It was a cold day in February when my destiny to be a journalist hit me like a fastball between the eyes. Actually, I ducked - but as I stood shivering at home plate on the diamond behind my high school, I had one of those epiphanies that sometime strike people when they’re running for vice president: “Why am I here?”
Amazingly, the baseball coach wondered the same thing. The next morning, the list of students invited to the third day of tryouts did not include me.
For the first time, I knew the meaning of, “My heart sank to my stomach.” From the age of 5, I had declared to the world that I would be a major leaguer. Once the best player in my neighborhood, I now couldn’t make first cut for junior varsity.
Fortunately, I had a backup plan.
I’d always loved writing and unearthing information. At the age of 6, I spied on kids on my block from behind bushes and fences, keeping a journal of their activities. (“Jackie runs down driveway. Falls. Runs in crying.”)
At 8 I conducted a poll of the 1968 presidential race by peddling door-to-door, correctly predicting Nixon’s victory before any of the networks. In middle school, I won my first writing award - cleverly filling in the bubbles on a cartoon panel about fish, winning a fish tank. Good writers, I realized, could furnish their entire homes for free.
So like a lot of frustrated jocks, I turned to writing about sports - first for the high school paper, then at the University of Dayton. But my self-righteous bent and hunger to change the world led me to news, enterprise projects and commentary. And to a $150 paycheck, my weekly salary at my first newspaper - an irreverent start-up weekly on Long Island. My first adrenaline-rush deadline story was about a lake where thousands of fish had suffocated. My first question: “Fish can suffocate?”
Our staff walked away from awards ceremonies with our arms loaded - until we shut down. Those professors were right: Good journalism isn’t always good business.
Make a Difference
But it is, as the saying goes, the most fun you can have with your clothes on. I’ve spent the last 20 years working at three dailies, publishing one book, and now running a national trade newspaper for people who work with kids. I'm very lucky: Journalism has let me expose a few wrongs (the history of sex abuse in Boy Scout troops), help a few people (the story that got funding for a shelter for homeless mothers) and try some adventures (sky diving, traveling overseas) while actually getting paid.
But after all of that, my biggest professional satisfaction is writing about being a father, which several newspapers and Web sites let me do on a regular basis. My wife and two children changed my life even more than that baseball coach did.
Now almost all of my writing is about children and families. I hope that my work ultimately helps kids. And when I stand at home plate coaching my children’s softball and T-ball teams, I finally know the answer to, “Why am I here?”