In my office at home, I work at the same drop-leaf table I did homework on as a boy, with all of its stains, scratches and worn spots.
If I get around to repainting the walls, down will come framed newspaper pages, plaques, posters and other art.
Personal and professional mementos cover the windowsill, are wedged into the bookcase, rest atop other pieces of furniture, and generally take up whatever space is available. On the floor are boxes of family photographs to be sorted, research material for a book that demands more attention, and other paper waiting to be filed, shelved or thrown out.
Throughout this chaos are reminders of my father. A born-and-bred New Yorker, he married a woman from Des Moines, then worked in Chicago and lived in its suburbs for most of 60 years. He died six years ago.
Atop a wooden file cabinet is a heavy, gray manual Royal typewriter, a birthday gift from my sons, similar to the machines on which I wrote articles for my junior high and high school newspapers.
The plaque on a wooden sign on my desk reads: Daniel S. Schechter/“Ahoy” Editor, from when Dad edited the newspaper at the Charleston, S.C., naval base in the latter stages of World War II.
His professional career began at the Associated Press in Albany, N.Y. “Make your lead potatoes,” the editor said, as he dropped the state agricultural budget on Dad’s desk his first day on the job. Dad would go on to spend many years editing and managing publications in the hospital field.
I have numerous photos of my father on display, including a black-and-white taken in the mid to late 1950s, of an earnest young man wearing a suit and tie, seated behind a desk, flanked by filing cabinets.
Among the items I have from Dad’s later, roomier offices are two framed posters now on my walls. “Care more for the truth than what other people think,” reads one. “The right to search for truth implies also a duty; one must not conceal any part of what one has recognized to be true,” reads the other.
A Post-it Note on the wall in front of my desk says, “This is very much on loan. Good reading, so please read it and return it.” I have no idea what book it was attached to, only that it’s my father’s handwriting. His presents to me usually were books about some aspect of journalism.
My mother says I learned to read by tracing newspaper headlines. From the age of 11, I wanted to be a newspaper reporter. My first pay-for-writing came during high school, from a chain of weekly papers. Through college, I wrote mostly about sports.
When I did not know whether to apply for a job or pursue a master’s degree after college, I told my father, “I feel like I’m at a crossroad.” He replied, “Get out of the street before you get run over.”
I began my professional life as the night-side police reporter at a newspaper along the Iowa-Illinois border. My path out of the aforementioned crossroad was graduate school and the articles I wrote for the Washington bureau of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism helped get me that job (which opened when my predecessor was – wait for it – arrested for shoplifting).
I covered police, city government, politics, the farm machinery industry, railroads and labor unions. With my trench coat, suits and wingtips, I was a walking cliché. But nothing beat the romance of being in the roaring press room at 11 p.m. and grabbing the next morning’s first edition with my byline on the front page.
A series of events, a few of which I’m still a bit foggy about, led me into television. With all the disdain a print guy could muster, I declined an offer to be an on-camera reporter and instead became a behind-the-scenes editor.
Six months after Audrey and I married in 1985 we left jobs at a Kanas City television station for a study program in Israel, which I quit when I was hired as CNN’s Jerusalem bureau producer, a nonpareil experience that took me throughout the country and elsewhere in the region. When the program ended, Audrey joined the bureau as a producer.
We returned home a couple of years later and moved to Atlanta, then the heart of CNN. Audrey was a writer, show producer and reporter, leaving after the second of our three children was born. And after 26-plus years in various positions on the CNN national news desk, another series of events led to my current life as a freelance writer.
A line in the song “Teach Your Children,” by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young says: “And feed them on your dreams/The one they pick, the one you’ll know by.”
My father was a journalist. I am a journalist. And the father of a journalist, our daughter Maayan, a newspaper reporter. Dad would have gotten a kick out of his granddaughter being a third generation in the business.