What Did I Want to Be? What About You?

This was my column for Wednesday, May 13.

This is me making pictures of rocks in a lot behind our house in 1978, using my then-new Fujica ST-605N film camera.
This is me making pictures of rocks in a lot behind our house in 1978, using my then-new Fujica ST-605N film camera.

I was recently honored to once again help jury some East Central University Mass Communications students’ senior presentations, specifically those students who emphasized visuals like photography, graphic arts and design.

It got me thinking about my college days and earlier, and about what I imagined I wanted to be as an adult – “what do you want to be when you grow up?”

This is a painting my parents had of my sister Nicole and me, painted when we were very young. I wonder what these two kids would think about what they wanted to be when they grew up.
This is a painting my parents had of my sister Nicole and me, painted when we were very young. I wonder what these two kids would think about what they wanted to be when they grew up.

In 1974, I was absolutely sure I wanted to grow up to be a pilot. I had a beautiful model of a Pam Am Boeing 747-200, an aircraft known as “the queen of the skies,” that inspired a whole generation of young people. Although I never did it professionally, I became a pilot in 1993.

In sixth grade, a teacher we all liked and admired, Mrs. Gerber, asked us what we wanted to be when we grew up. When no one volunteered an answer, Mrs. Gerber got out her roll call book and started calling our names in alphabetical order, so I was first. I blurted out, “Farmer,” and the class laughed and laughed. But the next kid didn’t have an answer either, and also said, “Farmer!”

Eventually we had a room full of 26 would-be farmers.

That summer, my mom got me a part-time job working for an oral surgeon for whom she worked as an office manager. My job mostly involved mopping and cleaning, but I also learned how to clean stainless steel dental instruments and sterilize them using an autoclave, so for a while I had dentistry in mind.

For most of my life, I have loved flying and airplanes, and got my pilot's license May 1, 1993. Everything I thought would be great about flying was great.
For most of my life, I have loved flying and airplanes, and got my pilot’s license May 1, 1993. Everything I thought would be great about flying was great.

In 10th grade, I was fascinated with the weather, and even wrote down watches and warnings on my journal, so there was a short period when I wanted to be a meteorologist.

Made during the transition from film to digital in about 2003, this is the essential me: a professional photographer.
Made during the transition from film to digital in about 2003, this is the essential me: a professional photographer.

By 11th grade, I’d been keeping a journal for a while, and imagined I could one day be a novelist, albeit one without a plan for writing even my first novel.

As a senior in high school, I was taking pictures for yearbook, and got addicted to that. Around that same time, I started hanging out with guys who loved hi-fi stereo, so there was a period when I dreamed of working in a stereo store.

I asked my wife Abby what she wanted to be when she was young.

“I wanted to be a cowgirl when I was four,” she told me. “But not like Dale Evans. I wanted to be Roy Rogers.”

She wanted to be a mechanic, and actually did a fair amount of that kind of work as a hobby. She knows pretty much everything there is to know about internal combustion engines, even rebuilding one with her brother-in-law, Ralph Milligan, which she raced.

She played with being a math teacher, a child psychologist or a veterinarian. She worked in a veterinary clinic in the 1990s.

By my late college years, I had settled on being a photojournalist, in part because I was good at it, and in part because the equipment is pretty sexy.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

Abby and I pose with a Cessna 152 I was renting in Shawnee in 2003. This was very early in our relationship.
Abby and I pose with a Cessna 152 I was renting in Shawnee in 2003. This was very early in our relationship.

2 Comments

  1. I can SO imagine you as a dentist, now that you’ve mentioned it. In fact, my children’s dentist reminds me a little of you in manners and appearance (except that he’s not at all tall).

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