When I was in the fourth grade at St. Mary of Redford elementary school, Sister Eudora gave us a classic assignment: what do you want to be when you grow up? “A police officer!” I wrote, explaining in great detail how much I admired my father, a Detroit Police detective.
I got an A+ on the assignment, but my dad was furious. To change my mind, he took me on a “Take Your Daughter to Work” outing, long before that practice became popular. But instead of going to his precinct, we went to 36thDistrict Court in Detroit, where he testified at a trial.
Later, I got to shake the judge’s hand and then my dad took me to a local diner, bought me a hamburger and told me I needed to consider a more “ladylike” profession. “Why don’t you be a newspaper reporter?” he suggested.
My dad was an admirer of Ray Girardin, the Detroit Police commissioner in the 1960s who came into that role through an unusual route: he was a crusading crime reporter at the Detroit Times in an era when journalism was a public service, not a bully pulpit.
Looking back, I suspect my dad had an inkling (pun intended) that journalism would be a good fit for me. He may have taken an occasional peek at my diary, a pink dime-store journal with a gold lock and a little key. As a child, I was an avid recorder of news events and baseball trivia, such as the fact that Detroit Tiger first baseman Norm Cash was born in Justiceburg, Texas. I was a master of detail, even at an early age, and I asked a lot of questions.
But newspaper work “ladylike?” Hardly.
In the decades I spent as a newspaper and magazine reporter in the Detroit area, I was thrown out of a funeral home and a church, received a death threat and posed as a pregnant woman to get a story.
After making it through the 90-day probation period at the Oakland Press in Pontiac, Michigan, I was invited to participate in a newspaper tradition called the “byline round.” The rookie reporter must buy the first round of drinks for the entire newsroom on Friday night. After that, the event turns into a drunken bacchanalia.
If Daddy only knew.
Top photo: Detroit Police Commissioner Ray Girardin (far right) presents sergeant’s badge to my dad Chester Pyzik.