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COLUMN: Reporter pays tribute to her first editor – her dad

Reporter Jessica Owen recalls important conversations and life lessons from her dad

When I was in elementary school, my dad would edit my work for me.

I have memories of him pulling out his trusty red pen and sitting down at the kitchen table with my projects, reports or essays to give them a once-over before I submitted them to teachers.

As I got older, he would edit my high school essays, then later, my university and college essays and stories.

When I entered the working world and applied for jobs, he would edit my cover letters and resumes.

My dad and I are kindred spirits. When my dad first went away to school in his late teens/early 20s, he started in journalism. However, he took a psychology course as an elective and fell in love with that field, transferring into psychology and later obtaining a master's degree in social work.

He worked as a social worker for many years in Mississauga, eventually moving into a position where he managed group homes for people with intellectual and physical disabilities. He retired about five years ago.

There are a lot of parallels between my career path, and my dad’s. We both listen for a living.

He has a gentle and laid-back effect, and is always willing to lend a listening ear. He loves music and reading about philosophy and religion. He plays guitar and enjoys watching old black-and-white movies.

While I have been working in news for about 12 years now and Village Media pays people to edit my work, from time to time I still call my dad for advice on stories when I think he could provide an interesting perspective.

About a month ago, I was working on a small feature about a volunteer with a local organization that helps people with disabilities. After my interview, I called my dad to talk about the language that is often used to refer to people who have disabilities.

He gave me a short history lesson.

Did you know the Huronia Regional Centre was originally called the Orillia Asylum for Idiots?

Over the years there have been many terms used for people with disabilities, which I don’t need to outline in-depth here. Some are more offensive by today’s standards, some less. In my interview last month, the person I interviewed referred to them as “challenged.”

What all these terms have in common is, they define the person we’re speaking about as one thing – and that thing is what solely defines them as a person.

Using people-centred language is something I strive for whenever I refer to anyone that might be considered vulnerable in our society. Instead of referring to someone as ‘an addict,’ instead, try saying, ‘a person dealing with addiction.’

Instead of talking about ‘the area’s homeless,’ try saying, ‘people experiencing homelessness.’

It means that the person is not defined purely by their addiction or housing status or disability. This can be important not only to how society might see a vulnerable person, but more importantly, it can impact how this person sees themselves. Words have power.

My dad fiercely believes in the concept of life-long learning, as do I.

There are many instances in my career where I’ve seen ego get wrapped up in knowledge. As someone who asks questions for a living, I have seen the implosion that can occur when someone’s knowledge is simply questioned.

It’s not always pretty.

My dad is the opposite of that. He relishes opportunity for open conversations and learning new things. He doesn’t get offended when someone disagrees with him, and instead sees it as an opportunity to learn and treats all viewpoints with dignity.

If he’s talking with someone he really cares about, sometimes he’ll just let it go altogether because to him, the relationship is more valuable than being right.

It’s something I’ve always admired about him and strive for in my own life.

About three years ago, I went on a trip to New York City with my brother. When he and I sat down for dinner at a restaurant one night while there, the conversation turned to our parents.

“You know, you’re a lot like dad,” he told me.

It was probably the nicest compliment I’ve received in my entire life.

Jessica Owen is a general assignment reporter for CollingwoodToday.ca, and would like to wish her dad a happy Father’s Day.




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Jessica Owen

About the Author: Jessica Owen

Jessica Owen brings 11 years of experience to her role as regional reporter for Village Media, primarily covering County of Simcoe matters, education and features
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