I named him
of the Old Testament,
the slayer of the demon Amalek.
the slayer of the demon apartheid. Mongezi is his
tribal African Xhosa name. It translates to "the one who
brings goodness to the family".
Enter stage front and center:JoshuaNelsonMongezi Platt, the one who slays demons and brings
goodness to the family. That's
who he is
for our world ie that's who he was born to be for our
world. It took another five years before I realized
who he is
for me is who I say he is for me.
On the day he was born I made the same financial promises
to him as I made to
before him, one of which was to enroll him in an exceptional private
school. He would be there from his pre-kindegarten years
through his sixth grade year. Given his school hours and my grueling
business travel schedule,
his teachers spent more time with him than I did. Allowing this, I
gradually slipped into a mode of letting his teachers to speak
who he is
for me. Accepting whatever they said about him without questioning and
without challenging when their experience of him differed
markedly from mine, was a mistake in retrospect (and retrospect is
always 20/20 vision). It was a big mistake. An
innocent mistake maybe, but a mistake nonetheless. I let it happen. It
was a lapse in taking charge for which I'm responsible.
You find out about a lapse after the fact. Here's how I found
out about it.
He's a brilliant child. I already knew that. Not just because he's
my boy. These aren't simply the words of a proud papa.
Not just because I want the best for him. Not just because I'll stand
up for him no matter what. I knew it like on a hot summer's day
I know the sun is hot. I knew it like on a
rainy winter's day
water is wet.
When he learned to read, we loved sitting together, both of us cross
legged on the floor of his room as he carefully (and accurately,
I might add) read out loud from his favorite book. So when his teachers
called me in for a meeting one day after school and told me he was
having "difficulty" with his reading, I was surprised - to
say the least.
I told them of him and me sitting cross legged on the floor of his room
reading. I told them how much he enjoyed reading out loud. I told them
he read carefully and accurately. They looked at each other, then
looked at me as if they were about to break some bad news
I may not understand and they were preparing me for it.
Then it came: "He's not reading. He's just reciting off by heart. He's
* * *
Two things happened next. The first was I noticed I wasn't believing
his teachers anymore. At least, not on this particular point - it
simply didn't jibe with my experience. The second was I
noticed how firm they were in their assessment (which I later called
for which they already had a remedy: a lot of extra hard work teaching
to read. At the end of the meeting, I thanked them for their time, for
their concern, for their diligence, and left.
I didn't say anything to
I was concerned their judgement, as dubious as it was, would
unnecessarily hurt him. Instead, at the first available opportunity
both of us sat together cross legged on the floor of his room as he
read carefully and, again, accurately from his favorite book. It was
time to put my theory to the test. I said
how about reading me this one" passing him Curious
George. Without missing a beat he took it from me and started
reading - again, carefully and accurately. "Very good. Now what about
this one" I said, passing him Goodnight
Again he read carefully and accurately.
That's when I realized he must be brilliant enough to have
memorized all the books in his library!
And then the second part of the double whammy hit: how
could he memorize all the books in his library if he can't read to
What I got from this epiphany, if you will, is
who my son Joshua is
for me is who I say he is for me, not who other people say
he is or how he is or what he is. It's the
he and I as son and father share. I'll never betray it. It's more than
I'll never betray it actually. It's I can't ever betray it because
who I really am.
There was a lot of talk at his school which lingered on after the
can't read" incident in which people said
needed this and
needed that - all of it assessment, all of it
all of it (it turns out) ridiculous, none of which had any sway over me
anymore. I did note enough of it to speak with a friend of mine who's
regarded as one of the top children's education counselors in the
nation. She knows
She told me
is brilliant. There's nothing wrong with his skills, nothing he's
I want to say one more thing about the teachers who misunderstood him
and mis-characterized him. They're great teachers. Their school is, in
my way of seeing schools, one of the most extraordinary schools I have
ever seen. Having had my three children invest a total of thirty
child years in their school is one of my proudest
accomplishments. However this essay isn't about
teachers and nor is it about their school. This essay illustrates a
pertinent moment in
and my life together when I had to choose between an
of my son, and
who my son really is.
And, regardless of the agreement around the
of my son, I choose
who my son really is.
JoshuaNelsonMongezi Platt, the one who slays demons and brings
goodness to the family. And one of the myriads of ways this slayer of
demons brings goodness to the family is sitting cross legged on the
floor of his room with his Dad, carefully and accurately I might add,
reading (yes, really reading) out loud Curious
George and Goodnight