As we’ve been cleaning out our father’s room at the retirement community, we’ve found a treasure trove of items that my sister and I gave dad, including a pencil holder I made for him when I was in second grade and a stamp holder my sister must have made for him around the same time.
Such things are precious to a parent, even though Jeannie and I laughed at our unskilled efforts.
As I looked through his many file drawers, I found a file with my name typed on the tab, “Newman, Melinda.” Inside were articles I’d written since I’d become a freelance writer in 2006: stories for The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, Associated Press and several other outlets. In some cases they were the actual print copies that I had sent him, in others, they were the online version that he’d printed out and put in the folder. I didn’t know the folder existed, but that’s so very like my Dad. When I visited him at Thanksgiving, at his request, I’d brought him two of my latest stories for two magazines.
Growing up, my Dad’s love didn’t manifest itself by being at every softball game or swim meet or piano recital, though he certainly attended his fair share. He wasn’t a hoverer.
It was more that his love provided me a safe place to land when things didn’t go as I’d hoped and I needed someone to pat my head and tell me it would be OK. It also showed itself by raising Jeannie and me to believe we could do anything we wanted to. We were encouraged to write our own script even if it defied convention.
My dad wasn’t so happy when I said I wanted to be a go-go dancer when I was six, but I still got a pair of white go-go boots from Pick and Pay nonetheless.
When I was about 8, I took an interest in rocks and I have a very vivid memory of Dad bringing me home a sampler of all these different kinds of rocks that were under little plastic bubbles, there was a piece of quartz, a piece of mica, a piece of feldspar.
My plan to be a geologist gave way to my decision to become a writer, a career path I chose when I was about 10. When that one looked like it might stick around, mom and dad bought me my first Smith Corona electric typewriter. It was blue and white and I loved it but what I loved even more was that it meant dad and mom believed in my dreams as much as I did. Their faith in me allowed me to soar. I wrote so many articles on that Smith Corona for my junior high and high school papers.
I took it for granted that every kid had that kind of support, but as I got older, I realized that wasn’t the case. From a very early age, dad instilled in me and Jeannie a confidence to blaze our own paths. That was one of the greatest gifts they ever gave us, especially since they must have realized long before we ever did, that our dreams would take us away from them as we traveled around the world.
I imagine I would have become a journalist whether my Dad supported me or not, but it made it much easier to follow my passion knowing that he and mom were behind me 100%.
Not everyone has the kind of support at home that I did. Luckily, there are a number of charities and organizations devoted to helping young reporters realize their dreams, including Connecticut-based Youth Journalism International. YJI works with students, ages 12-to-24, in more than 40 countries. It focuses on journalism, but also on bridging cultures. Students work with editors one-on-one and in groups as they report from from their hometowns.
Dec. 27: Youth Journalism International
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