Happy Father’s Day, Favorite Reporter

In 1993, the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News devoted many column inches to an obituary for my father, William John Storm, a crime reporter (retired) for a rival daily paper, The Philadelphia Bulletin. (Those were the days — three thriving daily newspapers in one city.)

One obit writer described him as “perhaps the greatest ‘house–end’ reporter’ who ever worked in Philly,” where I grew up. A house-ender is journalism lingo for the reporter assigned to knock on the door of a grief-stricken family to collect the facts and anecdotes that put faces, feelings, and life into a story about a tragedy. For example, when 29-year-old Mary Jo Kopechne died from drowning at Chappaquiddick under suspicious circumstances involving Sen. Edward Kennedy in 1969, my dad was the reporter chosen to knock on the door of her family home to gently draw out the essential human-interest angle.

When I read my father’s full obituary, I was so pleased. Yes, I’d realized for years that Dad was a stellar reporter, but I didn’t know he was as treasured for his humanity as for his reportorial skills. The executive editor of the Bulletin at the time, reflecting on my dad, said, “He was unbelievable. He combined compassion with great skill, did his job wonderfully with a minimum of disruption to people’s lives, which had already been shattered in one way or another.”

“Billy,” as my mother affectionately called him, spread his compassion around at home, too. A quiet man but also a raconteur with a fine sense of humor, Dad rarely mentioned his childhood. But hints and offhand remarks were dropped on occasion; we knew his youth had not been carefree or easy. Nonetheless, our father created a loving and comfortable home for us. Unfailingly kind, patient, and fun loving, he ensured there was always a sporty convertible in the driveway, libations by the pool, and an overflowing stack of good books by the fireplace.

When Dad died of a massive stroke at 76, I felt so fortunate to have had him to love — and to learn from — for so many years. He sometimes reminded me that, “there are no small stories. Every story deserves your best effort.” This from the many who covered the partial nuclear disaster at Three Mile Island in 1973 and was one of only a few reporters present when James Earl Ray, who assassinated Martin Luther King, was captured after escaping from a Tennessee prison in 1977.

For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be like my dad. At age 7, I taught myself to type on the old Olivetti in his den. Fifty-five years later, when stumped by a personal or a professional trial, I still consider how he might approach it. Long after his passing, he remains my mentor, my inspiration, and — most important — the parent who offered unconditional love.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad. Thanks for the memories. As I do every Father’s Day, I’ll visit you, taking a seat on the garden bench near the Sugar Time Maple planted in your honor in a peaceful and verdant Wilmette, Illinois Park.

The Power of Siblings: My Sister, Myself

Celebrating Easter in our Sunday best, 1960, with Leslie at left

Celebrating Easter in our Sunday best, 1960, with Leslie at left

A 2010 article in Time Magazine titled “The New Science of Siblings”
revealed fascinating developments about how siblings shape each other — for life: “At research centers in the U.S., Canada, Europe and elsewhere, investigators are launching a wealth of new studies into the sibling dynamic, looking at ways brothers and sisters steer one another into — or away from— risky behavior; how they form a protective buffer against family upheaval; how they educate one another about the opposite sex; how all siblings compete for family recognition and come to terms —or blows—over such impossibly charged issues as parental favoritism.

“Siblings,” said family sociologist Katherine Conger in the Time story, Davis, “are with us for the whole journey.”

Wow — that’s a torrent of influence. I focus frequently on the sister-to-sister relationship because my closeness with my older sister is hard won. True to our surname, we battled many storms to achieve our current connection.

Leslie and I share a sibling story history as dramatic as any I know. Two years older than me, Leslie (“Lolly”) was a protective sister when we were growing up in rural Ambler, PA. We played together most of the time; there was only one other girl in the small enclave that passed for a neighborhood.

When our attachment waned as Les approached high school, her absence left a huge chasm. After all, she was smart, funny, and cool. While I wasn’t conscious of it at age 13, I think I hoped she’d be there to help me navigate own adolescence. However, it wasn’t in the cards. My lovely Leslie struggled with some serious personal challenges during her teens. As a result, we didn’t share secrets, midnight snacks or boyfriend anecdotes for several years.

Our closeness rekindled when I followed her (Was it conscious? I don’t know.) to American University in Washington, D.C., where we both pursued journalism degrees. (Dadles and bets in  '30s (2) was a well-known Philadelphia newspaper reporter). Our boyfriends were fast friends, and the foursome we shared still wins top billing among my fondest college memories.

In our fifties, Leslie and I were estranged for about eight years, amid a variety of difficult circumstances — including our difficult and sometimes divisive mother. When our mom died almost six years ago, Leslie and I were instantly, deeply reunited at our mother’s funeral when, to our surprise, we reached for each other’s hands and held on tight throughout the service. After that, as the saying goes, we never missed a beat. When I threw a book launch party in 2014, Leslie’s the one who collected money from sales of Bright Lights of the Second City, greeted guests, and helped pack up the whole shebang. A year earlier, when my husband and I renewed our wedding vows, my big sister walked me down the aisle.

When my phone rings these days, my called ID often flashes “LESLIE,” calling from Portland, OR. We sometimes talk thrice daily; it requires that degree of conversation to cover: the joys and challenges of adult children; the abundant love of grandchildren; fantasy vacations; the ups and down of men, jobs, and aging; and always, always, always our shared passion for liberal politics, a wide range of social issues, books, movies, music and a plethora of social issues. (Not to mention just plain sister silliness, even at ages 62 and 64.)

Leslie often reminds me that the sister-to-sister relationship is often regarded as the closest and most enduring a girl — of any age — can enjoy. Amen, Sister!

Visionaries share personal history tidbits

Two years ago, I completed a book, Bright Lights of the Second City: 50 Prominent Chicagoans on Living with Passion and Purpose. As a lifelong interviewer of accomplished individuals, writing the book was a professional pinnacle. It introduced me to the personal histories of 50 renowned Chicagoans, including Apollo 13 astronaut James Lovell, jazz great Ramsey Lewis, and broadcast legend Bill Kurtis.

Soon after my book was published, I read a post on Oprah.com titled “5 Breakthroughs You Can Learn from These Visionaries.” The piece, packed with a couple of fascinating video clips, sprinkles nuggets of stellar advice delivered in neat, concise but totally believable little packages. They exemplify the kind of inspirational cheerleading messages that can help us breathe more easily — if we remember to follow them when, for example, we’re panicking about whether (1) our new project is as viable as we first thought, (2) our problem-solving approach is actually making said problem more manageable, or 3) our new take on a classic situation will appeal to anyone but us.

Take Philippe Petit, for example. He’s the high-wire artist who boldly scaled a wire between the World Trade Center twin towers in 1974 — a more innocent time when the terror of 9/11 was simply unimaginable. See the astonishing You Tube video here. Ever emphasizing his rarely matched pursuit of perfection, he proudly says, “people label me a madman of detail, and I don’t refute the title. I work towards perfection for thousands of hours ….”

On another front, paleontologist Neil Shubin, Ph.D., agrees with many individuals profiled in Bright Lights of the Second City that luck is, quite often, an underrated factor in achieving one’s desired outcome. (See Shubin here on “The Colbert Report.”) Bright Lights front cover lo-resHe is also quick to remind us that tenacity trumps many other characteristics. When talking about how he and his team found the snout of a Tiktaalik roseae (a 375-million-year old fossil). Shubin emphasizes, “we could have given up — it had been six years! But we didn’t.”

Read the Oprah.com post to meet celebrity stylist June Ambrose, cellist Zoe Keating, and Jad Abumrad, cohost of WNYC’s Radiolab. They each contribute insights that can stimulate us to live our lives more creatively .