145. Doing It Their Way

One afternoon, driving home from my job as a high school teacher, I was listening to my car radio. Frank Sinatra was singing “My Way,” Paul Anka’s version of a French song about a life lived by the person living it, unencumbered by the rules other people had made. Right away, a parody, “Their Way,” started writing itself in my mind. I would write about a person who learned that the way to get ahead in life is to forget about your own priorities and do what you’re “supposed to do.” I couldn’t believe that Frank, Paul, or anyone else had managed to live without giving in to systems.
I had started the school year determined to be the teacher I’d always wished I’d had. Now it was May, and I’d spent the year learning that teachers (and everyone else, I later learned) had to play by the rules, whether or not the rules made sense to them. If teachers want to keep their jobs, earn their incomes, and pay their rent, they have to do things they would rather not do. Sometimes the “rather not” part is just a matter of personal preference, but sometimes it reaches deep down inside and grates against personal convictions.
Back then, I didn’t see the issue as one of personal choice, and to some degree, I was indeed doing what I “had to” do. I was a new father, and I could not make decisions that would undermine my chance to support my new family. My wife and I were not tuned in to the other life-style options that were becoming available, but I’m sure that even if we had been, we would have found that our convictions would always bring up difficult issues for us, and we’d have to make decisions we’d rather not.
So I gave children grades, even though I didn’t believe that it was fair for one person to judge another in a way that could have far-reaching effects. I required students to read and write things that many of them would rather not have read and written. A recent college graduate, and somewhat of a recent rebel, there I was already telling college-bound seniors that they’d have to play the game by the rules if they wanted to make the grade.
It never felt good. And I didn’t really see it as a decision until recently – until I retired and stopped having so many rules to follow. But it was a decision, in a way. Regrets, I have quite a few, and not too few to mention. My parody, “Their Way,” is still popular, twenty-five years later, among collegiates who like songs that have points to make. Maybe I could make lots of money writing songs that don’t have points to make. But then I wouldn’t be doing it my way.

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