Tuesday, September 1, 2009

My Father, the Writing/Career Coach

My father liked to exaggerate, in a harmless way, in a way which would make others feel good and enjoy the conversation, in a way which seemed to telegraph the amplification and yet at the same time, make it inconceivable for anyone to call him on it.

When I was in my 20s, with my first real (non-freelance) job, I occasionally overhead him say, "My daughter is a top level public relations executive in New York City."

I wasn't.

Oh, I worked at a Manhattan public relations agency all right, and it wasn't exactly entry-level, though it wasn't anywhere near the top. Owing to a first-hand command of a specialized expertise (horses and the show jumping world) and a unique Rolodex of contacts (the equestrian media and elite rider-athletes), I filled a certain niche important to the most important client at that particular agency at that particular time: It was 1984 and the client, Purina, wanted major mileage from their sponsorship of the United States Equestrian Team (which would win Gold at the Los Angeles Olympics that summer).

As an ardent rider myself, and after spending several years post journalism school working as a freelance writer for equestrian magazines (translation: barely scraping by) -- yes, it was a dream job. But only to me. In the overall scheme of the New York public relations business, I was but a very small cog in a quite minor wheel.

But. My father didn't know all that, or at least, he never seemed to understand when I explained that there wasn't anything "top level" about what I was doing. I'd get angry sometimes when he wouldn't acknowledge my true status, and wondered if he wasn't proud of my real achievements.

Of course, I understood it all much better when I had children of my own.

Now that my father has been gone for a few years, something funny happens to me once in a while. On a day when I accomplish something professionally, and even more so on a day when it seems I'll never accomplish another thing, from somewhere deep in my brain (my heart?) I'll hear my father's voice.

"My daughter is a..."
"My daughter writes for…."
"My daughter is editing..."
"My daughter just published…."
"My daughter teaches…"

...and I fill in the blanks any old way I want.

I keep it to myself. I don't argue with the voice. I resist the urge to self-censor. We all need a way to keep going. Some days, that's mine.


Kristy Lund said...

How beautiful. I can see your father smiling as you say those statements. It made me think of my own dad hyping up my seemingly small accomplishments. I bet we'll do the same to our kids. :)

tim said...

Thanks for sharing. I do something similar and didn't realize anyone else did. Sometimes getting by takes an act of imagination.

Michelle O'Neil said...

What a beautiful thing for your father to leave you, an alternative to negative self talk. Love it!