What I Learned from My Father: Be a Giver
When I was a junior in college, I applied for a study "away" internship program in Washington, D.C. I didn't want to go abroad for an entire year. As anyone who knows me can attest, I'm the homesick type.
The application required you list your top internships choices. And for as much as any 20-something at a small liberal arts college knows what she wants to do, I knew I wanted to write.
The world of the media always fascinated me-I grew up in the middle of it. For my entire life, my dad has worked at CBS Boston-as the main anchor for both the morning and evening TV news, and now for the station's investigative unit. Many times, I'd tag along with him: to New Year's Eve live shots in Copley Square, City Hall for Patriots parades, the Democratic National Convention, and the mayor's Christmas parties. I collected his press passes.
So when it came time to list my top internship choices, I listed the Washington Post and CBS Washington. I'll never forget the interview. The coordinator looked at my choices and asked, "Do you really want to follow in your father's footsteps?"
Since starting my career in journalism, my father has always been my first phone call. When an unpaid internship left me in tears at 10 p.m.: "Speak up for yourself politely. No one else will." When not knowing all of the answers at a young age made me insecure: "Age has nothing to do with it. The best hockey players are always the youngest." When I landed at JFK on a redeye from the West Coast to a dead car battery and rain: "Wait for a businessman. You need jumper cables." When I got stuck in a job I hated: "Go after what you want." When I sat nervously in a parking lot in Pennsylvania waiting to meet with Men's Health's editor-in-chief for my first job in magazines: "Smile. Listen. Less is more. Tell him you want the job." When I got pick-pocketed in London covering the Olympics: "Call Amex-their costumer service is amazing." (It is.)
Throughout the years, we've swapped stories: I've listened wide-eyed to how he drove to Rock Island, IL at 22 for a job he knew was worth; how he got fired from a news station in North Carolina for refusing to follow a policy he knew was unethical; how he met my mom interviewing her father, a state senator, for a news story in Westport, CT.
He's shared with me wisdom on living far from home. I set him up on Twitter (he has more followers than I do now!) and I even got him to ride the New York subway-once. He helps me finalize articles. I watch in awe as he covers some of Boston's biggest stories: the FBI catching Whitey Bulger; the planes that took off from Logan Airport that morning in September 2001; and more recently, ambulances rushing to Mass General from the scene of the Boston Marathon. We've drank many a bottle of red talking the industry to death-probably boring everyone around us to death.
On air, "Big Joe's" assignments vary-he chases people down with microphones and also uncovers magical stories that wind up saving small Catholic schools from bankruptcy. His colleagues praise his professionalism-an exceptional trait considering investigative journalism doesn't always leave everyone happy. And walking around the city, everyone knows him. (I vividly remember him shooting out of a water slide when I was little. With a grin pasted to his face, soaking wet, he stood up to an onlooker at the bottom. "I'm going to tell everyone that I saw Joe the news guy do a huge water slide in the Bahamas," the man laughed.)
It's that dad-off-air Joe-who has taught me the most. He's always been a force to be reckoned with in my life. In my earliest memories, he's front and center: coaching my soccer team the Thunderbolts (and diligently helping me perfect a cheer); swimming to the raft at our Cape Cod beach club; in the stands at Fenway for game four of the ALCS when the Sox beat the Yankees. In college, we'd email drafts of my fictional short stories back and forth. I'd tell him about the characters I created, and he'd help me better transition a scene. He taught me how to be a better older sister, how to fight with AT&T-they'll usually adjust your bill-and how to enjoy the simple things: walks down Bridge Street, the importance of family, the beauty of a sunset off the deck, the power of a good conversation.
But about a year ago September, everything changed: My mom told my dad she wanted a divorce. Their relationship hadn't been good for years. Though we never really talked about it, I knew. I remember standing in our den looking out the window at them talking, feeling my mind go blank.
To me, my dad was unbreakable-a source of strength I couldn't begin to explain. I could call him with any problem in the world, and he could fix it.
The moment you realize your parents are breakable-real people with real problems-is an interesting one. Marriages fail for all sorts of reasons. I don't know the first thing about what it's like to be with the same person for 29 years, or have that union end on the street corner where you raised a family. While I worry about supporting myself, I know nothing about having people who rely on you-who call you in their moments of need.
My father has taught me to be a 'giver.' Last May, during one of the most tumultuous times in his life, he picked up and moved to a new town with my 17-year-old sister. He continues to excel in a career he's worked to perfect for 35 years with a smile on his face. And when he gets home, he makes a home that my siblings and I love coming home to. Today, some of my favorite conversations with him are there: over a glass of Malbec after arriving from Manhattan.
But come Monday, when the world gets crazy again, somehow he still finds time to answer my calls (many times with a noisy newsroom in the background), quell my concerns, make me laugh, and support my goals.
I wasn't accepted to that internship program in Washington, D.C. I didn't have the grades to get in anyway. But that interviewer's question, "Are you sure you want to follow in your dad's footsteps?" always rubbed me the wrong way. What he couldn't see is that it wasn't about the career. What he'd never felt-and all that he'd never experienced-is what makes me who I am. I don't say it enough, but I can't be more thankful for my dad's guidance and friendship. And I would be lucky to even come close to following in his footsteps.
Happy Father's Day.