A storyteller. That’s how I’ve spent my life. Non-fiction for the most part.

My ability to tell a good story, at the dinner table with family, at the bar with buddies, or in print for readers, provided me a rewarding career and many friends.

The best part is that my stories were true. Without a bit of exaggeration. Or much exaggeration. Maybe a tad for dramatic effect. 

(Never in news stories, however.  For 40 years as a writer, I proudly told the truth. I dug for facts. Researched history. Asked tough questions.  Wrote stories that were bulletproof. Those were sacred and straightforward, unblinking accounts of what I experienced or was told without a bit of hype.)

Wonder what stories I’m most proud of over my lifetime? I’ve authored three that stand out above all the rest. Unlike the rest of my career, these are true-life mysteries. Each has a strong main character. Loveable. Wicked smart. Resourceful. But not without their weaknesses, as we all have.

Funny thing about these stories . . . I’m not the writer. In fact, they are still unfolding. And I have no idea how they end. 

Happily ever after is how I hope they end. And many years from now.

Of course I’m talking about the stories of Anna, Peter and Ben.

Those three kids are the best thing I’ve done in my life. By a long shot.

Each one is writing a story with their life that has given me goosebumps over the years, starting with their educational accomplishments.

Graduation ceremonies tend to be long, drawn-out affairs leaving plenty of time for contemplation. Ben’s graduation from the University of Colorado in Boulder was a good example. Sitting in the football stadium, watching the procession of thousands of graduates, my mind dug deep into my memories and produced waves of smiles and tears.

It’s always the same with each of my kids. No one gets through life without a mixture of triumphs and tragedies. It’s how you respond that determines the course of your life. I’m proud that my three kids have proven themselves tougher than the challenges that threatened to derail them.

With Ben it was a two-year detour through Alabama that produced challenges he had to overcome. And as he crossed the stage to claim his undergraduate degree, I felt tears on my cheek remembering the journey. I’m so proud of him and all he endured to become the young man he is today.

His journey is far from over as he prepares to enter graduate school to pursue a master’s degree in social work and embark on a career helping the less-fortunate among us. With his partner, Elijah, Ben is off to an impressive start.

Due to COVID-19, I didn’t get to attend Peter’s graduation from the University of St. Mary’s to see him awarded a doctorate of physical therapy degree. But I did get to travel to Newport, R.I., to see him commissioned as a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy. Now he’s married to Marley and about to become a father.

Of course, his milestones in life include a huge setback that took place as his Air Academy High School soccer team was on the verge of its state championship in 2010. It was an event that literally scarred him physically, could have derailed him and cast a shadow over the rest of his life. Instead, he overcame the adversity, allowed it to shape him in positive ways, build his character and become just another chapter in his life.

Finally there is my daughter, Anna, who gave me pause to reflect as I sat in an arena in Florida. I cheered furiously when she crossed the stage, early in the ceremony, and received her master’s degree. She earned it studying at nights while she worked full time at Walt Disney World.

I looked out over the arena floor where sat 5,700 young men and women in caps and gowns. There were students of all ages – Anna, approaching 30 at the time, was among the older graduates.

As the commencement speaker talked about the graduates’ futures, I couldn’t help think about Anna’s past. I marveled at the enormity of the journey she and her brothers have taken in their lives to their academic and personal achievements.

Like Ben and Peter, Anna had faced huge challenges in high school. They were tortuous years for her. I spent many sleepless nights worried for her future. Would she ever find her passion? What would motivate her to tap into her impressive brain, marshal her iron will, channel her fierce determination to excel as I knew she could?

Well, it took Cary researching college courses and career opportunities to discover a Disney recruiter was coming to a local college. They went to the event and the seed was planted.

Before we knew it, Anna had been chosen to spend a college semester at Walt Disney World with thousands of college students from around the globe. Then she spent another, and another. Upon her graduation, she earned a prestigious professional internship from Disney, awarded to less than two dozen graduates each year! She was on her way. Today she’s still at Disney where she met a great guy, Micah, and they married.

As I have watched these stories unfold, I always wonder if my kids truly understand the significance of their accomplishments as they notch milestones like achieving college graduation, embarking on careers, enjoying life.

Do they appreciate what they’ve accomplished just getting accepted into a university and getting the opportunity to earn an advanced degree? 

More important to me, do they know how proud I am of them?

I worry that the day-to-day grind of homework, chores, achievements and disappointments, rewards and punishments often overshadows the bigger picture of their lives.

Of course, I still see them as tiny, helpless little squirming people with big eyes who were completely at the mercy of the world. They were babies, wrapped in the arms of parents whose lives changed the moment they drew a breath and whose hearts melted with each infant coo.

They became the center of the universe for their parents, who fed, bathed and swaddled them, held them tight with a vow to protect and defend and nurture them the rest of their lives.

With each hug, we wrapped up in our children our own hopes and dreams for them. As I looked into those big eyes, my mind raced as I imagined what these babies would become: artists, athletes, musicians, teachers, scientists. All the things parents hope for their children.

As do most parents, we sacrificed time, energy and money to help our children achieve their dreams.

As a lifelong reporter, I looked at them and saw stories waiting to be told. Would they make headlines for academic or athletic triumphs? Would they face personal trials and challenges they must overcome? Would they be scarred by events I might not even imagine?

Of course the answer to each question is yes.

Each taught me big lessons, too. Headline: Parents can’t force children to become what we want them to be. As much as we teach and mold and push them, kids have a funny way of deciding for themselves the direction they want to go.

As parents, we end up following. And it can be uncomfortable, after 18 years or so of leading, setting examples, preaching, cajoling and exhorting them. In the end, they go off on their own and we can only tag along for the ride.

All three of my children are far different from the people I imagined when I first held them in my arms as babies. They look and think for themselves. I give my best advice but they make their own decisions.

It’s scary stuff. Sometimes frustrating. Always exciting. And I wouldn’t have missed their journeys for anything in the world.

And I can’t wait for the next chapters each will write. Dad loves you!