My dad’s advice was ‘write stuff’

dad-smMy dad died a few days before Christmas in 2005. And, boy, did he love to laugh. He also, as parents do, possessed profound insight into the lives of his children.

When I graduated from college, I knew that I loved to write but had little idea about what type of career to pursue.

But my dad did. He told me to go see the woman ran who our hometown York Weekly — guiding me directly into what has become a deeply fulfilling 30-year career in journalism.

Yet another “light-bulb moment” from a man who used to bring home the bacon creating advertising campaigns in a Pittsburgh skyscraper with the firm Ketchum, MacLeod & Grove. Yes, my dad was an ad man like those guys on “Mad Men.”

Over the years, I have thanked him in print for nudging me into the newspaper world — a field with limitless possibilities for creativity and personal discovery.

June 1999, in this newspaper, I roasted him with a rollicking Father’s Day salute under the headline (borrowed again today): Father’s advice to son was “write stuff.” It began: “I’m in the newspaper business today thanks to the nurturing influence of a very wise gentleman. Nelson Mandela.”

No secret that my ever-present impulse to blend humor and humanity comes from my dad — self-described “Depression baby” turned dashing young Air Force pilot, advertising exec, mid-life adventurer, small business co-creator — and from my mom.

I am also joking when I say that his words of wisdom included: “Keep your eye on the ball to prevent ghastly facial injuries” and “Wait at least 30 minutes after eating lemon meringue pie before scuba diving for pirate treasure in the York River.”

June 1991, in this newspaper, I interviewed him on the subject of fatherhood.

He was never big on those “when I was your age” speeches. You know the ones: The old-timer tells how in order to get to school each day he had to crawl 12 miles on his belly through the jungles of Vietnam, swim through a boiling tar pit teeming with leeches and piranhas, and then pole vault over a barbed-wire electric fence to beat the first-period bell at 4:45 a.m.

Asked about being a father by his first-born child, he dialed the Humor Meter down to 3 and dropped a few pearls.

“The joys of fatherhood are so bountiful and overwhelming. … It’s like the emergence of spring a thousand-fold,” said Ernie Breneman, describing “a cycle of fulfillment that comes first with your own growth and then with the growth of others you brought into the world.”

Upon his death, at a small service in his honor, I knew he’d want to hear some wordplay. Here is a small snippet of what he moved me to say:

He loved laughing with everyone, he was gentle and kind. And there was something truly special about his beautiful mind.

Contemplation. Rumination. Meditation. A million-and-50-watt imagination. Still (and forever) feeding me inspiration.

— John Breneman

I created this portfolio page as a sort of narrative resume of my writing career.

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