Growing up, the concept of the Renaissance Man—a person skilled in a myriad of areas—intrigued me. Educated, musical, writer of poems, singer of songs, rider of horses, skilled in the arts of war…and love, a lover of the stars and science and history. In this age of specialization, the Renaissance Man was something unique. I wanted to be like Leonardo da Vinci, George Washington Carver, or Hypatia.
My maternal grandfather taught English and Science, and his study was a fascinating place filled with books and gadgets and all sorts of incredibly curious things. After he passed away, I pilfered his library, reading history texts, literature books, chemistry texts, physics texts, and twenty years of National Geographic magazines.
I realized later that it can be our experiences in life and the interactions we have that mold us into the persons that we become. My journey to be a Renaissance Man will never be complete, but the adventures have been something to remember.
As the son of a career Navy man, I discovered the joy of experiencing other countries and cultures. While living in Iceland, I joined the Boy Scouts and learned a variety of skills. My parents sent me to riding school so I could sit atop a horse like a gentleman. I played football (soccer). I went to a junior high dance where I was the only native English speaker. A family friend taught me chess. While staying with my grandparents in Germany, my grandfather entered me into a youth tournament that I won.
We moved to Arkansas after a brief stay in Virginia. My father wished to return to his roots of farming. I learned to plant a garden, haul hay, castrate hogs, put up fence, gather eggs, shovel chicken crap, split wood, run a chainsaw, and milk a cow by hand. I went camping and hiking and fishing.
But during high school I bought a subscription to GQ magazine and dressed to the nines, nothing but Italian: Pepe, Z Cavaricci, and Benetton among others. Having three younger sisters, I of course put a lock on my door and would not let my clothes mingle with theirs. My mother taught me to wash my own laundry. Each morning, I would take my shirt over to my grandmother’s to have her iron it. One morning, she instructed me on how to iron them myself. And I became proficient at it. So much so, that I made a little extra money while in the Navy because I could iron uniforms to regulation cheaper than the laundromat and better than the other sailors.
In high school, I learned to read music and played the trumpet in marching band. I acted in plays in junior high and at church. I read voraciously—that’s not right…I don’t think there is a word accurately describing how much I read. When I joined the Navy, I was a hospital corpsman and took the Hippocratic Oath to care for the sick and injured. In college, I took ballroom dancing. I joined the fencing club and eventually earned my national rating. My degree in English with a Creative Writing Emphasis helps me in my passion…writing.
I worked for a daily newspaper amassing over 1,000 bylines. I have published and won awards for poetry and stories. My first novel came out May 2017. My day job is in sales as an analyst. I have sold cellular phones, soda, water, batteries, flashlights, paint, and watches. I worked in a factory as a stock controller.
After all those adventures I experienced on my travels to become a Renaissance Man, I failed in a couple of things that my father tried to teach me. I am not allowed to use power tools unsupervised. He did teach me to cook, and I prepare some elaborate meals from scratch. But I can’t seem to use a hammer without pummeling my thumb to pulp or turn on a power saw without everyone running for the hills.
One afternoon, my father decided it was time I learned the skill of welding. Why not? I could only dream of the art or scientific devices I could create should I possess the gift of welding metal. We were down by the pond, and he decided that we should begin with the cutting torch. That’s right. Start with the basics and build up from there. For some reason, every time I attempted to cut through the metal, I would blow the torch out. Nothing…the flame just died out. He calmly and patiently showed me how to do it. Just do what he did. After the tenth or twentieth time the torch went out, he reached out and took it from my hands. With exasperation escaping like a sigh from his mouth, he told me to go back up to the house and get my sisters. I trudged through the field up to the house, yelled down to my sisters to get their lazy butts down to the pond, and then went straight to my room where I opened the latest David Eddings or Michael Moorcock or Katherine Kurtz novel.
And though I learned quickly when he taught me to change a flat tire, I couldn’t change the oil for anything. I wish he were still alive today…last year, I took an empty wall in my office at home and built a set of bookshelves from just raw lumber and brackets. These shelves are stained dark walnut, sanded smooth as velvet, and assembled perfectly level on both the horizontal and the vertical. I think he would be proud.