BY THE TIME I was 8 years old, I knew I had a famous father. In line at the post office, on walks to the bagel shop, at the train station, strangers would clap my dad on the back, praise or quibble with his latest column and ask what he thought of the Phillies' chances that spring. Even my classmates were impressed: You get to go to spring training? (I did, with a dog-eared copy of "Little Women" under my arm.) You've seen the press box? (Yep - lots of clattering typewriters and crumpled Tastykake wrappers.)
To me, ballparks and hockey rinks were simply the places my dad went to work, the way other dads went to office towers. What dazzled me then - and dazzles me now - is what my dad did with the games and people he witnessed there. He found a story, every single time, and told it with his signature muscle and music, an incisive, rat-a-tat style that was the first thing I recognized as "voice" on the printed page.
As I became interested in journalism, he shared nuggets of advice - "Keep it tight; make it bright; get it right" - and let me finger-peck on his Olivetti, using carbon packs that made three smudgy echoes of everything I wrote. I watched, I read, I learned: How to ask the tough question, how to capture the precise or earthy cadence of someone's speech, how to check facts and check them again.
In my freshman year at Yale, my father wrote me a letter. He was worried: coed bathrooms, a drinking age of 18 in Connecticut, newfound freedoms and risks. But instead of a finger-shaking, "just say no" message, he wrote that he hoped I would seek my highs and epiphanies in the everyday world: the red-gold streak of a sunset, a perfect catch in centerfield, a runner's breathless arc across the finish line.