When I was a teen being raised by a single working mom, freedom meant something totally different than it does now. At that time in my life, I was just learning to value the lessons of history, literature and politics, and the rebel in me latched onto the notion of freedom as a call to live outside the norms of accepted behavior.
More to the point, my adolescent brain idolized recklessness and rashness. For a few years I did a lot of crazy things, but by college I was, thankfully, a bit more mature and became a pretty serious student. I relished coming to understand the concepts and ideas and philosophies talked about in lectures, and I began searching class schedules for the professors recommended by other students for their lively classroom discussions. I gave no thought to a career, only my desire to graduate from college with at least a rudimentary understanding of how Western Civilization got to where it is today.
It’s in the post-university world, though, where one’s ideas about freedom go from the test tube to real life. I can distinctly remember when Lori became pregnant with our first. We had not been married long and weren’t trying to have a child, but that’s how things go. Like many parents-to-be, I doubted I was responsible enough to be a husband and father. I was worried about the obligations, of whether I had what it takes to be a dutiful parent and spouse, to be a provider.
During the next few months as I worked through this looming change, it occurred to me that facing these kinds of life events has everything to do with one’s personal concept of freedom: when you choose to take on responsibility, to do the right thing for the right reasons, what seemed a burden becomes liberating. We were going to start a family, our love was strong, and as it turned out having a family just multiplied everything positive in our relationship. There was a lot of uncertainty, but I embraced it instead of fearing it.
I sincerely believe that those few weeks after finding out about Lori’s pregnancy have everything to do with me sitting here today writing this column for The Smoky Mountain News. It was an important turn along the path to becoming what I now refer to as “being my own man.” My aspirations in my career started growing, as did my confidence that I could get there.
It would be a little over 10 years later that we started The Smoky Mountain News. As I write this column, my estimate is that it is about the 900th since we started the newspaper in June 1999 (back in the early days I would often write two a week when we couldn’t afford a staff). I’ve been accused by readers of being stupid, of lying, of ruining reputations, of leading a “band of socialists,” and much, much worse over the years. But every week I get to write what I want, and 17 years later we are still here, still pushing papers out the door every Wednesday, still reading about the death of print and how people don’t want long stories on complicated issues.
When you dig deep, freedom is mostly about responsibility to one’s self. For me that means trying to do right by my wife and kids and my extended family, my co-workers here at SMN, this community and this region. Very simple and very complicated all at the same time.
So, as I think about my own father, his military brethren and those who have fought for our freedoms, I can thank them for the fact that I got to choose my life, that I have the freedom to live my dreams. And here’s hoping we’re still around 17 years from now, still calling people out when they need to be called out, still trying to make this place we call home a better place to live, still free to mix it up in the marketplace of ideas.