The Road Not Taken – Following In My Father’s Footsteps

I am a born-and-bred Cheesehead. That’s with a capital “C.” For those of you internationalists, that means I’m from Wisconsin. Damn glad to meet you.

I have lived in the Badger State all of my life, except for one year in 1969. My father worked in broadcasting as an announcer for most of his career, which means my siblings and I were doomed to move from place-to-place for the sake of my Dad’s job on a fairly regular basis.

If you work in radio or television, that’s just normal and part of the life, and it really hasn’t changed much since then. Anchors, reporters, and announcers often just disappear from your favorite newscast without explanation, unless the talent is extremely popular in the community and the resulting absence would be too conspicuous. Something bigger and better is always out there, or station management has little patience for status quo when ratings are at stake. Most likely, that requires a certain tolerance of travel and relocation.

I’m actually the lucky one in my family as I’ve had the shortest experience being moved about the Midwest, unlike my siblings who have memories of living town to town. Mom and Dad certainly obeyed biblical mandate and were fruitful and multiplied 6 kids covering 4 states from 1955 to 1964. I was the last, born in Green Bay, WI.

I only moved outside the state once so that Dad could take a job anchoring the news desk for KFIZ television in Ottumwa, Iowa (for those of you M*A*S*H fans, yes, the home of Radar O’Reilly). I have fond memories of coming home at lunch from half-day kindergarten to watch Dad report the afternoon news while I enjoyed my peanut butter and jelly sandwich or whatever creation Mom would make for me. That was a unique experience that not many kids could match in small, podunk Ottumwa.

Before that, though, Dad worked for WJPG Radio in Green Bay for several years before we made the haul to Iowa. That was from 1960 to 1968…and if you’re in any way a football fan, you understand the importance of living in Northeast Wisconsin during that time frame.

Those were the glory years of Vince Lombardi and the Green Bay Packers, and it was a great time to be living and working in Green Bay, especially if you were in broadcasting.

I grew up in the shadows of what was then known as New City Stadium, or as you know it now – Lambeau Field. As Dad’s job was to cover the news in the greater Fox River Valley Area, he frequently talked to players and coaches, and as a result, knew many on a first-name basis. He was also a member of the Masons in Green Bay and so was Bart Starr, so both would interact with each other on a fairly regular basis.

Periodically, a few of my brothers would go with Dad to conduct interviews after practice. My father told me once that I had even met Coach Lombardi when I was very young, but that could have been a father just trying to impress his son. Why not? I wouldn’t remember it anyway.

Green Bay was a different place compared to what it is these days. It’s still the smallest stadium in the NFL and has a quaint originality as it stands out among the working-class homes and bustling businesses that surround it.

Back then, though, it was smaller and even more close-knit than what it is today. Life and work would often intersect each other for both the players and the community. It was common to see Fuzzy Thurston or Willie Wood at the corner grocery store. You might see Jerry Kramer at the local eatery. To the day he died, Ray Nitschke kept his phone number in the public directory because he would love to talk to adoring fans. They were never a bother to him. The players not only worked in the community, but they were also a part of the community.

One of my favorite stories that my brothers still tell today involved Bart Starr’s backup, Zeke Bratkowski. Zeke and his family lived on the same block as mine, and it was common for all the neighborhood kids to gather periodically for a game of football. Fathers would sometimes join in or just come out to see the action, and Zeke was no different. Periodically, he would pick up the football when time allowed and join in the fun. His position? Quarterback, of course, but he would play for both sides as the all-time QB. That was dependent on one rule that all kids had to obey: you couldn’t touch Mr. Bratkowski.

I wish I had stories like that to tell my kids, but I was too young and really don’t remember much from that age, so I rely on my siblings to relive those stories from my father’s past. By the time I really had a grasp of what he did for a living, he had left radio and TV in 1974 and took a retail gig until his retirement, although he dabbled in voice overs for some stations from time to time. Dad never lost the pipes he developed over a lifetime for radio, and you heard it every time he spoke publicly – when he addressed the congregation in church, while reading books to the grandchildren, even when he recorded an outgoing message on the answering machine.

To say I wasn’t influenced by him would be a bold-faced lie as I was sure I would find myself following a similar road to what Dad traveled. I too went to college to learn those silky smooth radio skills but never finished that path to completion. I followed a different route that led me elsewhere, and I wonder sometimes where I would be had I kept the faith and stayed true to those intentions.

Do I have regrets? Perhaps…I don’t know many people who have none at all. Looking back, I truly wonder if my choices initially might have had more to do with what I had hoped to be a father’s pride for his son vs. actually following my own path. What I do know is that had you suggested to me in high school that I was destined to complete a graduate degree in leadership studies, I would of thought you were crazy, drunk or both. I’m quite content where I am now, a family man focused on helping my children grow into the careers they choose.

I hope…….I know my father would be proud.

Andy Books
Andy Books
I have spent most of my life in a leadership capacity. That all began right from the time I was the lead in my elementary school play to my current position as a Sales Manager. My truest love and best work comes from teaching and training aspiring leaders how to be skilled and effective leaders, which is a large part of my current occupation. Thirty-five years of collective experience as a Corporate Trainer, College Instructor, Operations Manager, Classroom Facilitator, and Foodservice Manager have played major parts in forming my philosophies that surround company success through employee engagement. Teaching someone to effectively lead gives me the greatest joy, and I write a lot about it. My most important titles though? Father. Dad. Husband. They give me the best material to write and blog about, and you can find them on Linkedin and The Goodmen Project.
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Susan Rooks

Smiling, Andy, as I read it … great pictures of growing up in middle America, with football and all that — and with Bart Starr’s backup, of all people! And apparently a good and loving family to boot.

Regrets? Sure, doesn’t everyone have some? If I had known then … and all that. I guess of all my regrets, I wish I had realized how my mother’s lousy “mothering” would affect my so-so mothering skills … I’m working on a book by a woman whose mother had even worse skills than mine did, but our stories are similar. It has really struck home in ways I wouldn’t have expected.

Lots more thinking to do, and thanks for a terrific article! I’m sure your dad is proud of the man you’ve become!

Laura Staley

I enjoyed reading and learning about your life growing up, about your dad, the presence and example he was in your life. What a blessing to have been loved by your family, to have had these experiences, Andy!

I followed in my father’s footsteps for awhile in terms of a career path. I thought I could be an academic, but that wasn’t my true calling. What I now realize is his character qualities that I so admired have become a large part of who I am. You may have chosen a different career path, but what I see is that your dad would definitely be proud of you because you’ve emulated many core values that he lived during his life. The kind of man you are in your life with your family-for example.

Thank you so much for this wonderful story.

Kimberly Davis

Oh Andy… I love this piece! Garrison Keillor and Norman Rockwell have nothing over you when it comes to painting a picture of Americana at it’s best! Your father is smiling.

Mark O'Brien

Andy, my Dad was a Marine. When it came to expressing things like pride and affection, he wasn’t the most effusive guy on the planet. For the longest time, I thought anything short of enlisting in the Corps would leave me wanting in his eyes.

After a directionless youth, I finally found my way to college in 1982, at age 28. My Dad took note. In 1991, my maternal grandmother passed away. My Dad asked me to deliver her eulogy. Afterward, he said, “You did it.” In 1993, my Dad ran unsuccessfully for First Selectman in the town in which he and my Mom lived. In 1995, he ran again and asked me to manage his campaign. He won. In 2004, I started my own business. That’s when I knew for sure, in my Dad’s eyes, I’d won.

Good sons crave the affection and approval of good fathers. Our fathers gave us something to aspire to — constancy, integrity, the determination to do whatever they did well, the inspiration to write things like this:

I smiled and I cried when I read your piece. I don’t know you. But I do know you’re a very good man.

Thank you for sharing your story with us.

Joel Elveson

Andy, thank you for sharing your tremendous article. anybody who claims not have regrets or wonder what their lives be like now had they made different choices. I loved this article, Andy.

Laura Mikolaitis

Andy, this is a great article. Thanks for sharing your story and bringing us along on this journey. I try not to think about regrets too much – mostly because I tend to overthink – but yes, I do have them. When I was in undergrad, I initially wanted to go into broadcasting. But then I switched to Communications with a concentration on PR. And my life path has been nothing that I thought it would be. But that’s okay. The dots continue to connect, and as I get older, I realize that there are so many possibilities.
Had I realized my love for writing a long time ago, then, I may have studied Journalism or English? But what I do know is that unless I’m pushing daisies, it’s never too late to reinvent myself. And perhaps this will be the decade to do so.

Lynn Forrester-Pitocco

The regrets are true for many but in the end, its the path that has lead us to a better self, and what we can do for those we love and from those we have learned from such as parents, teachers, mentors, in our lives. Thanks Andy for this insightful article.

Tom Dietzler

Andy, this is top shelf stuff. For those of us who are local to the “Frozen Tundra” (local being a half hour away… my shot – I get to define the terms…) we have experience with legends that people affiliated with any other pro sports teams cannot fathom. I looked up Ray Nitschke in the phone book and sent him a letter requesting an autographed picture for my brother, who was away in the service in Tennessee. I got back not only an autographed picture for him, but one for me as well. He wrote “To Tennessee’s No. 1 Packer Backer” on the picture for my brother, and I was so excited when both pictures came in the mail. Both my brother and I have our autographed Ray pictures in a place of prominence in our homes.

I think there is a sense here in Wisconsin that we are all kind of small town folk, and we kinda like it that way. We really try to make it so that there are no strangers, just good folks that you haven’t met yet. That was a major factor in our TV and radio personalities, and it’s possibly one of the reasons that so many of the local anchors come here and stay here forever. They just become accepted as part of the community and can’t see themselves anywhere else. Your dad probably felt that way too. Isn’t it funny how we have embraced the term “cheesehead?” When it was first used to refer to natives like us, it was not a term of endearment… Tough crap, we like being called that, and as you say, we are proud of our heritage.

There are no straight lines from where we start to where we end up. All that we aspire to when we are young is sometimes based on misplaced ambition, not enough facts and a skewed perception of reality. The trials and bumps and curves that happen along our journey add richness and texture to our lives, stories to our repetoire and maybe some scars and tears as well. The stories are a blessing, and this one’s a gem, and thank you for sharing it.



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