A Writer’s Journey
It was 1974, Thanksgiving week, and my dad was loading the final boxes into the U-Haul trailer we would pull from Dover, Delaware to Tucson, Arizona. (The Maverick pulling the trailer, 3 kids and two cats didn’t do the job. One day later the goods were dropped at a moving company to ship to Arizona.)
My dad had fallen in love with the desert, sold everything and bought a Montgomery Ward catalog store in Nogales, Arizona.
I was 9 and it certainly was a grand adventure at the time, but it was more of the norm for my Dad.
My dad had several careers, most unrelated to each other and fairly unconventional for the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s.
While most of his buddies went to work for a large company, like DuPont, that just was not in the cards for my dad. He tried it and lasted about 3 months. He was not what you would call a company man.
Drive-Ins and Catalog Stores
My dad loved the movies. He started his working career as an usher in a theatre in Maryland. It was a time when they still did live acts before the movie and during intermission. He spent a good 20+ years managing drive-in theatres. I have great memories of Friday and Saturday nights at the drive-in.
After 25 years in the movie business, my dad bought a Montgomery Ward Catalog store in Delaware. I am not sure this will resonate with all of you, but the Catalog business was huge in the 70’s. Penney’s, Sears etc. were all very successful during this time. I remember vividly shopping the catalog for my Christmas list and during the summer I would help put away the stock after the trucks delivered during the week.
After several moves and 3 catalog stores later, the business was soon over-run with competition and poor management. The run lasted about 10 years, but in the early 80’s it ran out of steam.
So after 35 years of working, largely for himself, my dad found himself pounding the pavement for a job. He eventually took a job in advertising sales for a local shopper magazine distributed weekly.
Did he like it? Not exactly, but it paid the bills and he was exceptional at selling. See, my dad was a talker. You would find him talking to some stranger at the drop of a hat. He made people feel at ease and had the ability to talk about anything. Not a superficial level either, he knew a lot about a lot. As a result, he sold a ton of advertising. I am pretty sure he could sell ice to an Eskimo.
After 4 or 5 years of driving over 200 miles a day to service customers, it became a grind. A dispute with his boss around a promotion and out the door he went.
My dad was never a corporate man.
Now this is where his career took an interesting turn. Unable to find a job selling advertising, he somehow landed as an editor of a small paper in Mesa, Arizona.
This seemed strange, but once I read a few of his editorials, I knew he was home. My dad was always well read, but he loved to write.
His editorials were published across the country, picked up by other newspapers. He didn’t write about popular topics either. Blasting the character of professional sports heroes and chastising men who did not take care of their kids were just a few targets of his articles.
He had found his talent and unique gift.
Theatre manager, to business owner, to salesman, to writer. Not sure you could have planned that road.
My dad wrote a book about his experience in the movie business in the 40’s and 50’s. He had a grand plan to have it published, but soon passed away, many words left unwritten.
Not Rich or Famous
My dad was not famous or rich, but he certainly left an impression on those who knew him as an editor and writer.
He had his share of ups and downs, more downs than ups at the end, but he did it his way.
I often reflect on my Dad’s career. While I envy his ability to take risks and chart his own path, he left this world unfulfilled. See, he measured his success by world standards, not his own. No, he did not rule the business world and I am sure the movie theatres he ran are now long gone.
He missed his calling and the world was robbed of his gifts.
Too little, too late.
I wonder what stories and books would have been written had he lived a bit longer.
Here is what I do know:
He lived. Truly lived. He took risks. Risks that most during his generation were unwilling to take.
He raised a family, with 3 kids graduating college, and two with master’s degrees.
He gave me the love of the outdoors and fishing.
He gave all of us the thrill of adventure. (You can read more about that here)
His career didn’t define him.
He was defined by how he treated others, the family he raised and the issues he took on with his writing.
Below is a nice eulogy written by my father’s friend Larry Olden soon after he passed. Enabled by my dad’s stories, words and authentic voice, Larry beautifully captured the qualities of the father I knew.
All of us should hope that as we go in this world, those around us will capture and benefit from our true gifts and talents.
It was a life well lived, even if he only wrote for 3 years. It was worth it.
The Paul Wise I Knew – Larry Olden – April 1, 1993
I met the man just one year before it was my sad lot to attend his funeral. In that brief span I came to respect him as I have few others in life. I wish, as one can only wish belatedly, that there had more time to sit with him and talk.
For he loved to talk, to hold forth, to opine. He had opinions on just about everything, with the rarer knowledge to back them up. I’ve often watch him bristle with indignation at the injustices of this world, reflect grimly on the moral decline of our society, or puncture with acerbic verve this or that foible of humankind. Yet there was a touch of grace and humor in his fiercest discourse.
He didn’t talk, though, merely to hear himself speak, at the expense of listening. He paid close attention and retained what you said to him. There was an integrity about him that inspired trust, and after knowing him for only a short period I had conversations of surprising candor with him. There were confidences I shared that I feel certain went with him to his grave.
He had read much, pondered deeply, found truths. An irascible but fair-minded man, his wrath fell even-handedly and without prejudice. While deploring the statistics of unwed motherhood, for example, he lambasted the irresponsibility of men who abandon their mates and offspring. And though few take greater delight than he did in a well-contested sporting event the excesses of professional sports were more than once skewered on his pen.
To me he represented a generation of men and women whose lives have been more difficult than my own, some of whom have parlayed that experience and hardship into a wisdom my own generation may never possess. He was a fighter, and though the world may not consider him to have attained a lofty station in life, those of us who knew him honor his achievements and contributions both public and private.
Paul Wise was a curmudgeon. I say that respectfully: we need more of them. The day of his funeral I looked up and read again the Dylan Thomas poem on the passing of his father. The lines had never seemed more apt:
“Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, Rage against the dying of the light.”
Of the scattered fragments of his life that I am privileged to know, a few stand out. There were tales of his childhood as the son of Russian immigrants in New York, amusing stories of his youthful adventures in the countryside of Maryland, and colorful scenes from his career as a movie house manager. But he was perhaps at his most quietly impassioned when he spoke of nature and his love of fishing. This is where his is now, I hope: just gone fishin’. I picture him there, alone in his small boat on a Maryland pond. As the twilight deepens, there is a tug at his line, and he smiles expectantly.
PS – Don’t miss your calling in life. Don’t underutilize your talents and strengths. If you feel like you have more to offer, (I know you do) but can’t find the path, go here to my coaching page. At the bottom of the page, request a Lay of the Land questionnaire and send it to me. I will set up a complimentary appointment and get you pointed in the right direction.