Jamie C. has helped his daughter, Claire, build two different versions of her beloved preschool. Their first incarnation, he tells me, was in San Francisco, installed in the downstairs of the flat she was renting; after months of applying for jobs and finding nothing available, she asked him to help her create her own. A middle school shop teacher for 35 years, who, now retired, focuses his efforts in construction for Habitat for Humanity, he says choosing to build the solution to her problem together has always been a definitive characteristic of their relationship. “From the time she was a little kid, I’ve had Claire in the shop with me learning how to use tools to make the things she’d like to have.”
She knew if she wanted something and it could be built, I would help her figure out how to do it.
“One of our first projects was when she was in Color Guard in middle school and she wanted to make her own rifle out of some wood we had to use in their choreographed routines. As soon as her friends saw it, of course they all decided they wanted one too; once they were in the shop, however, they were too scared to use the tools to do it. Even with me guiding and Claire showing them how easy it really was, they still didn’t want to try.
Moments like that reminded me it wasn’t about raising a girl or boy doing girl or boy stuff. It was about raising an empowered kid.
Claire’s first preschool, he says, was a huge success, one he attributes to the creativity of her lesson plans. One of the most notable and on-going projects he mentions is called “What We Did Today”; every afternoon when the kids go down for a nap, Claire sends out an email to all the parents along with a description of that day’s lessons and photos from their morning activities together so they can see what kind of day their kid is having. Creative twists like these, he says, are what he loved most about being a teacher and he’s grateful to see she’s inherited the same inspiration as an educator.
Jamie admits when it comes to heart-to-hearts, though, he’s much less adept; if things go sour, he says, and Claire needs to open up about what’s going on in her life, she will rarely come to him.
His greatest challenge as a father has been navigating the emotional terrain; when faced with it, he still leans toward trying to find a solution to assuage the hurt he can do with his hands. After learning Claire and her husband were separating, for example, he supported her by promising to help her rebuild her pre-school again in her hometown and finding the house they could go in on together to do it in. “It hasn’t all gone as smoothly as we hoped.” he says. “But every obstacle the city has thrown at us, we’ve negotiated together and now we’re finally making some progress.
Of all the things I’m proud of Claire for, her determination to see through what she’s started really stands out.
“I’ve always placed great importance on this in my life and I like to think seeing this has given her the strength to fight for what she wants; and to know that with a little versatility and enough perseverance, she’ll succeed.”