heights and breadths, like a mountain range composed of pulp and binding and knowledge. He grabbed a pen and his Purdue hand-held calendar, flipping the latter open before looking up at me over his glasses.
“So, Timothy, I’ve been thinking.”
If I was a little uncomfortable walking in, I was positively nervous now. What was he up to? It was not likely the next words out of his mouth were going to be “I should give you $20 in spending money each week. Have fun, mate!” What demand was he about to reveal?
I replied in my typical penetrating, learned fashion. “Oh?”
“Yes, I believe we ought to take advantage of this situation.”
“What situation is that?”
“The situation that finds you here at Purdue instead of somewhere else. The situation that finds me here, too.”
Oh, Lord. How, exactly, did he want to “take advantage” of this?
He waved his 5-inch by 7-inch calendar in the air. “Do you have yours with you?” he asked.
“Yeah, sure,” I said. “Of course.” Everyone on campus carried this little tool at all times. It was 1979, after all, and smart phones, personal computers, and tablets were the province of science fiction.
“OK. Take a look at your schedule and let’s block off an hour when we’re both free. That’ll be your office hour with me. You can come in each week at that time and know that I’ll never be busy with anyone else. It’s reserved for you.”
And so we did. Each semester of my four-year tenure there we blocked out an hour each week and met in his office. Some days we talked about my classes or the research I was helping professor so-and-so with. Other meetings were devoted to lofty theological or political questions, still others to how the football team was doing. On others we sat across from each other and silently read our copies of that day’s Purdue Exponent newspaper. I don’t remember the specific content of too many of the conversations we held during those weekly meetings, but I recall perfectly the comfort I felt in knowing dad had set aside a special time for me that was sacrosanct, inviolable.
I suspect that in a few years, if Abby’s options and our finances cooperate, we won’t mandate that she attends UD. We’ll probably just engage in some serious nudging. And if she does decide to become a Flyer, I’ll be certain to set aside an office hour or two each week, reserved for one “A.S.”
Timothy Swensen is the author of the weekly column series Virtue and Mischief that is published every Tuesday in The Daily Advocate. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.