Writer: Goodbye readers

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

I started writing this column 13 years ago, uncertain where the journey would take me and the readers.

I wrote about my children, not because I wanted to boast but rather because I wanted to share the joys and challenges of raising children in a humorous way.

When I started writing, my teenager, Becca, was a 2-year-old. Bailey arrived in a snowstorm in December of the next year.

Over the years, I've written about everything from the difficulty of decorating a Christmas tree with 2-year-old Becca to Bailey's love of rocks. She used to collect rocks from the school yard.

Like most columnists, I never mapped out an ending.

But like everything else, endings are a part of life. So too it is with this column.

This is my last column. After 28 years as a reporter at the Southeast Missourian -- having covered everything from presidential visits to murder trials -- I am leaving at the end of this week to embark upon a new career.

I am taking a job as writer/editor with Southeast Missouri Hospital.

The move will reunite me with my wife, Joni, who is webmaster in the marketing and communications department at the hospital.

I worked with Joni for 17 years at the Missourian. Some people can't work with their spouses. I never found it to be a problem. It was a valued part of the tapestry of our marriage.

And like my love for my wife, I've always had a special attachment to my column.

It's helped me laugh at some of the challenges of parenting.

But what's been really special is the reaction I have received from readers.

I've had total strangers write me letters and even stop me in the grocery store to chat.

Loyal readers have seen me shopping or dining out with my family and have stopped to talk to my daughters.

I've asked them if they don't get tired of reading about Becca and Bailey. They just shake their heads and confide that the stories about my children remind them of their journeys in parenting.

As the readers of my column know, parenting is the hardest unpaid job in the world.

We face a myriad of challenges, from seeing that our children navigate through the lessons of school to helping them fit in with Girl Scouts, sports, piano lessons and countless other activities.

At first, you can't wait for your child to talk. By the time they become teenagers, you find yourself hoping for some peace and quiet.

The family taxi isn't a myth. Moms and dads long for when the children can drive themselves. But that's before your teenager actually starts to drive. Then you become terrified at the prospect of your son or daughter behind the wheel.

But eventually you conclude that your child can back out of the driveway without hitting a tree.

No matter the situation, I've never lost sight of how special it is to be a father. I've truly appreciated the fact that you the readers have readily shared in the humor of raising children.

But most importantly, I am thankful for the willingness of my wife and daughters to let me poke a little fun at our family life. It takes a special family to embrace such personal observations.

In recent years, the humor may have been a little harder to find at times. Joni is battling ovarian cancer. It's a difficult fight, but Joni and I truly appreciate all the prayers and well wishes we have received from friends, readers and even strangers.

As I bring this final column to an end I want to thank those faithful readers of my words.

A writer is only as good as his audience. In my case, I couldn't have had a better audience.

Mark Bliss is a staff writer for the Southeast Missourian.

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