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Fathers are really lifelong guides

A cousin recently sent me a sweet message.

While walking in her neighborhood in Alexandria, Va., she had heard a distinctive call and paused to see if she could spot the songster. It was a cardinal, and that sparked a memory.

It was about a visit to my family's West Side home as a teenager. She was sitting on our front porch when she saw a female cardinal break into song in a nearby tree.

"I asked Uncle Harold about it when he got home, but he said that the female didn't sing," she wrote. "I begged to differ since I had seen it with my very own eyes."

He called a friend the next day and confirmed that though it didn't happen often, the female cardinal would sing and she had the same call as the male.

"You have seen a very rare thing," he told her.

All of the kids in my dad's sphere learned to recognize such things. He loved nature and was always teaching. When we visited a state park, our perennial vacation, at dusk we would pile into the car and slowly drive the park roads, "looking for tiny animals."

He knew the waning light would draw deer, raccoon and other creatures out of the woods and into the meadows to feed. If we were lucky, the car lights would catch their eye shine, and we would be treated to a special sight.

Deer are more prolific these days, but I still catch my breath at the sight of one. My dad instilled a permanent sense of wonder.  

At home, he sometimes would play an album of bird songs. I have amused my own children by recreating some of those calls, and when I hear one in the woods, I often recognize the species.

I also can gaze at the sky and pick out the constellations he taught us — Orion, the dippers, the Pleiades.  

Father's Day will roll around next weekend, and I wonder what advice he might give me as I head into a new phase of life.

It is because of him, after all, that I have worked for a newspaper.

He spent his career at the Charleston Gazette. Harold Gadd was the longtime editor of the former State Magazine, a special section in the Sunday paper. He assigned stories and photos, edited and occasionally wrote pieces himself.

He frequently carried a red pen in his shirt pocket. Once when he and my mom visited me at college, I proudly showed him a paper I had written for a philosophy class. The grade was A-plus.

He had just begun to read when he pulled out that red pen and aimed for my prized paper. "No!" I cried defensively.

My writing might have suited a philosophy professor, but it obviously didn't impress my dad.

Later, when I became a reporter, he would clip my stories from the Daily Mail, tape them to a sheet of paper and mark them up, in red ink of course.

When I visited, he would hand over his version of a graded paper. Because we were father and daughter, we would argue. But I learned.

While he was teaching me to write, I was learning reporting skills from Daily Mail City Editor Sam Hindman, who could have been a Marine drill sergeant.

Sam was soon to move up the ladder, but he was an extraordinary city editor. He wanted stories, lots of them. If you thought you had a good one, he pushed you to make it better.

As the meek holder of an English degree but no experience, I suffered as I tried to produce what he demanded.

My dad saw this and was thrilled. He knew Sam was exactly what I needed.          

Dad loved his own job as an editor, perhaps in part because it didn't come easily. With little choice after high school, he worked five years in the old Kelly Ax factory on the West Side where his own father was a foreman.

Then World War II came along, and the GI bill afforded him the education necessary to land a position at the Gazette.

When my sister, brother and I reached our teen years and began to consider careers, he would say quite seriously, "Don't go into the newspaper business just because you see how much I love it."

My siblings were better writers, but I was the one to take the bait.

Now I wonder how he would advise me as I step away from my job at the Daily Mail. As I approach 60, I hope for a lower-key life as a freelance editor and writer.

Actually, if I've squirreled them away somewhere, I could pull out my dad's lesson plans for a magazine writing class. He taught this for a year at Marshall while I was at Virginia Tech. He worked hard on those lessons and mailed them to me as if I were taking the class from afar.

He died many years ago, but the force of his intellect and character has continued to guide me.  

There's no reason to stop following that light.

Friend is editor and publisher of the Daily Mail. She may be reached at 348-5124 or nanyaf@dailymail.com.


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