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24 Years online
••• The International Writers Magazine -
Life Stories

Like Father, Like Writer
• Christine Vessell
The apprentice P.I. and her Pa

Christine& Dad

“Dad, I see someone!”

The woman is gone as fast as she appeared. My dad wasn’t looking, but I held the camera up fast enough to capture a glimpse of her clutching her white bathrobe closed, peering out into the neighborhood.

That’s all he needed.

“Damn, I didn’t even see her! You got her on video? Holy shit, Christine, good job!”

I beamed from the praise and sat back in the passenger seat, stretching my legs. I felt like Nancy Drew from my favorite book series, satisfied by a case solved.

A stakeout might be an unusual father-daughter bonding activity, but this was how my dad and I spent time together.

Being the child of a private investigator came with some thrilling moments, like spotting a woman in a bathrobe open a door for about two seconds and then close it again. But anything might be exciting to an eight-year-old who's been sitting in a car for hours, hands cramping from holding up a camcorder the size of her head.

A private investigator’s life isn’t so dramatic as Jessica Jones or Magnum P.I. There are no car chases or gun fights or explosions. The job is mundane -- gathering information. Whether my dad was clattering away on his bulky, sand colored computer or driving around in his blue Ford Explorer that creaked like an old rocking chair, he was digging up details on anyone from adulterers, to missing people, to thieves.

Being the daughter of a private investigator came with small, warm moments that stood out more clearly than the exciting ones. Family video tapes ended with remnants of recorded-over surveillance footage. Colorful tree lights behind three kids opening presents suddenly cut to bright taillights speeding down a highway along with my dad’s voice – “The subject is driving away from the hotel in a white sedan.” Sitting in his small, cluttered office and going through cassettes, he decided which material to keep and which to cut to make room for more important things, like recording his family's smiles and laughter on Christmas morning.

My dad and I never had long talks about life; what I learned from him I learned from watching him work. Pay attention to details, filter important information from background noise, always search for answers. Long hours of watching him wait for the right moment – a client’s husband kissing another woman at the park –also taught me that persistence is rewarding. Why a separate paragraph? Put with the previous one? When my curiosity led me to try on his camouflage face paint, my sensitive skin turning as red as fresh cranberries, he also expressed the importance of being cautious when inquisitive.

But the greatest lesson came from a teddy bear. My first stuffed bear, Bluebearie, wore a wide-brim, navy blue hat that had a small hole in the front big enough to hide a small camera inside. Before Bluebearie was retired from her work as a spy teddy and gifted to me, Bluebearie discreetly collected evidence from the back of my mom’s cardinal red Toyota Camry. Bluebearie and my dad’s hidden camera taught me that important details are not always in obvious places and to see anything can be a tool. This adaptability and resourcefulness are skills I use every day.

While today, I am not a private investigator, I am a different sort of information collector -- a writer.

Some parts of my work don’t look different from my dad’s: overflowing bookcases, stacks of papers all over my desk, long hours at my computer with multiple tabs open, sifting through information. He had to uncover facts to piece together cases; I have to uncover facts to compose documents and uncover the right words for essays. He reorganized case files; I reorganize sentences. He put together cases piece by piece; I construct creative essays word by word. Our jobs are different. But my father and I have the same resourcefulness, the same curiosity, the same eye for detail when it comes to our work.

Writing is more than composing. It’s investigating, and it's in my blood.
PI Badge© Christine Vessell May 2023

Ms Vessell is a senior at the College of Charleston, majoring in Communication and minoring in Writing, Rhetoric, and Publication. 

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