Happy Father's Day

Beyond the byline: Lessons from my journalist father

by Richard L. Stein
Posted 6/13/24

Sorry, Dad. I know you weren't a fan of Father's Day. But my colleagues at The Local have challenged me to write about your influence on me.

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Happy Father's Day

Beyond the byline: Lessons from my journalist father


Sorry, Dad.

I know you weren't a fan of Father's Day. You used to tease Mom — a big supporter of the holiday — every year when it came around and tell her that it was just a promotion scheme by the greeting card companies to drum up business.

But now that I'm a father, grandfather and very recently a great-grandfather, my colleagues at The Local have challenged me to write a Father's Day message about your influence on me as a man and as a journalist.

Some people adore their fathers and strive to follow in their footsteps. Others think the less said about their fathers, the better. You rarely talked about your Dad, who died before I was born. But accounts gleaned from your brother by my cousins paint a rather grim picture of an unhappy working class immigrant father who tried to thwart your ambition to go to college and become a newspaperman. Family legend has it that your Mother had to sneak you out of the house to begin your studies at Ohio University.

When you became a parent you were determined not to follow your father's example and I'm grateful for it.

Parents rarely sit their children down and tell them, "Here are the life lessons you must learn." Kids are keen observers and they absorb and mimic what they see and hear from their families. I was no different.

What did I see and hear from you? First, you and Mom were loving, kind, generous and compassionate. The community newspaper where you spent the better part of your adult life, The Riverdale Press, was spawned by a newsletter that you published for the local community center. It was just one of your many volunteer efforts.

You worked hard, putting in long hours as the managing editor of the Associated Press' New York office and later as the editor and publisher of your own newspaper. You started the paper when I was three and, for all of us, work life and home life merged. Mom worked side by side with you and in the paper's early years you enlisted the neighbors in our six-story Bronx apartment building to handle bookkeeping, circulation and mailing.

Both my brother, Buddy, and I got involved when we were very young. My first byline came when I was about 11. That's also when I got my first lesson in journalistic ethics. I had written a series of profiles of neighborhood ice cream truck drivers and I was delighted that one of them rewarded me with free rides on his truck. When I bragged about it, you insisted that I politely refuse any more favors from "sources." "We don't take payola for stories," you intoned.

Our activities were always fodder for your weekly column about life in the community. If Buddy or I said something cute, it was bound to end up in the column. Things didn't change much when Buddy and I took charge of the paper. Buddy once sat down at the dinner table and asked his young daughter, "How was school today?"

"Is this off the record?" she shot back.

Like you, I enjoy sparking controversy at a dinner party, suggesting "this country needs more, not fewer immigrants" or "it's time for a Green New Deal." Admittedly, my comments come from a different place than your "We never should have allowed women to vote!" or "Social Security was supposed to be a temporary program." Although yours were decidedly more tongue in cheek.

You expected your children to know current affairs and participate in the debate, and I expect the same of my children and grandchildren. When he was just 12, your great-grandson Luca debated loudly with me about the possible origins of World War III. We were in a hotel dining room in California at the time and a woman walked by our table shaking her head. "I'm sorry if we're being too loud," I said.

"That's not it," she replied, "I'm listening to a 12-year-old holding forth on world affairs."

Although you and Mom were both working all day, we weren't latchkey kids after school. An African proverb may have said, "It takes a village…" but the philosophy you practiced was, "It takes a newspaper office to raise a child."

Every day after school, if we didn't have Little League practice or Hebrew School, we were expected to come straight to the office where the watchful eyes of the entire staff made sure we did our homework or whatever assignment we were given.

To this day I can't envision a more nurturing environment than that kind of family business. But often the nurturing ends when the kids grow up and start to set their own agendas.

Your newspaper grew to have a national reputation and fathers who create something as special as you did often have a hard time passing it on to the next generation. They can't let go.

You were different. You may have bristled when we ran an editorial you disagreed with or were convinced an advertising promotion would fall flat on its face, but you held your tongue. "Why don't you say something?" Mom would implore.

"They're in charge now," you'd say. "I've got to let them make their own mistakes."

Okay, not a perfect vote of confidence, but I'll take it with gratitude. Happy Father's Day.

Rich Stein is interim publisher of The Local.