The Patriarch

 

It was the Fall of my senior year in high school. Football season. Homecoming. As was custom, each 1st period class would nominate (from within it) both a homecoming king and homecoming queen.  In the days to follow, all nominees would be pooled, and a final court of 5 boys and 5 girls would be chosen with one each eventually emerging (via popular vote) to be the king and queen respectively.

Who and when the protocol came into being, no one knew.  Nevertheless, everyone from the principal to the freshest frosh understood it; it had been orchestrated to perfection for decades (as evidenced by old black & white photos tacked to corkboard in the back of display cases behind gold and silver trophies, lining the hallway leading to the gym).

Whether it was through careful design or dumb luck, the process unfolded year-in and year-out without incident.  Until 1977.

That year and that morning – by random chance – one of the 1st period classes was a boys-only Introduction to Home Economics.  I was in it.  And as a 17 year old who prioritized a good laugh over classroom decorum, I saw an opportunity.

Before the homeroom bell had rung, I had secured a nominator, a seconder, the acquiescence of the teacher, and a plurality of votes.  By 9am, my name had been forwarded to the principal’s office as a nominee for homecoming queen.  My buddies and I split our sides laughing.

By lunchtime, I was the talk of Crossland High School.  Early polling indicated I was the front-runner, though by a hair.

The next day, I was the odds-on favorite.  And by the end of the week, it was a fait accompli that I would win.

Faced with the prospect of crowning two boys as king and queen at halftime of the big game, school administrators conspired to have me withdraw from the ballot; they sent a negotiator.

Interestingly, my antic had initially been born from a place of irreverence and immaturity:  I wanted to make the entire school guffaw.  I had no intention of donning a crown and bouquet of roses while standing at the 50-yard line next to Greg Papajohn, the gorgeous and inevitable winner of the king’s crown.

When the vice principal sat me down over lunch in a far corner of the cafeteria to coerce my retreat, I felt a squirt of agita – I had gotten in over my head.  But the more insistent he was that I bow out, the more compelled I became to hold my position … not from a place of moral consciousness or courage, but from a more primitive place of instinctive rebellion.  If the administration insists I step down, then by damn I’ll step up!  If they say I can’t be a queen, then by damn I’ll be a queen!

His assertion that it wasn’t normal, wasn’t right, and would make a mockery out of the tradition landed with a thud.  I met his gentle, rehearsed, and stepwise argument with wisecracks and rhetoricals.  I found myself disinterested – if not afraid – in having a debate of ideas with him.

Twenty minutes of back-and-forth proved unproductive.  His measured and whispered delivery had accelerated and at times soared.  He became visibly frustrated.  Students who hadn’t looked over at us since we first secreted ourselves at a remote table were now fixed on our conversation.  A powershift was occurring – from him, to me.  We both knew it.  He needed my capitulation to maintain the order of things.  Until he got it, the school was at risk of a Sonny Wortzik moment.  Attica!  Attica!  Attica!

In short order, he moved from asking to demanding to begging.  When I stood to leave he humbly said, “Hey Levi.  I hope you’ll think about it.”

I knew I was winning.  At least until the next Saturday at halftime, I had power.  Ambling to my next class, I was high from my own fumes and derided Vice Principal Vest to whomever would listen … crowing about how he had unsuccessfully tried to bully me.  When asked how I had managed to stand-up to him, I quipped, “It’s the principle of the thing.  A principled man stands up to tyrants.”

Being the 70s, culture in Prince George’s County Maryland had barely begun to awaken.  There were only a handful of progressives amongst the faculty, the staunchest being my Advanced English teacher – a former nun who had been booted from the convent because of her trysts with its resident priest.  Each of these hipsters made it a point to reach out to me to thank me for standing up for the rights of all people.  Who says that only girls can be homecoming queens?  The notoriety was intoxicating and because it was, I found myself borrowing their language and ideas as they seemed to invite greater passions from the proletariat.

Between periods, I held court – its gallery overflowing with students who increasingly grumbled about rights and dignity and fairness.  It was heady stuff.

After practice and near dinnertime, I caught a ride home and entered the house through the kitchen door. My dad called me into the family room from his Lay-z-Boy chair.  Reclined, he looked down the length of his nose at me and quizzed, “I hear you’re running for homecoming queen?”

“Ah.  Yes I am!” I responded with a half grin.

“No you’re not,” he deadpanned

“Oh yes I am.  It’s not what you think, Dad.  It’s about principles”

“Principles shmimpiples.  You’re not going to run for homecoming queen.  You think it’s a novelty now.  You think it’s funny.  But you won’t always.  So, instead, you’re gonna march into the principal’s office in the morning and have them take your name off the ballot.  If you think you’ll be unable to do that on your own, I’ll accompany you.  Got it?”

And that was it.  My ego didn’t just deflate … it burst. I limped to my room.  In our household, one (earthly) authority stood above all others – my dad, the patriarch.  It was over.  I knew it.  He knew it.  My mom knew it.

Apart from my exchange with Mr. Vest the next day, it’s never again been mentioned.  Ultimately Deborah Ferrier won the crown.  She was beautiful in her regalia and fitting of the honor.  She was elegant and perfectly matched to Greg.

I wonder if all these years later she ever thinks about her time on the royal court… I know I do from time-to-time.  And when I do – especially as I’ve grown older – I’m always grateful that she was celebrated rather than I.

Thanks, Dad.

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There are 16 comments.

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  1. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    You’re lucky your dad only lectured and directed you. Coulda been worse…

    • #1
  2. Randy Weivoda Moderator
    Randy Weivoda
    @RandyWeivoda

    In a similar situation, I could picture my dad laughing like crazy and encouraging me to go forward with it.  Except I wouldn’t have run in the first place.  I don’t think my mom would have been so entertained by the idea.

    • #2
  3. EODmom Coolidge
    EODmom
    @EODmom

    What a great story. Aren’t you lucky you had a dad who was a parent and didn’t try to be a friend. And he treated it as an ordinary thing fathers did. 

    • #3
  4. Jimmy Carter Member
    Jimmy Carter
    @JimmyCarter

    Fantastic story, King.

    Makes Me wish I had a Dad around when growing up.

    • #4
  5. navyjag Coolidge
    navyjag
    @navyjag

    With b*lls like that I assume you turned out to be a Marine. 

    • #5
  6. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patriot) Member
    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patriot)
    @ArizonaPatriot

    navyjag (View Comment):

    With b*lls like that I assume you turned out to be a Marine.

    Interesting that you find juvenile obnoxiousness and disrespect for authority to be ballsy.  This is not characteristic of the Marines that I know.

    • #6
  7. JoelB Member
    JoelB
    @JoelB

    Hooray for patriarchs. We need them now more than ever.

    • #7
  8. Randy Weivoda Moderator
    Randy Weivoda
    @RandyWeivoda

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):

    navyjag (View Comment):

    With b*lls like that I assume you turned out to be a Marine.

    Interesting that you find juvenile obnoxiousness and disrespect for authority to be ballsy. This is not characteristic of the Marines that I know.

    Maybe some day you will meet Levi at a Ricochet Meetup and you can take him over your knee and give him a good spanking.

    • #8
  9. navyjag Coolidge
    navyjag
    @navyjag

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):

    navyjag (View Comment):

    With b*lls like that I assume you turned out to be a Marine.

    Interesting that you find juvenile obnoxiousness and disrespect for authority to be ballsy. This is not characteristic of the Marines that I know.

    Guess you ran with a different crowd. The enlisted I knew in the Marine Detachment on the carrier were all Viet Nam vets and almost all infantry. Tough guys. Who loved to p*ss off bureaucrats. 

    • #9
  10. Steve Fast Member
    Steve Fast
    @SteveFast

    Your dad was far wiser than the vice-principal. Your dad knew that you don’t negotiate about principles, you only negotiate about something where you can split the difference. He also made you do the right thing instead of calling up the school and telling them himself. You had a good father.

    • #10
  11. Gossamer Cat Coolidge
    Gossamer Cat
    @GossamerCat

    Reading your story, one can’t help but think of all the times over the past few years that a simple “No, you’re not” could have stopped the madness.  

    • #11
  12. Tex929rr Coolidge
    Tex929rr
    @Tex929rr

    Great story and well told.

    • #12
  13. JoelB Member
    JoelB
    @JoelB

    Gossamer Cat (View Comment):

    Reading your story, one can’t help but think of all the times over the past few years that a simple “No, you’re not” could have stopped the madness.

    Yes, yes, yes! This. 

    • #13
  14. Levi King Member
    Levi King
    @BillNowacki

    EODmom (View Comment):

    What a great story. Aren’t you lucky you had a dad who was a parent and didn’t try to be a friend. And he treated it as an ordinary thing fathers did.

    I have been blessed, indeed!

    • #14
  15. Levi King Member
    Levi King
    @BillNowacki

    navyjag (View Comment):

    With b*lls like that I assume you turned out to be a Marine.

    Applied to the Naval Academy later that year and the buggers wouldn’t let me in!  

    • #15
  16. Levi King Member
    Levi King
    @BillNowacki

    Randy Weivoda (View Comment):

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):

    navyjag (View Comment):

    With b*lls like that I assume you turned out to be a Marine.

    Interesting that you find juvenile obnoxiousness and disrespect for authority to be ballsy. This is not characteristic of the Marines that I know.

    Maybe some day you will meet Levi at a Ricochet Meetup and you can take him over your knee and give him a good spanking.

    It’d have to be a big knee … I’ve grown quite corpulent over the years!

    • #16
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