When someone calls themselves a “writer” in my presence, I always get the same feeling of dread. They are either going to be a writer of much stronger talent and accomplishment than me, which is always a blow to my ego, or, often, I am asked for advice on how to be a successful writer. 

If I were a really successful writer, I would be writing this while looking out my study window at my vineyard in Burgundy, France, rather than Van Nuys. There is the third type of writer inquiry I get. It usually comes from writer wannabes who tell me they have this great idea for a novel (or a screenplay) if they could just get somebody to write it for them.

I have recently separated myself from my day job. It was on my own terms and it was by far the best course of action for me. People ask me if I am retired. I will not be lighting cigars with $50 bills too soon, but I am not destitute, thanks be to God. 

This new-found freedom has given me a great gift: the gift of time. Now I fully realize that God’s timing is not always in sync with his creatures, and that time may be shorter than we think. That fact is becoming increasingly clear to me as I edge ever closer to qualifying for every senior discount from Dennys to federally managed health care. 

For now, I will take the time I have been blessed with. I do have an idea for a novel, and I know just the right person to write it. And besides having this opportunity to work on my skills and get better at them, I can utilize this opportunity to grow and deepen my faith. I do not think I am in danger of turning into the next Flannery O’Connor, but I do believe the intertwining of my faith with my writing is becoming more pronounced.

My writing career has always been a strange journey of “what ifs” and “if onlys.” Still, as I look back on it, I realize how truly blessed I was in so many ways. 

I may not have been able to see it while they were happening to me then, but now, with the advantage of time, I realize, for the most part, all the successes and failures that comprise my writer’s history made me who I am — for good or bad. 

It would make me look so much better if I could say I turned my back on the Godless entertainment industry to follow a purer path. The reality is the industry turned its back on me. If one of those “what ifs” had become a reality, I may have become rich enough to light cigars with $100 bills, but I may have also lost a lot more than I want to contemplate.

I may not have been the kind of writer who gets his novels made into blockbusting movies before the books are even published, but I have been blessed to make a living doing what I wanted to do since I was in the sixth grade. Being a writer in the various professional capacities I have occupied has made me a better Catholic and a better father. 

To be concise: “Better” Catholic means my constant attempts of connection through the sacraments, supplication to the Blessed Mother, St. Joseph, and Jesus himself, does not make me a better Catholic than the guy in the next socially distanced pew. It makes me a better Catholic than I would be if I were not putting in the work on my knees seeking guidance, protection, and forgiveness. Likewise, it has been with writing. I have had financial success as a writer and felt empty. I have written things for little money and never felt more like a writer.

My fatherhood vocation also benefited from its many parallels to my professional vocation. Both come with peaks and valleys, successes and failures, and if you do them long enough you are in for large doses of humility. And just as I am a writer till the day I die, there is no magic switch that turns off once a child is no longer a child, as childhood problems give way to more complicated adult problems.

And even though I may not be able to construct a satisfactory ending to all the father scenarios, with the grace of God, and more time in prayer, I know I will always find my better self, my better writer, and my better father.