Joco 913

Matt Keenan: A journey of 17 years comes full circle

After many years of writing in this space, today’s column is my last. I’m stepping away to dedicate all my energies to my first love — practicing law.

This excursion began in 1999, when an editor at The Star named O.J. Nelson took a chance on me. “Write what you know” he told me. And what I knew was the humor that comes with raising four children under the age of eight.

Through the years at the paper, I had seven different editors, all great mentors who trusted me to pick my topics and my tone. And I owe them all a debt of gratitude.

I also owe much to you the reader. Your e-mails affirmed to me and my supporters at The Star that there was an audience for a beleaguered dad offering commentary on such critical topics like what do when your son’s pinewood derby car turns in concentric circles, and the appropriate response when your aging dog gulps down two sticks of butter.

I also found an audience asking why college seniors are required to move into something called a “senior house” with nine of their closest friends, a rescue dog, and two cats left behind by an old girlfriend.

But more than anyone, it’s been my wife, three sons and daughter who tolerated my musings in which they were often described. I never used this space as a brag board; actually there were many times they were clipped by the bus.

Over the years, I relished sharing my viewpoint on the positive things that were a part of my life growing up. In some cases I was able to continue those traditions with our own children. Things like scouting. One of my favorite stories was joining my three sons at Philmont Scout Reservation ten years ago where we came face to face with a black bear. My scouting columns remain some of my favorite pieces.

In the early years my daughter was a frequent focus, like the time her diary — filled with fairy tales more elaborate than anything Walt Disney ever promoted — was confiscated by her brothers. As I noted way back in 2003, boys have no appreciation for how a second-grader can wish for things that do not involve knives, BB guns or firecrackers.

Sporting teams gave me endless fodder, particularly basketball teams in the CYO league. You’ve heard of A, B, and C teams? Mine pushed the lower end of the alphabet. Every game my players had one goal — tossing up a hopeless three-point shot. Breaking news, we were terrible. But today those kids would swear we were undefeated.

From time to time I had the privilege to change the public narrative on a few important topics like when I wrote about the Irish priests who populated western Kansas in the 60’s and whose friendship with our family endures today.

Occasionally I wrote about the principal at our St. Patrick’s Grade School in Great Bend, Kan., Her name was Sister Mary Rose and to the students she was saintly but stern. Through my columns we reconnected. When she passed away five years ago at age 93 one of her last requests was for me to speak following her rosary. The essence of my remarks on that evening was that ‘everything I really need to know in life I learned at St. Pats from Sister Mary Rose and her fellow Dominican sisters.’

When I began this hobby as a columnist the President was Clinton, and we were just five years removed from the Today’s show question of “what is the internet?” Cell phones were in bags. And yes this newspaper had many pages of want ads.

I rarely received hate mail. But for the record, do not remotely appear to trash anything about Star Wars, that intersection on Roe and 435 – something called a diverted diamond exchange — or commentary negative about Bruce Springsteen concerts. “(How on EARTH does the KC Star give a smug little wuss like YOU an opinion column?)”

But my default was the life and times of small town life in the 60’s and 70’s and drawing contrasts to the insanity of today’s parenting matrix.

And through it all I had the privilege of 700 words to tell stories and hopefully evoke your own memories. Many readers were blessed like me to be raised in a simpler, more innocent time by two loving, devoted parents who sent me and my two brothers outside every day to succeed or fail but more than anything else to discover an uncharted world.

I miss those days. I really do.

Going forward I will remain a devoted reader of the 913 section as it highlights the hopeful stories of our county and state.

Godspeed.

Reach Matt Keenan at mattkeenan51@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter:MDKeenan2, or visit his blog: www.matthewkeenan.com.

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