MAY 21, 2001
The man I love
© 2001

The first man I loved (and still do) is called Ted. He's my dad.

Most of what I have accomplished and most of what I am (yeah the good and the bad) is in large measure a function of my dad. I am a good father and husband because of his example. From my youthful arrogance to my mature humility, there are large doses of Ted Metcalf.

I was blessed in many ways but the almost symbiotic relationship I enjoyed with my father growing up is a gift I too often took for granted.

My father was a superb horseman. He was an accomplished polo player (despite breaking his nose eight times), and he first put me in a saddle when I was less than 5. He tried to share his skill with his first-born son and struggled to keep my back straight, my heels down, and my elbows in.

We used to rent a summer home on Potters Pond in Matunuck, R.I. I spent untold hours with my dad fishing and clamming and crabbing. He taught me how to fish, run a boat and swim. Potters Pond was a salt-water pond connected to Salt Pond (that opened to Point Judith and the Atlantic Ocean). There was a channel that connected the two ponds and the tide change flowed through this small "gut." There was a bridge that went over the channel, and at high tide a small motorboat could just make it under the bridge, but you had to duck your head. One time Dad was looking aft and smacked his head on the timbers knocking him on his butt and opening a cut on his forehead. Several years later we were leaving Bristol, R.I., in another boat headed to Groton Connecticut. He said we were going to go under the Jamestown Bridge, and I cautioned him to watch his head. I didn't know why he laughed at that until we drove under the Jamestown Bridge and I looked up at the 110-foot plus height.

When I entered Boy Scouts my dad was one of those fathers who took the troop on camping trips. He never pushed me, but always encouraged me. I remember he had to get a chauffeurs license so he could drive the bus to take us on trips. I remember one night a friend called me to say there was a new badge for "The Mile Swim" and a group was going to take the test. I had never ever had a reason to swim that far, but my dad drove me to the pool and waited while we swam the 88 lengths to qualify for the badge. When I became the youngest Eagle Scout in the state (a distinction I'm sure has since been overshadowed) my sin of pride was as much for the joy it gave my father as the personal accomplishment.

My father was a broadcaster. He started in radio in 1938. World War II interrupted his career, and he went into the Army Air Corps and flew B-17s. He was very proud when I was commissioned, and he and my mother pinned on my gold bars. After the war he returned to radio and ended up doing the first television newscast in Rhode Island. During his broadcast career I was blessed to tag along with him on numerous assignments. I used to carry his tape recorder and help him with the scut work.

Beyond abuse of child labor laws, however, I was afforded a remarkable education that money couldn't buy. I was with him the night he got the late-night call that a U.S. submarine "Thresher" had gone down. We drove to Newport, R.I., and he conducted interviews with very stressed naval officers.

When John F. Kennedy was running for president I was with my dad and met the future president. My dad was very proud of my Eagle Scout award and told the then-senator. A couple of years later Dad and I were at some social event in Newport that the King of Spain was attending. President Kennedy was in attendance, and when he saw us he separated himself from the group he was talking with and came over to ask, "So how is the Eagle Scout doing?" I don't know who was more flabbergasted, my dad or me. Without prompting, despite the thousands of people he had to have met, and for no significant reason other than grace, the president of the United States made that effort.

There was a long list of fascinating people I had the opportunity to interact with for no other reason than I was Ted's son: William Bendix, Bob Hope, Doris Day, Sir Frank Packer, Allan Bond, Bill Cullen, Ted Turner, Frank Mosbacher and others.

My dad was a very talented broadcaster with a voice that was deep, rich and booming. After he won a Peabody Award for his coverage of Hurricane Carol he was labeled "The Voice of Doom." In the late '50s he was approached by NBC for a network job. He was a big fish in a small pond at the time, and with a wife and two young boys he was dissuaded from accepting it largely because of the requisite move to New York. Allegedly, NBC hired another guy instead -- Chet Huntley. A few years later when the inevitable vagaries of the broadcasting business forced him out of his little pond he had to settle for weekend work at NBC Monitor. It was a harsh lesson that my wife and I never forgot. When my major market opportunity came I grabbed it despite the resultant commuting nightmare. However, if I had been blessed with my dad's voice it wouldn't have taken me 20 years to make it to a major market.

I never intended to follow in my father's footsteps. I started working in college radio almost by accident. My first "real" radio job was summer fill-in as a news editor. I didn't get it because of my voice or "presence," and, no, I didn't get it because I was "Ted's kid." I got the job because it required writing about 14 newscasts, and I could type 80 words a minute.

When my dad started in radio it was "new media". When he started in television, it was "new media." We both missed the cable "new media" but my pioneering efforts in co-mingling radio and the Internet is the new "new media." Although I have significantly less personal ego invested in my work than some, I do hope that what I do and I how I do it reflects well on my father and gives him some measure of pride.

Ted will be 85 this September, and he is not in good health. It breaks my heart to see him so frail when I still remember the man with more brass than brains. My brother has had to bear the heaviest burden of our father's health challenges and that bothers me a lot. I got to spend more time with Ted when he was vibrant, active and enjoying minor celebrity. My brother is required to spend more time with our father now, and I am deeply conflicted about who is more gifted. I would gladly trade my brother my early times with Dad for the more challenging and demanding time he has now, but I know that is not possible, and it is a great sadness.