Joseph Durepos, executive editor/trade acquisitions at Loyola Press, has penned a moving essay about his dad. I’m delighted to spotlight Joe on this week’s blog. As an aside, Joe and I both graduated from Clovis High School, Clovis, New Mexico.
A Good Story
by Joseph Durepos
My dad read to me a lot when I was young. We always had a storybook going before bed. Later, I asked him why he read to me so much. He said that if you can find your way into a story, you can often find your way out. That sounded pretty Zen-like coming from Dad. I’m not sure I understood it at the time.
Several years later, I listened to poet Robert Bly talk about fairy tales and why they’re so enduring. He said something very much like my father had. He made his point by talking about certain doctors in Europe who worked with patients in psychiatric wings of hospitals—many of them troubled by bad dreams and feelings of inescapable panic.
Frustrated by their inability to reach these patients, the doctors began reading fairy tales to them before bed. Startlingly, many of the patients reported finding doors in nightmares where there were only walls before. Others saw light where there had been only darkness. Some patients showed marked improvement in moods and a lessening of agitation.
If I’m honest with myself, I didn’t always appreciate my father’s gifts, but I did always love him. He was an orphan, and his childhood had been tough. He lived in a foster home with lots of children moving in and out. The woman who ran the home liked my dad and raised him as her own. But there was nothing easy about growing up as a foster child in an orphanage in rural Maine during the Depression.
When he turned 17, he graduated from high school and immediately joined the military. It was a perfect marriage for him; it offered him structure, a way to find himself in the world, and a good job for almost 30 years.
My dad was a military man. A stoic. He rarely complained, certainly not about personal pain. In his world, unless you were down for the count, you just kept on keeping on.
Late on September 10, 2001, I got a call that my dad wasn’t doing well; I needed to come home right away. I flew to Albuquerque that night, met my two sisters, and drove to Lubbock, Texas, where my father had been taken to the hospital.
We arrived at the Texas Tech University Medical Center early on the morning of September 11. All eyes were on a small TV in the corner. Within five minutes I learned that my father was dying, probably had been for some time but hadn’t sought medical attention until he collapsed under the pain. I learned that all flights had been grounded. I learned about the hijackings, the attacks, and the estimated death counts. It was all too much to process at once. But I realized we were living in a story within a story: my dad’s story and our family story, but also the larger story of that day’s horrible events. This is how my father would have wanted me to make sense of the craziness.
We lost Dad less than four months after that terrible Tuesday. My father wasn’t a religious man, but he believed. As he drew closer to death, he spent quiet moments praying with his prayer book from childhood and reading novels. He told me that stories can make transitions, even difficult ones, possible. Then he winked and said he was simply finding his way out of the story. When he died, he was serene.
My dad never had a chance to read my first published book. It was a book about Saint Paul. In the first chapter, I talk about being part of the larger story of the faith that we live as Christians. It’s a vast, enduring story of salvation and redemption. Each one of us plays our part in the unfolding. It’s a concept I know intimately because of my father.
I’m in publishing today largely because of the love of stories my father nurtured in me. My dad loved that I became an editor and a writer. He would ask about my work and smile proudly. I still see that smile in my dreams, and I wake up happy. It’s a good story.
Joseph Durepos is the executive editor for trade book acquisitions at Loyola Press, where he has worked since 2002. He’s published over 300 books, including New York Times Best Selling authors Fr. James Martin (My Life with the Saints) and Joan Wester Anderson (In the Arms of Angels).
Durepos has also worked as an independent literary agent specializing in religion and spirituality titles. Titles sold include No Greater Love by Mother Teresa and The Invitation by Oriah Mountain Dreamer both with worldwide sales of over 500,000 copies.
As both an agent and editor, his books have been New York Times Best Sellers (The Rhythm of Life by Matthew Kelly) and Publishers Weekly Best Sellers (The Invitation by Oriah Mountain Dreamer and I Like Being Catholic by Michael Leach & Theresa Borchard); they have also won Publisher’s Weekly’s Best Books of the Year awards (Prayer is A Place by Phyllis Tickle and My Life with the Saints by James Martin, S.J.).
Durepos lives in Woodridge, IL with his 18-year-old American Eskimo, Sasha.