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What has my job really done for me?

July 4, 2014 - Mitch Rupert
My niece, Aunalee, is 3 years old. She's the pride joy of her mom and dad, two of my most very dear friends, and cute as a button to boot.

Truth be told, Aunalee isn't really my niece. Neither her mom nor dad are related to me, but I've known her dad, Steve, for some 20 years, back to the days when I was the starting first baseman for the Bloomsburg Mills Little League team, and he was nothing but a lowly bench player. He still claims I was only the starter because I owned an actual first baseman's mitt. He may be right.

But whether or not we're related by blood, he's my brother and always will be, so I call Aunalee my niece. It was unnerving three years ago when Aunalee was born. You see, Steve and his wife Lindsey were the first in our small group of friends to have a kid. I've never felt like I was actually old enough to have friends who were getting married, let alone reproducing.

I'm 31 years old now, and I still don't feel old enough for any of that to happen, but it seems to be happening more and more. Truth be told, I'm the only person in my group of friends who isn't either getting married or having kids. My friend, Dave, who was my roommate when I first moved out of my parents' house, is raising his son, Myles, who is less than a year old, and recently got engaged to his girlfriend. Steve and Lindsey have been married for five years. My best friend Alison is getting married in September, and Steve's brother has been with his girlfriend for what feels like decades, but has only been a few years.

And then there's me. Every night I come home to my two cats. But don't worry, I don't call them my kids, or my furbabies or anything like that. They're just cats. They're not even my cats. They belong to Dave through a series of relationships which never materialized. But when Dave moved out of our apartment a little over a year ago, the cats were left with me. That's OK, we've bonded, and Mini Kitty (her real name is Lily) has become a bit of a celebrity on my Facebook page because she's a bit of a goof. Isis, aka Kitty, is weird. She only wants to play when I want to sleep and she's afraid of everything which makes noise. But she's cool. She's the yin to Mini Kitty's yang.

Watching my friends grow up in front of me while I sit stagnant in my life has never really bothered me. At least not until now. I love my friends dearly. I'd do anything for any of them except kill a spider. Sorry, folks, you're on your own with that one. Take a bullet? Not a problem. Catch an eight-legged creepy piece of Satan's imagination? Get bent.

But something changed all that the other night. Spending about 30 minutes with Aunalee and her parents changed my entire outlook on my life, my job, my future and my past. Steve and I got together to go for some beer and wings. We don't get to see each other much. He works one of those goofy 9-to-5 jobs and I'm in the office until usually after midnight five nights a week. So when we do get the chance to just hang out, I jump at the chance.

When I went to his house to pick him up, I spent time talking with Lindsey in the kitchen, trading stories, asking about the baby she's expecting in November, telling her how I don't care whether it's a boy or a girl as long as it's healthy … But having a nephew would be pretty cool. Steve, who was upstairs with Aunalee, suggested that I come up to read her a bedtime story. I got excited at the notion of that proposition.

I don't have kids of my own, neither my older sister nor my younger brother and sister have kids. So it's not like I get the chance to read bedtime stories much. Aunalee was hesitant about opening up to me at first. I'm a pretty big dude and can be pretty intimidating for little people. But I think I helped break the ice when I told Aunalee my favorite movie was Frozen, just like it was hers. I then showed he my princess dance to show I wasn't as intimidating as she might think. She seemed to loosen up even she she laid on her bed with her head on Steve's left shoulder.

I gave Aunalee her choice of about a half-dozen books Lindsey said she enjoyed. Pete and the Cat and his Four Groovy Buttons was the hands-down winner. I learned it's really difficult to read while holding the book out to the side. I don't know how elementary school teachers do it.

I don't know that I ever stopped smiling because I don't think Aunalee ever stopped smiling. I was excited when she counted the number of buttons on Pete the Cat's coat as she was instructed to. I got excited when she traced of the numbers in the book. I enjoyed the hell out of singing Pete the Cat's song about the groovy buttons on his coat with my best Frank Sinatra-esque lounge song rendition.

The book ended and Aunalee chose another, this one about Mickey and Minnie Mouse throwing some kind of rambunctious party. It rhymed some of the time. Had a weird kind of cadence to it. I was perplexed by this book more than once. Aunalee didn't seem to mind. We got through the two books and she was happy.

When it was time for Steve and I to leave, Aunalee walked over to me and held her arms up. I reached down and picked her up for a hug and she gave me a kiss on the cheek. I'm not afraid to admit my heart melted on the spot. After the night, I told anyone I knew who might still be up by the time I got home about what happened. It was a great moment of my life, a wonderful 30 minutes I'll cherish forever.

It got me thinking, though. It got me thinking about what I've been missing out on in my life. Here are Steve and Lindsey, two people I admire so much, with one beautiful little girl and another child on the way. They're both younger than me, but they've already built a gorgeous little family. And here I am with my cats.

I spent my Fourth of July at the ballpark, Bowman Field in Williamsport to be exact. The ballpark has always felt like home to me. I love baseball more than just about anything in this world. It's made sense to me more than anything else for as long as I can remember. And in my job as a sports writer at the Sun-Gazette in Williamsport, I get the chance to cover the Crosscutters, a minor league affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies. It is my most absolutely favorite thing to do in my job. I don't mind having to work on holidays like Friday's when it's to do something as enjoyable as covering minor league baseball games.

In fact, earlier in the week I was bragging on Facebook about how I had no problem working on the Fourth of July because I don't like fireworks anyway. I mean, seriously, who needs all that needless noise?

I covered the Crosscutters' doubleheader and enjoyed every minute of it, even logging a couple innings on the radio as an analyst. I didn't even give thought to missing my family's Fourth of July gathering at my uncle's house. I've missed so many holiday gatherings in the 14 years I've been in this business that it's more of a surprise when I can actually attend family functions than when I miss them.

But as I left work Friday night, I was detoured from my usual route home because of the fireworks set up by the city of Williamsport. And as I drove a different route through the city to try and catch I-180, I saw moms and dads holding the hands of their kids as they crossed the road to get to their spot to sit. I saw boyfriends cuddled up in the bed of trucks with their girlfriends, wrapped up in a blanket on an unusually chilly July night. I saw kids running around with sparklers and families laughing their hearts out.

And I began to think of my friends. I began to think of Aunalee and how much I enjoyed reading her those two bedtime stories. I texted Alison to wish her a happy Fourth of July and remind her I love her. Whenever I feel just a little bit lonely, that's what I do.

Living in Bloomsburg and working in Williamsport is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, the 40-mile drive home every night is a wonderful way to unwind. I don't get stress, and not a whole lot really bothers me too much. But just the idea of decompressing during the drive is a great thing.

One the other hand, if my overactive imagination and mind is running like it was Friday night, it can torture me. I began to really think, as I saw fireworks exploding occasionally in the dusk of the day against the oranges, reds, blues and purples of the sky, about where I am in my life, about what it is I really have and what it is I really want.

I came to a scary realization. First and foremost, I still absolutely love my job. I'm very good at it, and I love the idea of going to work every day (except Sundays, working Sundays sucks) and being presented with a challenge which is completely different than the one I faced yesterday. I love sports, I love writing, I love telling stories, I love listening to people's stories, I love analyzing the games I watch, I love watching a kid do something he never thought was possible, and I love watching a kid try to fight through the struggles of the game to become a better player and person.

I love this job. It is so much a part of me and I don't know that I'll ever get it out of my system.

But I hate that I've missed so much. Some of the things I've missed are very minimal – concerts, parties, cookouts, volleyball games, etc. But some of the things I've missed are so monumental. I can't tell you how many Christmas days I worked in a row until I finally had Christmas off this past year. I've missed Thanksgiving dinner more times than I can count because of covering the Run for the Diamonds in Berwick. I've missed birthday parties, I've missed birth announcement parties, I've missed countless holidays with my family. But most importantly, I've missed out on creating a family of my own.

I don't have any kids and I don't have a wife, and I don't have any prospects of having either one in the near future. I'm 31 years old, and I'm closer to being 32 than I am to 31, and I have nothing to show for anything. Sure, I have a few writing awards that I'm very proud of which are hanging on the walls of my house. I'm very proud of the words which flow under my name every time the paper is printed, but working in Williamsport the rest of my life is never what I envisioned my career to be. I'm no closer to landing my dream job than I was 10 years ago when I earned my first full-time job in newspapers.

I began asking myself, what has this job done for me? Well, it's taken me away from my friends and family. I've never been a small guy, but I've only gotten bigger living the unhealthy lifestyle which comes with sitting on your butt all night and eating fast food on the go because it's all you have time for while on the clock. Although, I have made some changes in my life and I'm very proud to say I've worked my ass off to drop some weight.

My last three serious girlfriends all broke up with me in part because of my job. I guess someone who works second shift all the time and who considers Monday and Tuesday as a weekend isn't someone women are dying to begin a life with. And that's fine, I get it. It's very difficult to deal with.

I have had the privilege of meeting some damn cool people in this job. And I don't just mean celebrities. I'm happy to say that many of the kids I've covered in high school or college are now people who I consider friends of mine, coaches too. We all share a common bond. Sports has a way of bringing even the most different of people together.

I've devoted nearly half of my life to newspapers and my job. I've devoted so much time to a business which garners so little respect and is is slowly swirling around the toilet bowl and is on the verge of being sucked into the underground plumbing of life. I know I'll never get out of this job what I've put into it over the years. No amount of money can compensate me for the heart and soul which I've invested into my profession, especially not the pittance of a salary which I receive now.

But I think I've come to a realization that at some point I need to put some focus on to me and my family and my friends. Moments like Thursday's story time shouldn't be fleeting, and shouldn't be a once-in-an-every-few-years kind of thing. It should be a daily thing.

Maybe it's time for me to stop asking what has my job done for me, and start worrying about what I've done for me. I guess now I have something to think about on my drive home from work tomorrow.


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