A thank you note to the Señor

The first time I sat through a class at Harvard-Westlake, I was 9 years old. It was a Spanish class, and the teacher was short, loud, verbose and oddly amused by his own jokes. No, I was not precocious, and no, I was not trying to get a head start on that strenuous seventh grade curriculum. It was Take Your Daughter to Work Day.

That was one of only three times that I ever sat in a classroom with my father, Head of Foreign Language and Spanish teacher, Javier Zaragoza.

The other two times, he substituted in my 10th grade Spanish class and he scolded me for addressing him as the informal “tú” rather than the formal “usted.” That was the way it worked; at home he was Dad, but at school he was Señor.

I could lie and say that having my dad on campus made high school difficult. I never had to take the bus and I could get an extra half hour of sleep during the drive to school in the mornings. I never had to skip lunch if I had lost my ID card and I never panicked if I had forgotten my Spanish books at home (he had a spare set for just such an occasion).

But I could also lie and say that having him on campus made things really easy. I felt the need to prove myself in Spanish classes. I worried about how I behaved myself, knowing that my character was a reflection of his. I would fret each time I received any less than favorable grades, fearing that by chance, my father would eat lunch with one of my teachers.

My father was the main reason I applied to Harvard-Westlake. In a pool of applicants for seventh grade where four out of five kids are rejected I had some sense of security. But, once I was accepted I began to worry. Was I cut out for this school? I thought I had a lot to prove. Yet, the thing I never realized was that all those pressures I felt as a result of having him on campus were not created by him. I put those pressures on myself. I thought that because my father was a teacher, I had to prove to him and to the rest of the school that I deserved to be at Harvard-Westlake.

But, a couple months ago during one of our hundreds of car rides home from school, I warned my father that I had received a fairly embarrassing test grade. He merely asked if I had studied and if I had tried my best. When I told him that I had, he shrugged. It was then that I realized that my father didn’t care if I was perfect. All he wanted was to know that I had tried my hardest. I realized that even though we joked that I was supposed to call him Señor at school, he was never Señor to me. He was always just Dad and he always kept my happiness in mind. My father did a lot for me in high school, and I could not be more grateful.

So as my career at Harvard-Westlake comes to a close, I part with these words for my father: Thank you for being there for me, for waiting for me in the Weiler parking lot on Monday nights during Chronicle layouts, for the debates on the way home from school, for Take Your Daughter to Work Day, for giving me my space, for giving me hugs in the hallways, for loving me no matter what, for Harvard-Westlake, for everything.