09/21/2012 05:33 pm ET Updated Nov 21, 2012

Friday Fathers and the Return of the Grumpy Columnist

Generally, I stay in my duly appointed sandbox as a contributor here on Huffington Post. I tell my San Francisco stories, I rail against perceived injustices, and I drag out old places and fond memories more times than is probably necessary. My masters here know that I tend to view San Francisco through rose-colored glasses, and that is a large part of why they give me this space to tell my little camp-fire stories.

However, every now and then something happens in the world that enrages me so much that in true Incredible Hulk-like fashion, I transform without any control over the process. My readers from my San Francisco Examiner days coined the moniker "grumpy columnist" to indentify this literary alter ego. In fact, many of them preferred that version of the column to the normal version. However, I discovered that I couldn't conjure up grumpy columnist whenever I wanted... I had to wait until something awoke him.

And so it happened this week. Now, having a political writer as a girlfriend means I am up on almost everything going on during this presidential race, which is both a blessing and a curse. The latter is because of some truly unbelievable things that come out of these people's mouths. Of course, everyone this week is still shaking their collective heads about that infamous Romney video tape, but something else popped up before then that got caught in my throat.

Our good friend Willard claimed that his father, ex-governor George W. Romney, had nothing to do with his success. That as a politician, having a politician father opened no doors. That being a successful businessman benefitted in no way from having a father who was chairman of American Motors Corporation.


This hit me square in the face for the simple reason that I know full well that this is complete malarkey. I know this because I am a Caen. Now, we are getting a fair amount of water under this particular bridge, so I will explain to those that do not know about my father. My father was a legendary columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, a column born in the crucible of a San Francisco that was a four-newspaper town, a town where beating the other papers to an item was a blood sport. That isn't metaphorical by the way. Actual fistfights would break out among the local journalists when the scooped each other.

He wound up writing his column for 50 years, six days a week. He went out every night, and believe me, that was not urban legend. He won a Pulitzer along the way, but more important to him were his readers, a mob he fondly referred to as the "Fifth Street Irregulars." That was a nod to the "Baker Street Irregulars," the street urchins that Sherlock Holmes employed to keep his ears on the street. And my dad's irregulars did the same thing, spotting celebrities, catching local politicians in compromising situations, and sending a never-ending stream of truly horrible puns.

And he is directly responsible for me writing these words you are reading right now. When the Examiner picked me up as a columnist, I had no experience writing a newspaper column. Let me repeat that: no experience at all. I got the opportunity to write 900 words in a major regional newspaper for one reason, and one reason only: my last name. The new Examiner needed something to get them noticed, and it was not as if I was completely lacking in skills (no comment, peanut gallery). I was an editor at the Chronicle, and I did write books reviews for the wonderful Pat Holt in their book section. And when my father passed away, I wrote two columns that were well received.

But in no way did any of that qualify me to write two columns a week. People with far more experience than I would have killed to get that opportunity, but I got that because of my name. And trust me, I was well aware of that. In fact, because I knew that, I was even more determined to make it work. To fail after being given that opportunity would have felt like a black mark on the family name and everything my father built.

That Examiner column is also why I sit here today prattling away on the virtual pages of the Huffington Post. When they revealed their San Francisco section and went looking for writers, I was recommended to them. Because of my Examiner column. Which is because of my father.

Every time I sit down to write one of these, my dad is on my mind. He was his own worst critic, but when he wrote a column he was pleased with, his simple compliment was, "it moved." I try to remember that every time I am writing. And when I get done, I wonder if my dad would smile that little smirk he had and be pleased. To pretend that he is not part of this is worse than ignorance. It's an insult. I don't know which is worse, that Romney really doesn't know this, or that he knows it and refuses to acknowledge it. But a person that out of touch with what molds and makes us, who is so ungrateful to the people whose shoulders we stand on, does not deserve to reap those rewards.

What do you think dad, did it move?