The New Student in Our Household

While friends and family prepare to send their sons and daughters off to college, I’m gearing up for my husband’s first year of law school. (If you have a kid headed off for college, you ought to check out this Letter to College Freshman).

I’m not quite sure what to expect. For the past 27 years Tim has been a high school teacher and a coach. We have moved to the rhythm of daily doubles, early practice, late practice, away games, home games, booster dinners and the anxiety over whether football playoffs would interfere with the start of basketball season.

Our entire married life – 33 years – has revolved around the activities of kids. Drama productions. Band recitals, Homecoming and Prom. Did I mention, yet, that Tim also serves as the Student Leadership advisor?

At age 53, Tim isn’t eligible for retirement. He’s got at least three more years before he can officially retire. Perfect timing, we agreed, for him to do that thing he’s dreamt of doing – work on his law degree. So Tim resigned all his coaching positions (something had to give) and enrolled in Northwest California University’s distance-ed program.

Our four children, all grown now with careers of their own, aren’t the least bit surprised by our decision. How many other fathers sit around reading the Federalist Papers for pleasure? They grew up in the home where education is considered a life-long pursuit, not just a degree one hangs on the wall.

They were in high school when their father took a sabbatical so he could work on his Masters in History. In an effort to save money, this Washington State University grad student slept in the back of his SUV and showered in WSU’s recreation center. The kids were mortified that their friends might discover that their father was “homeless” but they understood that when it comes to his needs versus theirs, Tim always put the kids first.

That’s why he postponed getting that law degree. We were both seniors in college when we married, and learned three months later that we were going to be parents. (I could write another whole essay about the birth control failures of the Student Health Clinic). The babies came in rapid succession after that – two arriving on the same day within thirteen minutes of one another.

We had four children under the age of 5 by the time we were both 27. Our initial plan had been that I would teach and he would go to seminary, maybe law school. That all changed when those babies arrived. He found that he loved teaching and I discovered a love of writing. Eventually, I was the one spending days at the courthouse, working as a crime beat reporter, reporting back to him the nuances of the cases I was covering.

My first book – Benched (Mercer University Press) – was about Georgia’s first-elected woman judge – Judge Rufe McCombs. As a Superior Court Judge, McCombs oversaw nine death penalty cases. Although, such cases were supposedly assigned by lottery, Judge McCombs was convinced that the male judges were rigging the system so that she was given all the difficult cases. Never one to shy from a challenge, she was not intimidated. McCombs remains one of the best respected judges in the State of Georgia.

Perhaps Judge McCombs is the reason why I’m not the least bit put off when people express surprise or shock that my husband would tackle law school – at his age. Although Judge McCombs earned her law degree from the University of Georgia as a young coed, her career goals were delayed for many years, first by a debilitating bout with tuberculosis, followed by an advanced age pregnancy (she was 40), then devastating colon-cancer. Judge McCombs was 54 when she earned her first judgeship. Tim’s long-term goal isn’t to be just a lawyer. This James Madison Fellow, this constitutional history scholar, plans on being a judge one day.

It might take my husband a little longer than that, but I have every confidence in the world that Coach Tim will soon be more commonly referred to as “Your Honor”.

Karen Spears Zacharias is author of Will Jesus Buy Me a Doublewide? ‘Cause I need more room for my plasma TV.

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  • Congratulations to Tim! How exciting for you both.

  • John Haselton

    Thanks Karen for writing this. As a 50 year old man struggling through my last (hopefully) year of seminary I really needed that encouragement.

  • Diane

    WOW….a new phase of life…congrats and best wishes.

  • I love this! I was listening to a retired baseball player earlier today giving his thoughts about a particular team. That’s his job now; to talk.

    I thought about what it must be like to be in a career, like athletics or music, where you get all kinds of accolades in your 20’s, but by age 40, you’re told that your contributions to this world are done.

    Why would you even get up in the morning? What do you have to look forward to? It’s nice to see this story about a man in his 50’s, still having something to look forward to.

  • DonnaT.

    Echos of Mr. Holland’s Opus in your post….good for Tim. Congratulations – maybe he’ll start doing seminars and the rest of us can eavesdrop and enjoy what his students get to hear every day! Woot Woot for new life seasons!

  • Jane Wilson

    How exciting for Tim – best wishes for the work ahead.

  • Jake

    It was a surprise to find so many 50somethings in Seminary when I got here at 52. Good on Tim (and you). I’d like to think that we bring some wisdom to the table that a 20something just can’t because they haven’t lived long enough.


  • Lynn

    Karen, many congratulations to Tim for fulfilling a dream, however much delayed. In a day and age where we may live to 100, he’s only a little more than halfway through. Law school is a lot of fun; I know he’ll enjoy his classes very much. I ask: who DOESN’T read The Federalist Papers for fun? And by the way, thanks for your letter to the newspaper after Eva and I were appointed to the bench. I appreciate you taking the time and trouble to write.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Lynn: Good to hear from you. I will pass along your gracious words to Tim. And you are most welcome for the letter — much deserved.

  • Gloria

    I am so happy that you and Tim are able to pursue these dreams. I am proud of both of you and excited for the future. Congrats!

  • Mitchellthomps

    Tim was an unsung hero behind the successful Hermiston high basketball teams. The Dude was and is such a servant that never gets recognition. I don’t think He wants it, but he is sure deserving. He has been one of my role models through out life, and as much as I dont want to admit I find myself coaching like him. Bent knees, Hips back, and long intense claps in rhythm when he wants you to play defense. I do the same thing when trying to get my players to play defense. Coach Z, I am glad I can call you friend as well! 1. cor. 10:31