When I was 11 years old, I went to work with my dad. This may not seem like such a big deal, except that my parents were divorced, so I hardly ever got to see my father. Plus, he was an investigative reporter for the Oakland Tribune in the heyday of journalism, and as such he was routinely sent out to cover the underbelly of the Bay Area, like suspected mob activities, car bombings, gang violence, and even the Patty Hearst kidnapping (which came to his attention by way of a middle-of-the-night phone call the night she was taken—I suspect he knew before the local police).
My limited time with my dad was precious. And even though he was young and ambitious, working on a career he had dreamt of his whole life, he was determined to be an attentive father when I was around. He deserved an A for effort, but even as a child I knew, despite his genuine attempts, his overall parenting skills needed to be graded on a curve.
The last of a dying breed of hard-boiled reporters, my dad was two parts Dashiell Hammett to one part Jack Kerouac. He loved piecing together loose ends to find something that menacing characters would kill to keep out of print, but it was his wanderlust for adventure that kept him in constant search of the next big story. My mother suspected he hung out with unsavory types, which is one of the reasons why she didn’t like me visiting him.
But he persisted, and so did I. Eventually my dad and I got to know each other better, and as a result realized we were spilt from the same bottle of ink. This revelation gave him the very “unparental” notion that he should take me to work so he could share with me his love of nosing around in other people’s business. And since I was a feisty little girl who felt life’s adventures should start no later than age 11, I jumped at the chance to be his sidekick. My mother, who was 700 miles away, would absolutely have put her foot down (probably on his neck) had she known.
The Tail End of an Era
My first day, I walked into the bullpen of the Trib to the deafening sound of the tap, tap, tap of manual typewriters, like some manic Morse Code that only truly dedicated writers could understand. These were the pre-computer, pre-Internet days when the paper never closed, which meant some of the reporters had been there all night, making phone calls, checking facts, resisting sleep just to make the morning edition. They all smoked like incinerators, so a thick, white fog dangled over the room. I probably lost five years off my life just breathing an hour’s worth of that air.
But even knowing that now I don’t care, because the excitement in that place was as magnetic as static electricity: snitches spilling their guts for a pack of smokes, high-strung editors foaming at the mouth, copy boys running stories to press, my dad and I going on an interview, reporters stressing over deadlines, and in some cases standing up to death threats. To me it was a bigger adventure than even Mark Twain could imagine. The sense of urgency at the Trib made everything else seem trivial. In retrospect, it felt like a hospital emergency room, but instead of doctors saving lives it was reporters changing lives, some for the better, some for the worse. But in either case they were responsible for getting the story out to the public, regardless of the risks and without the cloud of judgment. I thought that was so cool!
Dad Became a Blueprint for Me
Looking back I realize those summers with my dad weren’t what you’d consider normal family vacations. In fact, my dad and I never had the opportunity to go on one of those traditional family trips that parents think they have to give their kids in order to be good parents. We never went to Disneyland, or the beach, or camping, or to some coveted destination like Hawaii. Yet, he gave me chapters for my life that no kid could ever find at a theme park.
Which made me think about my own kids and what kind of memories I’m making for them. I would love to be able to afford to take my kids to Europe to see the Louvre, Big Ben, Madrid, the fjords, and anything else that appears on the homepage of a glossy AAA travel website. But that’s just not in the cards for us. However, given my experience with my own unconventional childhood, I know you don’t have to always do the regular family stuff in order to make a lasting impression on your kids. Sometimes being a little irregular sparks a fonder memory.
So even if you can afford to take your kids scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef or get them floor seats at a Lakers game, maybe it’d be worth it to take a step back first and think about what impressed you when you were a kid. Chances are you were dazzled when your dad asked you to join him on one of his weekly bowling nights. Or when your mom took you school shopping and then out to dinner, just the two of you. Or when you all went on a family bike ride together. Ironically, the stories I’ll tell my grandkids about my childhood won’t be the ones where my parents forked out a boatload of cash. They’ll be the ones that allowed me a glimpse into who my parents really were. Just like with my dad at the Trib.
After witnessing my dad’s passion for journalism, I understood, even then, why it prevented him from settling down to a life of parent-teacher conferences and nightly family dinners. He chose a different path. And that’s okay, because then he chose to share that path with me. Thankfully, he was not the cookie-cutter dad from a 1950s episode of Father Knows Best. His tendency to march counter to formation not only led to some of the best recollections of my childhood, it taught me how to be my own person, as well as how to make some great memories for my own kids.
–From Confessions of a Band Geek Mom
by Stacy Dymalski (c) 2011 Saffire Press
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Stacy Dymalski is the host of the hilarious TV talk show “Mother Bloggers” on FirstRun.tv. She’s also an award winning keynote speaker and stand-up comic who gave up the glamorous life of coach travel, smokey comedy clubs, and heckling drunks for the glamourous life of raising kids (who happen to be bigger hecklers than the drunks). This blog is her new stage.
For more of Stacy’s comedy check out her book Confessions of a Band Geek Mom available in bookstores and on Amazon in paperback and Kindle.