“Mer,”says Dad. Not really of course. Yes, he’ll make sounds and grumbles as he goes through the day but, as he says, “I’m not the dog.” Our first dog, Henry used to “Moo” as he sat or laid down. Dad thinks that’s where we got it from.
Really, the whole “Mer” thing is something that I think my brothers and I just kind of stumbled upon. It’s a good approximation of the some of his hemming and hawing, without having a positive or negative connotation. Moreover, it’s an excellent tool in doing imitations of Dad, which is probably the real reason for its popularity and continued use.
Dad is smart. Dad is kind. And Dad is funny. Very funny, in fact. He has a kind constant dry sarcasm. He observes all and will constantly throw out puns and wordplay, which while not as funny as his less intentional humor, set the scene. He knows these aren’t funny exactly, but they are clever and the overall effect is very entertaining. I see this now as I grow older and find myself making the same types of throwaway cracks.
There are other things too. My dad has a sheepish little half smile. All who love Jim know this. Half is trying to be serious. The other half is an acknowledgement that, yes, whatever is happening right now is kind of funny, he just sort of wishes it weren’t happening to him.
Dad prefers to be underestimated. He’s brilliant, skilled and due to his, ahem, advanced age, experienced. Some this may stand out to me more than other family members. We both are working in the same accursed field, something that I swear, I had no intention of happening back when I was in high school.
Dad’s chosen profession is as a journalist, where he’s been working, for a major newspaper, for more years than I’ve been around. All through my life, he’s played off that he’s not very good, exactly, just doing his job, a sort of C-student editor. But he’s not- he’s amazing.
The first clues came when I was younger and would pick my Dad up from birthday or retirement or work celebration parties with his paper friends. His pal/immediate superior came up to me, after having as many as Dad had, would tell me how great Jim was, how he pulled everything together, how it couldn’t happen without him. Dad would write this off as bullshit.
But, in college, a young photographer decided to try working for the school paper, run from a journalism school which he had two former colleagues working in. That student became a photojournalist. In the years that followed, he eventually began to work at a small-town paper where he filled a number of roles, including that of a reporter, and Dad’s abilities would make themselves clear.
Working to get my paper put together on a Monday or Wednesday evening is a whole new ballfield when Dad is in town. He looks over the pages and each thing he tells me not only helps the publication, but also is an epiphany to me, each something I had never realized but would now never forget. Some of these are basic rules and ideas that, had I taken newswriting 101, or whatever my poor reporter D.E. Chums had to take, I would have known. Others are design and layout ideas. My Dad, a designer, who would have known?
Of course, it’s not the what of working with him, but the how. Things move quicker, but they’re higher quality and the whole newspaper flows better. He can motivate not by discipline but by bringing you in on a vision of a better paper, something that you can see your part in and are happy to do. This is how I learn, truly and in my heart, that editing is not proofreading. I had known the difference but when I really get to see it in action, it’s my own Dad.
Dad will probably deny all this. He’ll be embarrassed. But he’s good at what he does. He is a good Dad, just like he’s a good journalist. But talking about that is not so straightforward as talking about his editing. Still, maybe he should at least be told it, so that he’ll have to deny it, or play it off as bullshit. He may say that it was all my Mother, about whom he could truthfully say that he “Couldn’t have done it without her. Still, credit where credit is due: Jim Haglund is my Dad. I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.