“That’s not fair.”
“Did anybody ever tell you life was fair?”
<Gasp> I really am becoming my father.
It started with a hairline that retreated faster than the Japanese military left Guadalcanal, and continued on through a later-in-life appreciation of jazz music and falling asleep during the opening credits at the movie theater. And that little reply to my daughter truly drilled it home.
That wasn’t the first time I’ve channeled the big guy, either. No, his little expressions and sayings that once led me to yanking out my hair by the handful (mystery solved!) come out of me more and more these days.
“I can’t do it.”
“Is your name McCann or McCan’t?”
That’s the moment she shoots me that same dead-eyed stare I’m certain my father received from me on more than one occasion. It’s amazing how it has become a reflex over time, not relying on any preparation — just years of having these little missiles fired into my brain in rapid-fire form.
“I’ll never figure this out.”
“There are those who think they can, and those who think they can’t. They’re both right.”
“Just figure it out.”
“But it’s too hard.”
“Well, it sounds like you’ve already lost. How about some PMA? Positive Mental Attitude?”
“But then I have to do such-and-such and...”
“Don’t tell me about the labor. Show me the baby.”
I really want to ball up my fist and punch me in my own face when that one comes out of me. It’s a flashback to earlier years of my life when I would just want a little validation that my current struggle was difficult, and maybe some understanding from my father that something was beyond my grasp.
In retrospect, I’m glad he kept on top of me. Sure, I just tried to tune him out over my earlier years because, quite frankly, I got tired of hearing it. My father was never a screamer or someone who I would say ever really lost control, but he did love his lectures — and his little sayings even more.
And I’ve come to love them as well. As I’ve grown older (and older and older and older and...), I’ve learned to kind of dig into these expressions a little more and try to understand that there is a real message behind them — and, quite typically, a message of positivity.
They’ve really come at me from all directions over the years, from different sources, and while the ones that stick with me the most came from the constant barragement from my Dad, there are others that enter my brain when making decisions to this day, regardless of the original subject.
For instance, I once had a basketball coach pull me aside during a practice to correct me on my defensive posture at the end of a game. I told him I was getting tired and asked if we could switch to a zone defense.
“You’re tired? Do you want me to ask the other team to take a break so you can take a little nap?”
“Then be hard. Life is hard, and you better have an answer.”
That still bounces around my head when I start feeling sorry for myself during a trying day. Keep plugging away. Be hard.
When I was bouncing around from newsroom to newsroom as a young reporter, constantly trying to get ahead, a publisher who I admired a great deal sat me down for a talk.
“Be where your feet are,” he said. “If you work here, put everything you have into working here. If you are on a particular story, put everything into that. Family. Friends. Driving. Whatever. Be where your feet are, and give it the proper respect that task requires.”
I’ve tried to be where my feet are ever since.
And my current publisher, Susan Lyons, stresses the importance of finding the absolutely right person every time we have a job opening. “People make the paper,” I’ve heard her say a million times. Talent, intelligence and desire trump everything else. Find someone really smart who will work really hard, train that person the right way and the paper will do fine.
Wayne Gretzky, arguably the greatest hockey player to ever lace up a pair of skates, once famously said, “You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.” While that relates to his aggression on the ice, it also translates off of it, right? If you don’t try, you can’t succeed.
Of course, there’s no guarantee that trying will get you anywhere, but not trying certainly guarantees you won’t get anywhere, right? Then you sit around moping that other people have it better than yourself, and you’ll never get that yacht.
“Is that your biggest problem in life?” my dad would ask. “Boy, you are awfully lucky.”
I really am. I’m a McCann, not a McCan’t.