How CC Changed My Life
And the true tale of "Canis the Robot"
When I was a kid, my dad would disappear into his study and close the door.
From inside, you could hear the steady clack-clack from the old manual Underwood typewriter as the letters slammed against the cylinder, punctuated by the occasional “ping” at the end of each line and a waft of pipe smoke from under the door. When he emerged, my Dad would have his latest “Skylights” column for Calvinist Contact stacked on the corner of his massive metal desk, ready to be mailed.
For a kid who loved books and reading, watching my Dad transform his thoughts into words on a page was like magic. And sometimes, I’d sneak into his office later to write my own stories, breathing in the aroma of stale pipe smoke and coffee.
When I was 13, one of those stories – “Canis the Robot,” about a kid who builds a robot dog to keep him company – caught my dad’s eye. (To be honest, I wrote the story because I wanted a dog, but Dad didn’t get the hint). Instead, he pitched the story to Keith Knight, editor of CC at the time. A few weeks later, “Canis the Robot” appeared in print. Knight even hired an artist to draw pictures for it.
I was hooked. I had become part of a secret order of magicians – an elite group of alchemists who got to turn the thoughts in their heads into words on a printed page. I decided I was going to be a writer.
Except that’s not what happened.
The power of words
Like my Dad, I became a teacher. He believed I would have time to write during the summers because that’s what he had done – and he had written three books and countless columns. So, for seven years I taught elementary and high school kids English and History in the Christian School system – and didn’t write a stitch during the summers.
But then, one year, I took a group of students to Calvin College to the Festival of Faith and Writing. Over the course of a couple of days, the students and I met some of our favourite authors, got to listen to poetry readings and seminars, got books signed and even had conversations with some of our literary heroes.
By the time we got back to Canada, I had decided to quit teaching and write the Great Canadian Novel™.
Except that’s not what happened either.
Instead, I got a job as a speechwriter working for the Ontario government. And, from there, the world opened in ways I could not have imagined.
Over the next 12 years I would attend Cabinet meetings, travel the world, meet with foreign leaders, ride in motorcades, accidentally insult the future King of England, fight elections, become fast friends with brilliant people, take part in some of the big debates of our time, and write far too many funeral speeches for police officers and firefighters. I would even, one memorable day, call my Mom from the Great Wall of China feeling, quite literally, on top of the world.
Later, I would work for a university and a hospital before forming my own company. Over the decades my hair would turn white – just like my Dad’s – and I would have a son who loves books and reading and writing.
One day, one of the students from that fateful trip to Calvin College reached out to me. Angela Reitsma Bick, the new Editor of Christian Courier, asked if I would write a column for her paper. Of course I said “yes.”
Because this paper is the reason I am a writer. Through my Dad, it showed me the power of the word to transform lives and touch hearts. At 13, it gave me the confidence to write. And at 52 years old, sitting at my dad’s massive metal desk in my own study, pounding on my PC keys like they are attached to an old manual Underwood, with my dog at my feet I realize I have come full circle, like magic.
Except that’s not what happened.
Because it’s been God’s work, all along.