What’s the Secret, Old Man?

Students were scattered throughout the classroom. Building card houses. You know what I’m writing about if you were a student of mine. If you don’t know what I’m writing about? Buy this book and read the first chapter. This is the first thing I do with students when I meet new students. Have them build card houses and then tell them the story I tell in the first chapter of that book.

Students were frustrated by building card houses because students are always frustrated by building card houses. One of them turned to me and asked this: “what’s the secret, old man?”

I almost fell over laughing. Old man. That’s what I am now?

What’s the secret, old man? There’s so much about this question I enjoy. First, this idea that now, after all these years, I’m an old man. I always think of myself as a young and hip teacher. I fear those days are gone. Lament the dying of the light. Next, the first part of the question. The idea that I have some secret to share with young people. As a teacher, I have to say, that’s part of what I’m after. Convincing students I have something to give them that they might actually want.

There’s a great story about a teacher in a Yeshiva. I don’t have a reference, I just remember hearing about this in a class I took in college. From another old man who was a high school drama teacher in Minneapolis. We were enrolled in graduate class about social justice theatre. That old man told us all about this teacher at the Yeshiva that put out pieces of candy in the room on the first day. Students entered the room and started to eat the candy. The teacher refused to begin class until one of the students asks a question about why they were doing what they were doing. Then the teacher tells them something about the sweetness of knowledge. Sweetness of the Talmud.

The answer isn’t so much important. But the question is. Learning doesn’t actually happen until you’re curious to figure out some sort of secret, and until you trust that your teacher might have something to give you.


This old man went to his first doctor’s appointment in Iowa City last week. Because, you know, I’m an old man and I should go to the doctor.

Long story short: Nurse took my blood pressure and was alarmed. Which made me alarmed. She took it ten minutes later and it wasn’t as alarming. So I wasn’t as alarmed. But it is the first time I’ve ever had high blood pressure. And my father had high blood pressure. And I’m a worrywart which, I’m told, is not great for high blood pressure. So there’s that.

No, mom, I haven’t been eating very healthy this year. Yes, mom, I’ve been stressed out about moving my family across the country and starting a new job. And here I’ll tell you that I have no idea why I’m calling you mom, other then it makes me laugh to imagine your nagging me about my bad habits. Yes, I go running everyday and get exercise, but I had a wise doctor once tell me you can’t outrun the fork. So I should probably stop coming home for class and stress-eating myself to sleep.

And I guess I have to start paying attention to blood pressure now. Lord, I had a panic attack when they were concerned about my cholesterol numbers a few years ago. I’m going in for a physical in a few months and they’ll see where I’m at then. Probably time to pay attention to my body and stop eating my body weight in chips and salsa at night. Let’s be honest, it’s probably always been that time.

Oh, 42. Still young. But the reality of becoming an old man looms in the distance. Wheezing. Forgetful. Writing blogs about blood pressure. But also full of secrets.


And now there’s one last thing to write. One of the other students in the course I mentioned above said this to me later in the class. I made a comment about my big fluffy college professor cardigan I was wearing. I think it looks silly. But it is cozy as all get out. My student said this:

“You kind of look like Frog from Frog and Toad.”

Once more, I almost fell over laughing. Frog from Frog and Toad? Man, middle-age is going well, I guess. At first I was offended. Now, as I glance at the picture at the top of this blog, I’m somewhat comforted. Sure, Frog isn’t spry or youthful or, dare I say it, attractive. But Frog is reserved. Gathered. Slower. Maybe Frog, like old Sam Tanner, is full of secrets.

And maybe, depending on what you believe, these aging bodies aren’t the end of us and our secrets spiral outward into something more as we go. That’s where I’ll put my mind as this old man ends this blog.

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