Big fish, little fish and my dad

Published 7:00 pm Saturday, June 18, 2016

Fake. Fake. It’s all a put-on.

There’s my great secret: The whole cocky, brash, sure-of-himself, know-it-all bit is kind of a front. Mind you, I’m not saying I don’t know it all. Let’s just say that I tend to try to project a lot more confidence than I’m feeling at any given moment.

As I tried to go to sleep Thursday night, I couldn’t even pretend — not that my wife is fooled by the whole charade, anyway.

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“I feel like an imposter,” I told her. “They’re going to say I don’t belong there.”

“Of course you belong there,” she said. “What you do is very important.”

And this is why I’m the most blessed man in the world.

What caused this crisis of confidence was an invitation I’d received to attend a Media Day tour at Joint Staff Suffolk, which hosted about 800 military, civilian and federal government employees last week for a major test of the nation’s ability to protect its critical infrastructure from cyber attacks.

There would be some pretty high-level military brass and federal government officials on site, and I’m only the editor of a little community newspaper, after all, so even my wife’s kind words and gracious encouragement weren’t giving me the confidence I lacked.

If I’d realized I would wind up sitting between a U.S. Army general and a deputy assistant secretary from the Department of Homeland Security, not to mention the rear admiral from the Coast Guard, the general from Cyber Command and the FBI special agent at the table, I might have declined the offer altogether.

Alone in my living room on Thursday night, thinking about the coming day, I felt like a fish thrown from his little pond into the vast ocean.

What strikes me now, as I write this the day before Father’s Day, is how different I am in this regard from my father.

Dad was a simple man in many ways. He didn’t read a lot, couldn’t spell and didn’t have time or patience for most journalists. I like to think he made a grudging exception for his son.

But my father, who took a small construction company in Portsmouth and built it into one of the most well-respected general contractors in Virginia before his death in 1999, found himself in some lofty places during his career, rubbing elbows at various times with governors, generals and even a president.

But never once did I see him less than completely at ease with himself and the company he kept. My dad wasn’t a big fish in a little pond or a little fish in a big pond. He was simply the fish, confident in his own ability to swim and float, no matter what other fish might be around.

Dad would probably have thought that whole analogy a bit silly, and he wasn’t much for analyzing things like this, anyway.

But I do know this: He would have loved to have had the chance to meet the fine men and women of all ranks that I spent Friday getting to know. And he’d be proud that I pushed past all my self-doubts.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad.