Write well. Write often. Edit wisely.
My father was in the hospital last week, and I was going to share something about him, about how he taught his children the importance of education and about the joys of the written word. I didn’t get that article written before he passed away, so I thought I’d mention a few thoughts about the way his life influenced mine.
He was always a reader—we had daily newspapers, several weekly magazines, and a subscription to Reader’s Digest Condensed Books as far back as I can remember. We used to fight over who got to read the Reader’s Digest first when it came in the mail. I was introduced to many authors by way of Reader’s Digest and my dad. And while I was probably reading some stories I shouldn’t have been reading at my age, I certainly didn’t feel that way. Here was a way to get a handful of novels in one volume. If there were YA or middle readers back then, I wasn’t aware of them, so we read what was available and what we could afford and if that meant adult novels, that’s what we read.
When my brothers and sister and I were very young, my parents moved away from their families and to a state unfamiliar to anyone they knew. One of the first tasks my dad undertook was getting us library cards. He took us on a tour of our new town—and the surrounding two or three counties since Dad wanted to know what was where—and one of our stops was the public library. It wasn’t too close to the house, but he and Mom made sure we could get there and could pick out books. Ah, the joy of checking out as many books as you could carry.
Except when I was on an extended stay in Germany, I’ve never lived in a town without having found the public library right away and gotten a new library card. At one point in the 80s, I had three valid library cards. When I had a temporary job with Pan Am and was stationed in New York, I even got a card to the New York City library. I can highly recommend a visit there if you’re ever in New York.
One of the best libraries, of course, is the Library of Congress. I don’t know that my dad ever got to visit it, but I have. I actually try to go any time I’m in D.C. Again, well worth your time if you can fit it into a visit to Washington. If you love books and words and history, you’ll be in heaven.
Dad loved fiction but he also read biographies and history. He was seldom without a paperback, and his choice of entertainment in the evening was almost always a book over TV.
For fun, and it was fun, we’d get quizzed at the dinner table on state capitals, naming the presidents in order, times tables, and spelling. But if we simply wanted to know how to spell a word new to us, the response would always be, “Look it up.” And Dad would make sure we did look it up; no slacking allowed. We always had a better than decent dictionary in the house. And while this may seem weird, there were times when you’d catch someone reading it and sharing cool, new words with the rest of the family.
Thanks, Dad. You made learning fun.
Dad also made sure we could write, could make a point with words. He did some writing at his job, but he often got pulled in to work word magic on reports submitted by others. He saw no reason that government reports should be unclear or poorly written. It was Dad rather than any school teacher who first taught me about taking out unnecessary uses of that. Yeah, there are some lessons that we take to heart.
He always wanted to write a book, had lots of ideas, but never sat down to try. I’m not sure what he would’ve produced, something on ethics or history, I’d bet. But whatever books he had in him, he took with him when he died. I’d like to know what, out of millions of thoughts and ideas, he would have gathered into a book, but I know what he said and how he lived, and I can guess the focus and theme of any book would have been on living right, living honorably and honestly, and treating others well. He was big on doing everything right, whether that meant being honest or brave or defending others, even if it cost you something dear.
Thanks, Dad, for the example you lived.
A former co-worker of Dad’s spoke at the funeral and mentioned Dad’s writing and editing abilities; I never knew he was so valued for them. But I’m glad he had them and passed the love of words and communication to me. We had a lot in common, but I love that something so important to him is likewise such a big part of my life. I’m part of his legacy. Not only through my genes, but through what he passed into my heart.
Thanks, Dad, for a heritage of words.