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Why I Wanted to Finish My Father’s Life’s Work

Karen Brown | Longreads | December 4, 2019 | 2,139 words
Posted inEssays & Criticism, Feature, Featured, Nonfiction, Story

Why I Wanted To Finish My Father’s Life’s Work

Karen Brown recalls the pain and joy of fulfilling a deathbed promise.
Illustration by Homestead Studio, inspired by photo supplied by the author

Karen Brown | Longreads | December 2019 | 9 minutes (2,139 words)

“Do you think you’ll pursue more significant work one day?”

That’s the kind of casual barb my father would deliver over breakfast on my visits home after I was well into my career as a radio journalist.

That may seem unsupportive, which was not typical. He was the emotional rock in my life for 50 years. He chaperoned my elementary school dances, read every article I wrote for the high school newspaper, and later, sent around news of my journalism awards to his friends and colleagues. Every year, he wrote me a birthday card extolling all the ways he admired me.

And yet. He had this dream for my career, that I would become a nationally prominent journalist who might one day topple a presidency and change the world. Instead I became a regionally-respected public radio reporter who mostly does health-related features.

He made those comments about his tempered expectations to let me know he could be both loving and honest. But to me, they felt annoying and unfair. In the end, we’d reach a mutual understanding that no one gets to do exactly what they dream of.

I’ve been thinking a lot about those conversations as I put my own writing projects on the back burner to try to finish my father’s final book.

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