‘Life lessons learned from my dad still resonate’

The headline above sounds like a Father’s Day feature, but there’s a good reason why Peter Finney Jr., editor of the Clarion Herald in New Orleans, wrote this column during football season (and I’m not giving away the answer).

You can download here a .pdf file of the Clarion Herald edition in which Peter’s column appears (go to Page 2), but since .pdfs sometimes take so long to download, I’m taking the liberty of reprinting it below. For those of you familiar with the full CNS news report, we posted it on the wire this week in our “Guest Commentary” section. Enjoy!

Life lessons learned from my dad still resonate

My dad is a master storyteller who has had a profound impact on my life. I am a journalist because he was. It’s that simple.

I type with four fingers because I learned to beat on his old Royal typewriter, fascinated by the mystery of carbon copies. I was unafraid to make mistakes — that’s what the “X” key and red pencils were for. My spell check was Webster’s dictionary. I never crashed and completely lost a story unless someone took out the garbage.

My dad can say more in one sentence than most people can say in a thousand. He once summed up the Mike Ditka era, a three-year train wreck from start (Ricky Williams in a wedding dress) to finish (3-13 in 1999), by writing of the coach’s inflated view of his own celebrity: “He coached the Saints as though he were double-parked.”

My dad couldn’t beat up your dad, but he sure could out-metaphor him.

He taught me some important lessons: the word “that” — when used after “said” — is the most overused word in the English language; be willing to admit it when you make a mistake; be fair.

Those life lessons still resonate and came into sharper focus a few weeks ago with an unusual convergence of circumstances. When Louisiana State University hosted Virginia Tech at Tiger Stadium, my dad wrote a column for The Times-Picayune; I covered the game for my former newspaper, the New York Post; and my son Jonathan reported for The Daily Reveille, LSU student newspaper. Jonathan is a 19-year-old sophomore at LSU, and he is studying mass communications. Yikes!

In reflecting on three generations of Finneys covering a football game from the same press box, I am wrestling with the image of the carbon paper winding through the roller of the manual typewriter. We are not carbon copies — I am not my father and my son is not me — but in so many ways we are blessed to share in a vocation that can bring joy and enlightenment to others.

Jonathan doesn’t really know if he will pursue a journalism career.

He enjoys writing, and he’s learned a few lessons of his own while covering Friday night high school football games for The Advocate in Baton Rouge: always eat the pregame meal if it’s offered or else risk getting a headache; don’t park in a grassy field after a four-inch rain; find a backup spot from which to file your story when the press box is locked 15 minutes after a game.

Jonathan has taken it all in stride. I’m biased, but I think some of his grandfather’s cigar smoke is rubbing off.

— Peter Finney Jr.

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