Stories My Father Told Me

My father, Gordon Paul, was on the Blair Academy faculty from 1955 until his retirement in 1974. He taught mathematics, a field that matched his objective side, but he could as easily have taught history, political science, or literature. I think of my father as having been mildly eccentric and his mannerism were widely imitated by the student body. But he earned a measure of respect by being an excellent teacher and the school's conservative conscience in an age when liberalism was popular.

Teaching came both early and late to my father. Graduating from college in the middle twenties, he was a history teacher and athletic director at a fashionable Midwest private school. Then in 1929 he entered business and struggled through the depression and World War II in marketing and sales positions. At age 49, he returned to teaching, a profession for which he had the utmost regard and subsequently made Blair and the Blair student the focus of his life.

Gordon Paul was an athlete of some note. At Butler College, a small school in Indianapolis, Indiana with a big-time sports schedule, he starred in football and basketball. One of my favorite mementos is an article from The Butler Collegian in October of 1926 describing the 16 to 13 loss to the University of Illinois , led by the "flashy half back, Red Grange". The article notes that "The first score came when Gordon Paul, Butler full back, scooped up a fumble when Grange became confused in the backfield and ran fifty five yards for a touchdown" . My father took an embarrassed delight in recounting that in 1926, after a 42-6 loss to Notre Dame, Knute Rockne came over to the sidelines to consoled the Butler team. "Good job, Paul" he said. "Go to hell" was the reply.

One of my father's college friends, now a gracious lady in her nineties, said "Gordon would have made the perfect river boat gambler. He was charming and the smartest person I ever knew". It is true, my father was a skilled card player and, in his classroom, often illustrated the principles of probability with examples from the poker table or racetrack. Whether or not this has spawned a generation of Blair card sharks, is unclear.

But most significantly, my father was a consummate story teller. He had that special gift for recounting stores that fascinated the listener, lean and sinewy stories, that he delivered with a delicate cadence. When he started to talk his voice brought an attentive hush to his audience. He worked the story skillfully till it reached it's usual hilarious conclusion. Mostly they were tales with some moral and were often based on his observations as a boy growing up in Indiana in the early part of this century. Politics, the television of that era, was a common thread. The experiences of his grandfather and father, working men, formed the foundation of his repertoire.

All the stories that follow were part of talks delivered to the student body of Blair. As such, they were written down and thereby preserved. These are worthwhile stories whose only flaw may be that the facts are often twisted and exaggerated, a small sacrifice, my father believed, for the sake of a good punch line. I have edited them, but it is the voice of my father speaking. Gordon Paul died in 1976.

Copyright 1996, Jonathan Paul