Last week I was asked to speak to Port St. Joe students participating in a writing camp.
My first thought on such requests, based on the old Groucho Marx comment, is resistance to any club that wants me as a member; same with a writing club of middle school kids.
However, that initial resistance was eclipsed by reality: of such are made the pleasant labors that counter balance the not so pleasant.
So, we had a fine time, or at least I did, though the kids may have an entirely divergent version.
But a chance to talk about writing is always something for which I am game.
Let’s get this out of the way before we get too high-minded: I am a hack.
I am willing to attest that I am at least a slightly above-average hack, but a hack nonetheless.
No Pulitzers, no Nobel prizes coming this way.
Over the years in newspapers, I have always been somewhat amazed that anybody would see my name atop an article and actually continue to read.
Quite astounding to this day.
But I have found that I was apparently born with a strand of DNA I can not shake, no matter how hard I may have tried at times.
And, folks, I tried.
I may not have understood it at the time, but this manifested early.
My father was an editor at a big-city daily and each day when he arrived home, after, some who know me will note, walking from downtown to our home, he carried the latest edition.
I grabbed it. I devoured it.
The “Two-Minute Mystery was a favorite, the “Peach” section (must be seen to be understood) but simply I pored over it all, even though for a time I didn’t understand much of what was scanning.
And our dinner table, six kids, two adults, was dominated by my mother and father discussing the news of the day, the news he had written about that day.
My brothers and sisters, if I remember correctly, found much of it boring, but in ways I would not understand for decades I was soaking it up.
(Even though I was an amazingly persnickety eater: I am sure, bless her, my mother left many a dinner table wondering where that kid came from).
However, by the time I became a teenager, much of that changed.
First, most frighteningly for my parents, I had a growth spurt of about six inches in six months and at age 12 developed an obsession bordering on psychosis for weightlifting.
Suddenly, at age 14 or so, I towered over my parents and my siblings: I am 6-foot-2, nobody else in my family is over 5-9 (and that is stretching).
For years, when taking into account my birth weight of 9 pounds, 10 ounces, my siblings managed to establish in my mind a question of whether I was indeed the milk man’s child.
Maybe the Charlie Chip man.
In any case, as teenagers are prone to do, I chose a forward path sharply contrasted to my parents’, my father’s.
After attending college on the six-year plan, I eventually ended up becoming a private investigator.
Okay, that sounds all Rockford Files-ish: I was a loss prevention investigator for private companies such as Disney and then Marriott, and rising in the ranks at the latter.
Meanwhile I was earning a growing reputation for my incident reports.
Where four words would do, I found 400. Where one page was more than enough, four pages became a constraint.
No detail was too small; it is not that much of an exaggeration that my superiors came to express their disinterest in the color and shine of everybody’s shoes.
So, it seemed a natural that when my wife and I arrived in Miami, with a 10-year-old and another direction was warranted, somehow I would land on newspapers.
And long story short, we ended up in Wewahitchka and then Southport, I went back to school to complete a degree lacking even after six years and earned an internship at the local paper.
I have been incredibly lucky, covering state government and courts to football national title games and NASCAR, features, news, sports.
I have met a slew of fabulous people and reported on a wildly exotic range of stories.
That I eventually found my way to a small town community newspaper was just the gift.
For in newspapers, your hope, my dad preached, is that you can make a difference, that you can offer a forum for thought, provide a look behind the curtain government too often erects.
Be a champion for community and hold responsible those leading the community.
My dad emphasized that newspapers should lead and moderate community conversations, that a free press is the only bit of writing protected in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
As I told those students last week, I am never going to have a house in the Caribbean or drive a fancy sports car.
What I can say, though, is I am doing what I love, feeding my passion.
It was a life lesson taught to me years ago, but one I have just come around to fully understand.
My dad is gone now, two decades, but all so frequently I can’t seem to shake the feeling, delusion maybe, that while his body lies dormant his spirit flies.
A boy can dream, after all.
Happy Father’s Day.