Teachers matter (especially my dad)


My father was an English professor at the University of California Santa Barbara. I grew up in a house stuffed with books. I was driven to school in an old Datsun stuffed with books. My dad and mom read to me from Winnie the Pooh, and later gave me The Martian Chronicles for my birthday, and told me I could read the Agatha Christie novels on the bookshelf, but not the John D. MacDonalds. At the dinner table, Dad read from The Hobbit and had us kids guess the answers to Bilbo’s and Gollum’s riddles.

When I was older, Dad introduced me to the poetry of Gwendolyn Brooks, and A Canticle for Liebowitz, and Elmore Leonard. He told my children tales of King Arthur until their eyes rounded with awe and they believed that they, too, could be such heroes. He instilled in me a bone-deep understanding of the worth, and the wonder, of literature.

At UC Santa Barbara he taught Chaucer and Beowulf. And American Lit, and plenty of other courses. To thousands of students. And he made a lasting impression. I know, because he died on this date in 1998, and in the years since, I’ve heard — out of the blue — from many, many of them. They’ve written to tell me how much his courses taught them, and what an inspiring teacher he was, and how he was patient and helpful with their work. They’ve mentioned him in newspaper movie reviews. They’ve held onto the books assigned for his classes — and even a syllabus.

One of my dad’s former grad students recently found the mimeographed sheet above. It’s from Winter Quarter 1974-75. She sent me the photo and then the syllabus itself. She kept the assigned reading, of course — no way was she going to let go of those books.

The syllabus is faded and full of holes. The back is scribbled with student utility bill calculations. And it’s a gift. It’s a chance to touch something new from my dad, after so many years.

At the bottom of the page, the syllabus reads: “The Age of Exuberance.” May we all live with that spirit.

10 responses to “Teachers matter (especially my dad)

  1. How lovely to keep getting these reminders of your dad from people who remember him so fondly.

  2. Heartfelt post, Meg, and much deserved. As you know, Frank wouldn’t let me take his classes. He was a wise man, for that! But I wish I could have studied under his tutelage. Ah well, he taught me in other ways…at your house, at the race track, and at the dinner table. He was stellar in so many ways!

  3. Thanks, DJ and Ann!

  4. Seventeen years ago today a great man passed away, Frank Gardiner, my Father-In-Law. I actually met Frank before I met his daughter, Meg Gardiner. Frank and I played music together. We were of different generations but we were of one musical soul and we both loved to play. We taught each other licks and lingo from our musical tribes – so to speak. I knew him as a player and friend before I knew him as family. I miss him still today. Frank – you da man! 😉

  5. Meg, your father literally shaped my undergrad college experience by serving as an unofficial advisor at UCSB, recommending visiting profs, and writing my letter of rec for Stanford. What I loved about Frank is that he never talked down to kids or students, but took young people seriously and treated them respectfully. When I taught high school humanities, we talked books, art and music. And that wicked sense of humor! Plus, he’s the only person I know who voted for Shirley Chisholm for president! A liberal-minded and liberal-hearted man. He’d be so incredibly proud of your writing career.

  6. Hi Meg ~ What wonderful stories about your storytelling dad! Thanks so much for sharing. I love too that his students still have such things and share them with you, that he played music with Paul, and appropriately guided and counseled Ann & Susan! And that he voted for Shirley! I love that too.

    P.S. I didn’t realize y’all were on this side of the pond again. Welcome back!

  7. Susan Marshall

    In 1981 I took a magnificent course in Medieval Literature from Frank in my first year of grad school. It was a 3 hour class: we would walk in and be transported to medieval times; he was a wise and wonderful professor and one of the inspirations for my continuing to get my PhD. Whenever one of my peers scoffs at the idea of the “sage on the stage” as a professor’s role, I think, “Frank Gardiner! There really were such professors!” One of the greats.

  8. Your kind words mean so much to me — thank you, everybody!

  9. Lovely.

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