My father passed away at the beginning of May. He was a professor and a researcher. Though he started in journalism, his area of expertise was disaster research. He started in the field studying the spread of information. Technically an academic, though I don’t think he would have describe himself that way.
If our father-daughter relationship wasn’t quite a normal one, I did ask him about my schooling, my career and my business. Over the years he offered me advice, criticism and guidance and there are a few things that I will never forget:
1) Reputation is everything.
My father had very strict ideas about how journalists should work, and he had very clear opinions about journalists who cut corners. There are ways that things need to be done and before you ignore the rules you’d better have a good argument for why you should be allowed to. People need to trust you to work with you, and you need to earn that trust and keep it. You ethics should be a selling point.
2) Know your weaknesses
My father was a great researcher, a great interviewer and a great teacher. But he knew, even as a journalist, that he wasn’t a great writer. He also knew that I was one. He knew he needed copy-editing help, and he knew my sister could provide that. He spent a lot of his career asking other people to help him, and that may be one of his greatest strengths. If you can’t do something, find someone who can. Offer them some of your skills.
3) Language is a skill to be mastered
When I went to journalism school I was the first in my class to get a byline. I was thrilled to see my name in print and so excited to show my father. He read it and his first words were this: “You should never use unique in your lede.” He was right.
His point was that I had no proof that the event I had covered was unique in any way. I should have chosen a better word.
Words and language are an art. Finding the right voice for your audience is a skill that I am proud to possess, and the credit goes to both my parents who introduced a love of words, language and books at an early age. I also firmly believe that there is a pun gene.
4) Pass it on
During all of his time as a professor and disaster researcher Dad had paid research assistants. These were students from his beloved Carleton University who he trained in research. He gave them co-authorships. He passed on his love and interest for what he did.
In some of his recent research he was working with a fellow professor. She sent us a note after he died telling us that he had approached her to partner on the project and at first she declined because she didn’t feel capable, but he talked her into it and now she’s going to carry on.
He helped her figure out what she was really capable of. He did the same for me. There is no greater gift that offering someone a skill and helping them to find their passion.
5) If you love what you’re doing, keep doing it
My father retired from teaching in 1995 but he never stopped travelling the world lecturing, he never stopped writing articles or applying for grants. In 2002 he received a lifetime achievement award for his work, and he kept going until his death 13 years later.
I hope that I can find my niche and spend my last days doing something I’m passionate about. I hope that I find something I enjoy so much that retirement seems like a waste.