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April 7, 2014: The Writing Life: Following in my Father’s Footsteps

Today is my father’s birthday. He’s now 83 years old. “I’m up there,” he said in his usual optimistic voice. Seems like an apt self-description. He’s a fellow who has always had his head in the clouds and his feet firmly on the ground.

It’s a given, we come into this world knowing that our primary job in life is to please our parents. Those who are able to do this by age four are the happiest of our lot because they never again have to worry about this. All it takes for continued self-assurance is one success. Put away your toys or eat your broccoli when the planets are in alignment, and

you will remain in the parent in question’s good graces.

It has taken me a lifetime, but I have finally done something that really pleases my old man. I figured that getting a Ph.D. would do it. I figured wrong. Getting my Ph.D. was something he expected me to do. In all fairness to him, he most likely was pleased. However, it’s something many people do. However, my having written and published Raudi’s Story (at least in his estimation) was a far bigger accomplishment.

I don’t fully understand this, because I didn’t think of Raudi’s Story as being that great a book. (Sorry Raudi.) In part, this is because I’ve tended to listen to the nay sayers. My sister Eleanor was right -- Raising Raudi: The Search for the Perfect Horse will be far better. My sister was right when she said “Al, it’s not the kind of book I usually read. There’s too much detail here.” And my friend Nan Potts was right when she said “You don’t have back cover blurbs.” And also, it’s self-published.

My feelings about this mere excuse for a book have been such that I cancelled a scheduled book signing and have only made tentative stabs at promoting and marketing it. Enter Dad, who in the first of three phone conversations said that he was “thrilled to pieces” to get the book. Then in a second phone conversation called and said that “he started reading it and could not put it down.” The in a third conversation he said he went to a local bookstore and convinced the owner he should be carrying this book.

The latter conversation is the most significant. The owner opened the Toadstool Bookstore in Peterborough, NH at the same time my dad opened the Country Lights Bookstore in Hillsbrough, NH. My father’s bookstore failed because he opened up shop in a dying mill town. Conversely, the other bookstore succeeded because the owner opened up shop in just the opposite. Peterborough was growing, and businesses were opening up right and left. It did not hurt that it was also the home of the American Guernsey Association, and the publication site of Hoard’s Dairyman. So one store went under and the other went upward.

My father moved on with his life – he took a job teaching math and science at a local high school. There went his lifelong dream, to be the owner of a thriving community bookstore. My father also (at one time) envisioned himself to be a published writer, and in fact wrote a book about his grandfather, called The Kerry Dancer. He never did get it published, and in fact, there is just one copy in existence. I think he has it tucked away in a drawer somewhere.

We never talked about my life, or the fact that I write on a daily basis. There have always been too many other more relevant things to talk about, like the weather, books we are reading, and movies. But I in a manner of speaking, I picked up the writing gauntlet when I was in college, and have yet to set it down. I’ve since discovered what my father realized early on—writing is a tough occupation. It doesn’t pay, and everyone and their sister expects you to write articles for free or for a pittance. It’s sort of like being a Dickens character. “Please sir, may I have some more” is a line that comes into my head when I submit work for consideration to those editors who say “would you . . . ?”

Writers are also considered to be odd, eccentric individuals who are engaging in an even odder, more eccentric occupation. But I persist, now out of habit. The novelty of seeing my name in print wore off a long time ago.

And so, to have received high praise from dear old dad makes me feel as though Raudi’s Story is not a good, but is an okay book.

Next: 98. 4/8/14: Horse Training: Twenty Seconds