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A Family of Scholars

I used to carry a 4.0 G.P.A. For one semester, that is. For most of my high school and college years, I was one of those kids who could have been a top-notch student if only I had ‘applied’ myself. A lot of my ‘applying’ was directed towards sports and other extracurricular activities. My teachers must have felt like failures when they had no choice but to give me B’s and C’s on my report cards when they knew I could be pulling A’s. My wife and I got married between my junior and senior years in college. During my final semester as an undergrad, I finally did get a perfect 4.0 G.P.A. for the first time! I aced all my methods classes in the College of Education at UW-Whitewater and got perfect marks from my supervising teacher for my student teaching experience. Boom! A day late and a dollar short to be considered for a valedictory speech upon graduation, but that’s okay. Naturally, my wife takes credit for the turn around.


My wife’s story is well known. She quit college twice. After high school, we enrolled in the same teacher training college in New Ulm, Minnesota. Our dream was to both become teachers. My wife’s dream was derailed after one year, mainly thanks to a certain professor who shall remain nameless. He taught Western Civilization I and II. He was a difficult instructor who was obsessed with Thucydides and other ancient philosophers. My wife and I happened to be in his class together our freshman year. Leading up to our midterm exam the two of us sat in the library for hours studying our notes. Well, Lisa studied her notes while I read back editions of Sports Illustrated. After 20 hours of serious study (her) and reading about the Vikings (me), we took the exam together. I got an A- and she got a D. That ended it for her. She quit after her freshman year, moved back to Wisconsin and enrolled at Madison Area Technical College in the Medical Transcription program. She realized early on that she hated hospitals, so her journey down that career path came to a screeching halt after one year as well. But, hey! All’s well that ends well!

We were blessed with three children. Given the dubious academic loins from which they were birthed, we didn’t spend a lot of time perusing Ivy League school brochures when they were young. Our kids did reasonably well in school over the years. I taught all three of them during their middle school years, and I think they would tell you they enjoyed being in their dad’s class. During their high school years, my wife and I didn’t hang any unreasonable expectations on them. We simply wanted them to apply themselves and make use of their God-given talents and abilities. Sound familiar?

When it came to eventual career choices, we didn’t steer them in any particular direction. We encouraged them to find things they enjoyed doing and gravitate toward wherever those interests pulled them. We informed them that we would be happy and willing to pay for four years of college for each of them.


Thus began their final matriculations. Rachel, our first-born, enrolled at Wisconsin Lutheran College in Milwaukee, WI. It was not a good fit, and she stayed all of one year. She transferred to nearby Carroll College after her freshman year and ended up staying there through graduation. Just before the start of her senior year, however, she called her mother with a sob story. I was not privy to the conversation, but it went something like this:


“Mom,” she said, “I just want to let you know that it doesn’t look like I’ll be able to graduate in four years.” Before her mom could respond, she said, “NOBODY graduates in four years! You realize that, right?”


To her credit, her mom stuck to her guns and said, “Well, like we told you before, we’ll pay for four years of college. Anything beyond that, you’ll have to pay yourself.”


Funny how certain things motivate people. Rachel ended up taking 18 credits each of her last two semesters and graduated with honors after four years!

Jonathan, our oldest son, followed in his sister’s footsteps. He also enrolled at Wisconsin Lutheran College and lasted all of one year. It was not a good fit for him either. The classes were difficult and not in line with what interested him. To top it off, he had a goofball for his first roommate that turned him off to the concept of dorm living. He left WLC, moved back home with us and enrolled at Madison Area Technical College where he could take classes that suited him. After a year of generals, he enrolled in the Fire Science program with the stated goal of becoming a firefighter like my best friend, Kevin Castro. As we still joke today, Jonathan took four years to get a two-year degree.


He would have made a great firefighter. He was big and strong. He was also a great cook, a prerequisite for any firehouse. He applied in three different cities: Milwaukee, Rockford and Janesville. Trying to land a job in that field was next to impossible. He aced the written exams and crushed the physical tests in all three places. The candidate pool for the Milwaukee job had 7,000 applicants for eight positions. Unless you were a first cousin to the Chief, getting hired was difficult, if not impossible. After multiple disappointments, he decided to move in a different career direction.

Our youngest, Kyle, enrolled in Wisconsin Lutheran college like his two older siblings. He stuck it out for four years and graduated with a degree in business administration. Coming out of the gate, however, he had a rocky first semester. We were sent his first report card midway through his freshman year. Lo and behold, he had flunked two of his classes. Two big, fat Fs! His mom was surprised and disappointed; I was furious. He came home for Christmas break knowing that he had screwed up in a big way. True to my nonconfrontational nature, instead of taking him out behind the woodshed and ripping him a new one, I gave him the silent treatment. I had two tickets to attend the Wisconsin Badgers basketball game and had planned to take Kyle. As angry as I was, I still took him to the game. Only thing is, I didn’t say a word to him all night. Kyle has the gift of gab like his mother and the silent treatment was worse punishment than a good tongue lashing. The next morning we all went to church and I still didn’t say a word to him. Finally, his mother interceded.

As we were driving home from church, the tension in the car could have been cut with a knife. Unaware that Kyle and I had not spoken since he got home, my wife finally said, “Hey, could you two please try to get along? He’s only going to be home for two weeks!”


Kyle said, “Well, if he would actually talk to me, I think we could manage that!”


And so finally, father and son hugged it out with the understanding that there would be no more Fs! He did have to take an extra semester of classes, and since it was more than the four years on our bill, he had to pay for it himself.


These happy memories were all triggered by a recent conversation in our family text thread. Not to brag, but one common trait that we Madsons share is the ability to make fun of our own shortcomings. I think it’s the self-deprecating gene inherent in most people of Scandinavian descent. That doesn’t preclude us from making fun of each other, however. What follows is a verbatim transcript of a recent text exchange relating to old college experiences:


RACHEL: My second strength in Strength Finders is context. I also have a history minor. I also got an A in Dr. Beck’s history class at WLC so, yes, I would say I’m a historian. Jonathan, didn’t you flunk that class? And you too, Kyle?


JONATHAN: Ummm, I don’t remember what classes I took, but they didn’t go well.


KYLE: I know that feeling. I got an F in Dr. Beck’s class. One of the classes I failed my freshman year. YOLO! Remember, Dad?


ME: Oh, yes, Kyle. I remember. Wanna go to a Badger game?


RACHEL: Almost every person I took that class with failed. Idiots. All of you. He is my #1 teacher I’ve ever had. Brilliant man and lecturer. Dad is #4.


LISA: LOL! Does dad remember? I remember the ride home from church with the three of us and suggesting you two be nice to each other and Kyle said, “Well, then, tell him to talk to me!”


KYLE: Rachel, I only went to like three of his classes and I was supposed to write a 15-page paper at the end of the semester. I handed in a 6-pager. Suffice it to say, I also failed that assignment.


RACHEL: You’re a moron.

JONATHAN: I remember I took a WW II history class. The teacher said we could pick any topic we wanted for a final paper. I ended up picking something that had nothing to do with WWII or even anything to do with war.


RACHEL: OMG! I just laughed out loud so loud that my dog jumped!


JONATHAN: If I remember correctly, I chose to write a paper about doing Ironman triathlons because I had already written a paper on that, and he said the topic could be on anything!




RACHEL: LOL! And you’ve never even done an Ironman. I bet it was very informative.


ME: That is classic!


LISA: I’m proud of you, Jonathan!


RACHEL: In Australia (where they grade on the English system where everyone starts with an F and you have to work your way up to an A) I took a history class with a brilliant English professor. Our year-end exam was a 3-hour time period where she had us do a ‘free-writing’ paper. We could write about anything relating to English colonialism. I wrote about the Beatles for three hours. It was 20 pages when I was done. I got an A. She was from Liverpool.


KYLE: One time for a leadership class we were supposed to write a 10-page paper on a great leader. I wrote mine on David Koresh. The teacher talked with me after class and said, “I assumed people would pick leaders that did good.” I said, “Whelp, I didn’t.” I still got a B+.


JONATHAN: Nobody wants to hear your success stories, Rachel. These are stories of trials and tribulations.


ME: I just splurted coffee out of my nose. I think there’s a blog in here somewhere!


There you have it, folks. A family of scholars.























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1 comentário

Karen Piro
Karen Piro
14 de fev.

I’m laughing out loud! Great “banterting” with the kids. It shows what a close knit family you have! And… you have GREAT kids!!

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