Tonawanda News — Hanging on my fridge at home is the very first picture I had running with this column.
The photo was taken by my friend and colleague Doug Benz, who was charged with capturing my then-infant daughter Penny and me in a “just right” moment. I had just taken over as the paper’s features editor in February 2008, and I began writing a parenting column — then named Daddy’s Little Girl — in an attempt to offer a male perspective on parenting.
I’ve passed by the picture hundreds of times. It’s ridiculously outdated now — Rigby is more than three times as old as Penny was when that picture was taken at 7 months of age — but it reminds me of when this, what’s usually one of my favorite tasks to perform, all started.
One time recently while passing by the fridge, I looked at the picture and thought back. By an unofficial count, factoring in fellow columnist Jill Keppeler’s maternity leave and other occasional fill-ins, I’ve written around 200 versions of this column (You’ve read and cherished each one, I’m sure; I’d be happy to swing by some time and sign the scrapbooks I don’t doubt you’re keeping).
So, in having taken dozens and dozens of stabs at capturing the pleasures and pitfalls of parenting, I’ve had plenty of hits. I mean, a TON of great stories. But occasionally, maybe, there have been a few duds.
OK, that happens with every writer. Even Stephen King has laid an occasional egg.
But Stephen King wasn’t writing about the two most important people in his life and the lives of nearly everyone he knows.
And he probably didn’t get nearly the ... let’s say, fervent reaction when the results weren’t up to par.
I love Penny and Rigby more than anyone else I know. I would do anything for them. They bring pleasure to my life, make me strive to be a better person and inspire me.
But no matter how much inspiration there is, ideas that are worth writing about here aren’t always generated.
A lot of what happens is worthy of a mere Facebook update (what, you want to be my friend? Come find me! I like friends). Some of it would be too embarrassing to them to put into print (yes, even the guy who’s written about his son pooping on the living room floor has limits). And somewhere, somehow, I try to find a balance between offering stories that deliver some sort of message about parenthood and merely transcribing a (much better) version of “Kids Say the Darndest Things.”
Am I always successful? Heck no. Every parent has had similar experiences to mine. They have their cute stories, amusing anecdotes and “What the heck have I gotten myself into?” moments.
But I’ve been fortunate enough to have this forum with which to share my stories. Fortunate, to be sure, but also occasionally pressed. Both Penny and Rigby are in school now, so with me working at night, I can go days without seeing them sometimes.
Even when I see them, we often merely engage in the routine activities such as playing, feeding and bedtime that have been a part of this space many times.
But that can get old.
And even when I’m lucky enough to spend an entire day with my babies — whoops, Penny now insists that I call her my “medium kid” and not my baby — there is sometimes simply nothing I think you’d care to read about. I mean, we’ve all escorted our sons to use the bathroom and then taken a turn, only to have our sons using our bare backsides as a drum, right?
Of course. Point is, I am sometimes frankly not inspired with an idea worthy of putting into this space.
But with every memory conjured up by re-reading one of these columns, every time I see a photo such as the one on the fridge that sparks a pleasant moment from the past, I am motivated to keep trying.
As I look back on what I just wrote, it might seem like some sort of farewell column. Believe me, it’s not. I have never written a farewell column for any position I’ve ever left — and I left a lot of them while a full-time employee of this newspaper group — and I won’t. Because I’m not that important.
Rather, it’s an affirmation that, even if this column falls flat, even if you read it and then think, “Boy, Paul, that stunk,” I am not throwing in the towel.
As long as this paper will let me and other circumstances allow, I will continue to write here. I am incredibly lucky to be able to give my kids their own “Penny and Rigby page” in the newspaper, a literal transcript of their childhoods, that they — and I — can look back upon at will.
So hopefully, that picture will be worth 100,000 words.
Have to give credit where it’s due: Thanks to Tee-Tee for the story idea. I have no clue how to spell that, since the name isn’t your birth name or anything, but you know who you are.Contact Paul Lane at email@example.com.