Friday, October 21, 2022

Media Notebook--10-21-22


A curation of news items about the media from this past week, with a particular emphasis on Chicago…



*Marconi Shutouts Chicago

=There were a few Chicagoans up for this year’s Marconi Awards Wednesday night in New York, but sadly, none of them brought home the trophy. Parkins & Spiegel from the Score lost out on major market personality of the year to Greg Hill (WEEI-Boston). WCMQ-Columbus beat out the Drive (WDRV) for Rock Station of the Year, and Janda Lane’s Behind the Song podcast lost the best radio podcast award to KSL-FM Salt Lake City. Full list of Marconi winners are here.


*The Rise of a Conservative Talk Radio Juggernaut

=The New York Times took a deep dive this week into Salem Media, owner of Chicago’s WIND-AM 560 (and many other stations in the country). Lots of information here about some of the hosts they syndicate (like local boy Charlie Kirk, and Hungarian firebrand Sebastian Gorka), but the one thing I didn’t realize is that Salem financed the election-denying 2000 Mules film by Dinesh D’Souza. Fact-checkers (including non-partisan Reuters) have been pretty brutal to that film (The Bulwark calls it a hilarious mockumentary). Even former Attorney General Bill Barr laughed at how ridiculous it was during the Jan 6 hearings.

=Salem was also in the news in Dallas this week, when they had to settle a case brought by victims of an informercial swindle. Inside Radio has the full story.


*Chuck Swirsky’s "Always a Pleasure"

=Jeff Agrest has a great piece in the Sun Times this week about Chuck Swirsky’s new Eckhartz Press book Always a Pleasure.

=Bob Sirott and Dave Eanet also interviewed Swirsk on WGN Radio.

=And yes, full disclosure, Eckhartz Press is my publishing company.


*Podcast Corner

Everybody has a podcast now. Including…

=A princess. Megan Markle opened up about her days as a briefcase girl on Deal or No Deal in her latest podcast.

=A rock star. Billy Corgan’s podcast is called 33 with William Patrick Corgan

=A disgraced politician. Not to be outdone by his brother Chris, Andrew Cuomo has a podcast too. His first guest is the Mooch, Anthony Scaramucci.

=A political pundit. One of the reasons Rachel Maddow stepped back from her 5-nights-a-week hosting at MSNBC is so that she could host a series of podcasts (for real). Vanity Fair reviews her latest effort.

=A local newscaster. WBBM’s Lisa Fielding has a great podcast about the Chicago International Film Fest.

=You?  Would you believe there’s a studio right here in Chicago that you can rent for the occasion?


*Producer Protection

=This story out of Boston is one that will blow away anyone who has worked as a radio producer (raising hand here). Mike Lockhart was the producer of the highly rated Toucher & Rich morning show. The station itself is one of the top 5 grossing stations in the country, and this is the top show on that station. So, imagine the surprise of the hosts when Lockhart was fired in a cost-cutting move. Co-host Rich Schertenlieb tried to explain to his bosses how important Lockhart was to the show, and how much they wanted him to stay, and how justifiable his salary was considering the success of the show and the station, but the bosses wouldn’t be swayed. So what did Schertenlieb do? He re-hired Lockhart himself and is paying his salary. Radio Ink has the full story.





*October 16 was the birthday of WXRT jock Johnny Mars. Here’s a photo of Johnny at the Bobby Skafish book signing in 2016 (with Greg Solk, Bobby Skafish and me).


*October 17 was Score head-honcho Mitch Rosen’s birthday. I had a chance to interview Mitch back in 2011 for Chicago Radio Spotlight.


*October 17 is also NBC-5’s LeeAnn Trotter’s birthday.


*Mark Edwards celebrated his birthday on October 18th. The former WLIT program director was kind enough to chat with me back in 2008.


*Former WXRT and WDRV music director Patty Martin also celebrated a birthday this week (October 18). I interviewed Patty back in 2011.


*October 19 is the birthday of WGN Radio’s John Williams. The long-time midday talker was featured in this Illinois Entertainer piece I wrote back in 2020.


*October 19 is also the birthday of the soon-to-be retired ABC-7 anchorman Alan Krashesky.


*The always lovable former WLUP and ESPN producer/production man Artie Kennedy celebrated his birthday on October 20. You can get an idea of Artie’s engaging personality from reading this interview I did with him back in 2009.


*October 22nd would have been Joe Collins’ birthday. One of Chicago’s best traffic reporters passed in 2017, just a few years after I interviewed him for Illinois Entertainer.


*Former WJJD/WJMK/Satellite Music Network jock/newsman Kurt Scholle (air name: Kurt Schafer) also has a birthday on October 22. He's a dead-ringer for Santa during the holiday season.


*And last but not least, Chicago television’s investigative reporter extraordinaire Pam Zekman’s birthday is October 22nd too.





*The Charles Thomas Ads

=If you live in Chicago and you watch TV, you’ve seen the ads featuring former Channel 7 reporter Charles Thomas. It seems that everyone has a strong opinion on those ads. Axios Chicago did a deep dive on this story, and it’s well worth the read.


*ABC Producer Mystery

=This is one of the strangest stories in the news this week. ABC News Producer James Gordon Meek’s home was raided by the FBI back in April. He abruptly resigned shortly thereafter and hasn’t been seen by friends or neighbors since. Rolling Stone reported the story (behind a paywall), but the Daily Beast has a pretty good recap.

*What has happened to Lara Logan?

=At one time Lara Logan was a respected television journalist working for CBS News. Things seems to have changed a bit. From this morning’s Reliable Sources by Oliver DarcyLara Logan has gotten herself banned from yet another network. After being dumped by Fox News for comparing Dr. Anthony Fauci to an infamous Nazi doctor, the one-time "60 Minutes" correspondent appeared on Newsmax and went full QAnon, claiming that "the open border is Satan's way of taking control of the world" and that the elites "want us eating insects [and] cockroaches" while they "dine on the blood of children." 


*Charles Barkley the $100 million man

=Barkley was a great (Hall of Fame) basketball player, but he may be even better as a basketball studio analyst. TNT apparently thinks so. The $100 million contract they offered him this week is more money than he ever made playing basketball.


*Matthew Perry’s Colostomy Bag

=Pretty grim piece here in Deadline about Matthew Perry and just how close he came to dying due to his opioid addiction. He was in a coma for 2 weeks. He wore a colostomy bag for months. He says: “My therapist said, ‘The next time you think about taking Oxycontin, just think about having a colostomy bag for the rest of your life. And a little window opened and I crawled through it and I no longer want Oxycontin anymore.”


*Cable News Corner

=New York Times profile of Fox News CEO Suzanne Smith on the eve of her deposition in the $1.6 billion Dominion lawsuit.


*Streaming Corner

=Netflix added another 2.4 million subscribers, which bucked the recent trends. (That's one way to avoid seeing political ads)

=Streaming is more friendly to women on screen and off, according to this Deadline piece.





*Gallup Poll Shows Only 34% Trust Mass Media to Report “Fully, Accurately, Fairly”

=That’s an all-time low for the poll, which isn’t a great sign heading into an important midterm election. This mainly breaks down on a partisan basis, with 70% of Democrats trusting the media (at least somewhat), and only 14% of Republicans.

= I wrote an entire novel about this ($everance) fifteen years ago, predicting that we were heading in this direction. It was supposed to be a satire, a warning of how bad it could get if we kept going this way. I blame myself for lack of imagination because today’s reality is much worse than the one I cartoonishly predicted in 2007.

=Mass media certainly deserves some of this disdain. I could write another book about things they have done that led to this distrust. On the other hand, the information sources people are choosing instead of mass media, are often clearly and provably less full, accurate and/or fair. Here’s the question Gallup should ask next time: Do you even want reporting that is full, accurate and fair…if it goes against your team? I’d love to see the numbers on that poll. For both sides of the political spectrum.

=The latest media outlet to try to correct this problem is Semafor, which debuted this week. According to their co-founder (former New York Times media writer) Ben Smith: “… it’s come as a painful realization to me that the problem with news right now isn’t just that there aren’t enough reporters out there getting scoops. Readers, listeners, and viewers are drowning in a stew of assertions and opinions.” Check it out here, if you are interested.

=With all this in mind, I found this local story in the news this week even more interesting. Media Literary Class teaching high school kids to separate fact from fake now mandatory thanks to Naperville grad. (h/t Chicago Public Square)





*Kanye is trying to buy Parler

=By the time I print this link, I suspect the news will have changed, but as of this moment, the rapper is trying to buy the social media outlet.


*How to Write a Best Seller

=First, marry the former president’s daughter. Second, write a book. Third, ask the former president’s campaign fund to buy over $158,000 worth of books. As the author of seven books (and an eighth on the way soon), I'm beginning to see why I’ve never cracked the NY Times Best seller list, unlike first time author Jared Kushner.

If you have any media stories (Chicago or national) that you think I might like to share in future columns, feel free to drop me a line at or

Tommy Kaempfer Week--Part 5

My oldest son Tommy turns 27 years old this week. Since I featured a whole week of Sean when it was his birthday, I thought it was only fair if I did the same for the other two boys. All of these columns I'm posting this week are Father Knows Nothing columns that didn't quite make it into the book. This one is about charity...


I can still see the look on Tommy’s face when he heard he was going to have to do community service in order to be confirmed by our church.  He didn’t say the words, but his facial expression screamed: “I can’t do that.”

It’s not that Tommy is anti-community. It’s that he’s painfully quiet, and most community service projects involve having to speak and interact with strangers. Tommy doesn’t even speak and interact with his family.  I pinch him twice a week just to make sure he’s still breathing.

So, when we looked at the possibilities on the long list of community service projects they gave us, one of them jumped out at us: volunteering at the library.

“What do you think about that one?” I asked.

He grunted and shook his head. “Nah.”

Just as I was searching the list for something even more appropriate for him, like “taking a vow of silence,” he pointed to something that I never thought he’d consider.

“What about this one?” he asked.

I thought I must be seeing things. “You’re accidentally pointing to ‘volunteering at the soup kitchen.’”

“I know,” he said.

“Do you know what that is?” I asked.

“Sure. They serve free food to people that can’t afford it. Right?”

“Yeah,” I said. “But you wouldn’t go there to eat the food. You’d go there to serve it.”

“I know,” he replied, rolling his eyes at me. “I’d like to try it.”

So, he did.

We found out that they needed help on Tuesday nights, and right then and there Tommy committed himself to doing it the rest of the school year. I drove him to the Catholic Charities soup kitchen every Tuesday, and every week he came out of there with a big smile on his face. I should note: this is a boy that also never smiles.

“Are you actually enjoying this?” I asked him.

“Yeah,” he said. “They put me in charge of the beverages.”

On the way to and from the soup kitchen the two of us began to have long conversations about being thankful for all of our blessings. He was now able to put a face on the word “poverty,” and began to realize that poor people really aren’t any different than we are.

“It feels good to help,” he said. “People really seem to appreciate it.”

When he broke his leg and couldn’t help for a few weeks, he really missed it. The moment that cast came off, he was back in there, helping out on Tuesday nights. This, despite the fact that there were only a few more weeks until his confirmation and the religious education program told him he had already completed the requirement.

“I want to keep on doing it,” he said.

And he did, for two more years. After his sophomore year of high school he was even given a community service award by the Arch Diocese.

I have to tell you…I never saw that one coming.

Eckhartz Everyday

 *On this day in 2020, Eckhartz Press author Ken Korber met with us to do this photo session for his new book. We were (and still are) very excited that he had teamed up with Little Steven Van Zandt (from the E-street band) for this book. It's still available, of course, at Eckhartz Press...

Thursday, October 20, 2022

Chuck Swirsky on WGN Radio

 He used to be a mainstay on this station, so it was fun to hear Chuck Swirsky on WGN Radio again today with Bob Sirott and Dave Eanet.

You can listen to it here.

Of course they were talking about his new Eckhartz Press book Always a Pleasure.

It's German, But I Think You'll Understand Part of This

Chuck Swirsky in the Chicago Sun Times

Tommy Kaempfer Week--Part 4

My oldest son Tommy turns 27 years old this week. Since I featured a whole week of Sean when it was his birthday, I thought it was only fair if I did the same for the other two boys. All of these columns I'm posting this week are Father Knows Nothing columns that didn't quite make it into the book. This one is about Halloween...

 Halloween was always one of my favorite holidays when I was kid. Getting dressed up in a costume, ringing doorbells, getting free candy…what’s not to love?

When my oldest son Tommy got to the trick-or-treating age, I was looking forward to reliving the excitement with him. I figured he was going to love it as much as I did.

He didn’t.

In fact, he couldn’t stand any of it. He particularly hated dressing up in a costume. When he was five, he grudgingly agreed to wear the Woody costume because he loved Toy Story, but only if we promised he could take off the cowboy hat the second after I took the obligatory Halloween picture. We came to the same agreement when he was six, and seven, and eight.

By third grade, when he didn’t fit into the Woody costume anymore, he was ready to quit the Halloween tradition once and for all.

I figured his lack of enthusiasm had to be my fault somehow. My enthusiasm for Halloween must not have been translating properly. Maybe if I tried a little harder to get into that little braniac head of his, tried to think of the kind of costume he would like, maybe that would win him over.

So I told him we would brainstorm ideas.

“Tommy, you don’t have to pick one of these costumes in the store, or try to be like one of the other kids, you know. You can be anything you want to be for Halloween.”

Tommy wasn’t the greatest at brainstorming. “I want to be Tommy,” he said.

“You know what Albert Einstein used to say?”

That piqued his interest. Einstein is his hero.

“He said God’s greatest gift to mankind is imagination, because with imagination, there are no limits to what you can achieve.”

He thought about that for a moment. “Einstein said that?”

“Yes, he did. Now use that imagination of yours, Tommy, and I promise you that we will create a costume for whatever you come up with—no limits. Anything at all.”


“Yes, anything.”

“OK,” he said, “I want to be an accountant.”

He was the only accountant in the 3rd grade that year. He dressed up in a suit and tie, and carried a calculator. The next year he dressed up as an artist. He wore a smock and a beret (until the second after I took the picture). In 5th grade he was a scientist. He wore a white lab coat. 

When he got into middle school and  found out that the kids don’t have to dress up anymore, he broke into the biggest grin I’d seen on his face in years. That year he finally wore the costume he wanted to wear every year.

He went as Tommy.

Eckhartz Everyday

 *On this day in 2016, fellow Eckhartz Press author Bruce Bohrer and I were both on WCIU-TV's morning show talking about the Cubs. They were just a few short weeks away from winning it all...

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Happy birthday kid!

Tommy Kaempfer Week--Part Three

My oldest son Tommy turns 27 years old this week. Since I featured a whole week of Sean when it was his birthday, I thought it was only fair if I did the same for the other two boys. All of these columns I'm posting this week are Father Knows Nothing columns that didn't quite make it into the book. This one is about headphones...

Tommy loves music, which is fine. He also loves wearing his iPod ear buds all day and night, which is not. When I call him to come down to dinner, he doesn’t hear me. I have to walk into his room, and wave my arms in front of his face to get his attention. As you might imagine, that can become slightly annoying.

Tommy also brings his headphones with him wherever he goes. I have had many, many, many discussions with him about this, and how rude it is for him to wear his headphones in public, and after much debate we finally came to a compromise. He could wear one ear bud, but not both of them. I figured that one ear was better than none.

That little agreement eliminated the most egregious offenses (like the time he worked for me at a golf outing collecting money, and answering everyone’s questions with “WHAT? What did you say?”), but he looks ridiculous with one ear bud dangling, and he still can’t hear what people are saying to him if they happen to be standing on the wrong side of his head.

They always say to pick your battles, and after battling this one for years, I lost the will to battle it any further. Then one day, we turned a corner. We were in the doctor’s examining room awaiting the return of the nurse.

“Please take off your headphones so you can answer her questions,” I asked him.

“I can hear her just fine,” he said, pointing to his one dangling headphone.

Just as he said that, the nurse walked into the room, and I got out of her chair to walk to the other side of the room. I made one final appeal to Tommy as the nurse looked over Tommy’s paperwork.

“Please take off your headphones so you can answer her questions,” I said again. “You may not understand what she is asking you otherwise.”

“I AM NOT PICKING MY NOSE!” he said angrily.

When the nurse heard this exchange, she laughed out loud. I laughed even harder. When Tommy figured out that we were laughing at him and not with him, he turned bright red.

“You didn’t say that, did you?” he said sheepishly as he slid halfway down the chair in embarrassment and shame.

“No I didn’t,” I responded.

He took off both of his headphones, and put them in his pocket.

Eckhartz Everyday

 *On this day in 2018, Eckhartz Press officially released Chicago Literary Hall of Fame President Donald G. Evan's excellent colleciton of short stories called An Off-White Christmas. I did this Q&A with Don on that day.

*On this day in 2016, Bobby Skafish's book We Have Company was in full promotional mode. Bobby appeared on Kevin Matthews podcast to talk about it. The book was getting rave reviews like this one...

5.0 out of 5 stars
Need a Christmas present for your favorite rock 'n roller, this is it!
By karen m daehn on September 23, 2017

This book was written by one of the hardest working on air personalites from the Chicago market. Funny, yet serious, insightful. Informative, a great read for any rock n' roll enthusiast. It's like you are right there with your cup 'o.joe. Highly recommend! !!

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Mozart's 5-year-old

My father always told me that Mozart was composing concertos when he was 5. Well, I bet even Mozart couldn't have played this Mozart composition when he was 5 years old. Incredible.

Tommy Kaempfer Week--Part 2

My oldest son Tommy turns 27 years old this week. Since I featured a whole week of Sean when it was his birthday, I thought it was only fair if I did the same for the other two boys. All of these columns I'm posting this week are Father Knows Nothing columns that didn't quite make it into the book. This one is about emergency rooms...


I always thought Emergency Rooms were supposed to be scary. They certainly seemed scary to me when I was a kid. We used to go there as a family to wait for my little brother while he was being stitched up every month or so. The waiting room was uncomfortable. Sick and injured people moaned in pain and dripped blood on the floor. Nurses and doctors came running in and out. Monitors beeped. Ambulance alarms whirred. And everyone waited for hours.

That’s what I was expecting the first time I accompanied Tommy to the Emergency Room to get stitches. He was eight years old at the time and had a very deep cut in his chin. I tried to prepare him emotionally for the whole Emergency Room experience, but he looked at me like I was crazy. He had been there a few times before with his mother and wasn’t concerned in the slightest. I gave him a comforting hug.

“You are so brave,” I said. “I’m so proud of you.”

He actually rolled his eyes. That choked me up. This kid was like one of those cowboys in the old time Westerns. His eyes were saying…“It’s just a flesh wound, Hoss; let me dig out the bullet in peace. Now go out there and keep them rustlers away from our herd.”

He was still nonchalant when we walked into the Emergency Room and awaited our turn with the triage nurse. He made small talk with her, wincing only slightly when she looked at the gash on his chin.

“Does it hurt?” she asked.

“A little,” he said.

“A little?” I thought to myself. “That thing is going to need ten stitches.”

“It’s a pretty big cut,” she said, “but we’ll take care of it for you.”

“Are we going back there?” he asked, pointing to the door behind her. 

She nodded.

Uh oh, I thought. Here it comes. Now he’s going to remember what happens behind those doors; the needles, the prodding, the pain. I prepared for the hysterical reaction. I saw how he behaved when some small thing went wrong, like his macaroni touching the vegetables on his dinner plate, and could only imagine what was coming. I hunkered down for the fit of all fits. 

“Follow me,” she said.

We followed her through the door to the kid’s section of the Emergency Room. Suffice it to say, it has changed a little over the past thirty years. The colorful walls were painted with cartoon fish. The gigantic fish tank contained a rainbow of tropical fish worthy of the Shedd Aquarium. It was like walking onto the set of “Finding Nemo.”

When they opened the curtain to his room, he was actually excited. He jumped onto the bed, pressed the buttons to raise it to the level he preferred, adjusted the television to the proper angle, and began changing channels. While the nurse put the numbing agent on his chin, he was watching a Tom & Jerry cartoon on the Cartoon Network. 

“Do you have any video games?” he asked.

I was about to chastise him for his prima-donna demands when the nurse surprised me.

“Sure,” she said. “What kind of video games do you like?”

“Do you have Super Mario Brothers?” he asked.

“I’ll go get it,” she said, and walked out of the room before I could even utter a response. My boy looked up at me and smiled.

“Dad,” he said, “You’re gonna love this one.”

I’ll admit it. I found myself watching him progress through the levels of the video game instead of watching the doctor stitch up his chin. When the stitching was done,  the doctor told us it was OK to leave.

“After this next level,” Tommy said.

She smiled and said, “I’m sorry, but we need the bed.”

My son started to get upset, so I put my hand on his shoulder to comfort him. 

“Don’t worry,” I said, “I’m sure you’ll injure yourself again. We’ll be back.”

“You promise, Dad?” he asked.

“I promise,” I said.

Studio Walls

    Every week I send my Minutia Men Co-Host Dave Stern a list from our audio archives for this week's Studio Walls feature. These are the possibilities for this week. Which one will he choose?

*October 16 is comedian Abbi Sanchez's birthday. We had Abbi on the show, and chatted about comedy.

*Former Bears great defensive lineman Steve McMichael is suffering greatly these days as he fights ALS. Today is his birthday. A few years ago we had Kevin Matthews on our show and he told us a great story about McMichael, from his football playing days.

*October 17, 1966, the Cryan Shames released their most popular album, Sugar and Spice. We talked to the man who became their lead singer. WDRV jock Bob Stroud.

*October 18 is Mike Ditka's birthday. We've had a few guests on our show that had great Ditka stories, including Howard Sudberry, Rich King, and Jim McMahon.

*October 19, 1995, Tommy Kaempfer was born. We have untold great audio from him when he was a wee lad. (AUDIO)

*October 20, 2011, Tristan Wade won the World Series of Poker Championship-Europe. We had Dave's poker coach on our show a few years ago.

*October 22 is the birthday of Joseph Nye Welch. He was the man who said to Senator McCarthy, "At long last, have you left no sense of decency?" We talked to his great-granddaughter, who just happens to be famous actress Amy Landecker.

*October 22, 1972, President Nixon reopened relations with China. Catherine Johns was on our show once, and explained how that eventually bit her in the rear.

Eckhartz Everyday

*On this day in 2018, we had dueling Eckhartz Press book events. I went to Northbrook with Chet Coppock for his signing at Stormy's. Dave went to the Cliff Dweller's in Chicago for his event with Donald G. Evans.

 *Today is the birthday of Eckhartz Press author Judge Michael Bender. Here's a Q&A I did with him when his book first came out.

*He shares a birthday with Mike Ditka, who is featured in several Eckhartz Press books, including Chet Coppock's Your Dime My Dance Floor, Randy Merkin's Behind the Glass, and Rich King's Ike & Me (recently recognized as a finalist for Book of the Year).

Monday, October 17, 2022

October in Wrigley

While this October is once again a wasteland at Wrigley Field, it hasn't always been so. For instance, here's a few things from this week in Wrigley History...

October 15: In 1922, the Bears play their first ever game at Wrigley as the Bears. They beat Rochester 7-0. In 1934, the Bears crush the crosstown Cardinals 44-7...In 2016, Cubs blow late lead but come back to beat Dodgers in Game 1 of NLCS on Miguel Montero grand slam.

October 16: In 1923, the Cubs lose the City Series to the White Sox, 4 games to 2. In 1927, Red Grange returns to Wrigley Field as a member of the New York Yankees (football)…In 2016, Clayton Kershaw shuts out the Cubs to even the NLCS at 1-1.

October 17: In 1926, the Bears beat the crosstown Cardinals 16-0.

October 18: In 1931, Red Grange and the Bears beat the Cardinals 26-13.

October 19: In 1941, the Bears crush the Detroit Lions 49-0.

October 20: In 1968, the Bears beat the Eagles 29-16. In 2015, Cubs lose Game 3 of the NLCS to the Mets. The key play for the Cubs is a wild pitch by Trevor Cahill on strike three that allows Yoenis Céspedes to score, putting the Mets up 3–2.

October 21: In 1951, the Bears beat the 49ers 13-7 in front of 42,000+ fans. In 2015, the Cubs are eliminated from the NLCS by the New York Mets. Mets sweep the series in four games. The Cubs never had a lead at any point in the four game series. Daniel Murphy absolutely killed them, hitting .529 with the four home runs and a 1.294 slugging percentage for the series.

Tommy Kaempfer Week--Part 1

My oldest son Tommy turns 27 years old this week. Since I featured a whole week of Sean when it was his birthday, I thought it was only fair if I did the same for the other two boys. All of these columns I'm posting this week are Father Knows Nothing columns that didn't quite make it into the book. This one is about scouting...

After an overnight stay at Detroit’s Greenfield Village, the Scoutmaster had a little chat with me when he dropped off my son.

“I really think you should come along next time,” he said. It didn’t sound like a request.

“Was there a problem?” I asked.

“Well…” he didn’t want to say it, but I knew.

“Did he wander off?”

He looked relieved. “Yes.”

I promised him I would go along the next time.

I should explain the Tommy dynamic to you. Tommy is the classic absent-minded professor type. He’s a brilliant boy intellectually…so much so that he has a few deficiencies in other areas. What he really needs is a personal assistant–someone to remind him to do the little things in life, like put on his pants, eat, and open the door before walking through it–you know, the sort of things that people tend to notice. That job has fallen to me, largely because I was the same way (minus the intellectual part) when I was boy.

This Frick and Frack Combination (Father and Son) actually took the next Boy Scout trip together. We went in caravan to Iowa to something called “Merit Badge University.” I chose this as our first trip because I figured we would be able to handle it. It was being held on a college campus (University of Iowa), and I love college campuses. There was no camping involved, which meant that we wouldn’t need to set up a tent. Tommy was working on his computer merit badge–which is certainly NOT among his weaknesses. There were ten dads going on the trip so I wasn’t going to be in a position of responsibility. What could go wrong?

It took less than twenty minutes.

As the caboose in the caravan, I somehow got separated from the other cars in a traffic jam just past Chicago. Even though we were each given walkie-talkies to stay in touch with each other, this is what I heard through the speaker.


I found out later that the garbled mess was telling me to turn onto the next highway. I missed the turn, and just like that, we were lost. Luckily another dad was in my car and he helped me figure out how to get back on track. Even luckier, we caught up to the caravan when they stopped at a truck stop near DeKalb.

When we arrived at the lodge in Iowa, I exhaled. Even though we would be sleeping on the floor, it was a nice lodge. We were segregated by age—dads on one side, boys on the other. We also segregated the bathrooms by age—dads using the women’s restroom, boys using the men’s. (I think we did that to keep the boys away from the gigantic supply of feminine hygiene products. That wasn’t a discussion we felt like having.)

As I nestled in my sleeping bag that night, I thought, “This isn’t so bad. I think we’re going to be able to pull this off.”

The next morning we drove to the University of Iowa campus. I helped Tommy find the right classroom for his merit badge study. Tommy’s teacher, however, was having a bad day. He couldn’t figure out which key to use to get into the classroom. Once we got in the room, he couldn’t figure out how to log onto the computers. He looked around for help, and the only other parent who decided to stick around was me. I saw the look in his eyes. That’s when it hit me. What kind of a dad volunteers to teach the computer class (as opposed to knots, survival skills, aviation, rocket propulsion, etc)? The same kind of dad as me.

I hopped right in to help. Between the two of us, we finally figured out how to handle the computers: by asking the kids. These kids, most of whom were just like Tommy, were wizards on the computer. One helped us decipher the sign-on codes. Another one managed to identify the IP address of each computer in the room. Still another worked with the other dad to take apart a computer and point out what each part did. Another one walked the rest of the class through databases on Excel and Access. Tommy showed some of the kids how to use Powerpoint.

At lunchtime, Tommy informed me that my services would not be needed in the afternoon session.

“Why?” I asked. “Am I embarrassing you?”

Before he could answer, I stopped him. It didn’t matter. He knew that he could handle the rest of this day by himself, and I wasn’t going to be needed. That was good enough for me. It’s what I wanted to see. I picked him up after class and we quietly took a tour of the University. He had a big smile on his face. I could tell that he was invigorated by the atmosphere. It was an institution of higher learning, and there was nothing that Tommy enjoyed more than learning…as long as it was his kind of learning.

That night, after a long day, we had some time to kill back at the lodge. While the older scouts were playing poker on one side of the room, and the younger scouts were having a full-fledged pillow fight on the other side of the room, Tommy got into his sleeping bag and fell asleep.

The scoutmaster was concerned that something might be wrong with him. When he asked me, I just smiled.

“No,” I said. “He’s going to be just fine.”