Thursday, July 12, 2012

Rodney Hennigan interview with Mary Nichelson

Rodney Hennigan’s sole mission in writing My Father’s Giftis simple;  join (him) in the outdoors and be prepared to embark on adventures of a lifetime. While it does sound less complex than pitching a tent, nothing is simplistic about this memoir. When Rodney invites the reader along for adventure, he extends a meaningful proposition to live vicariously through him as he parents with purpose and sets a humble example of making the most of each day. He never exactly went looking for the incidents he writes about, but neither does he shy away from what each experience taught him. “Consider these facts: The book is truthful, so the stories happened. Folks, you can’t make up the stories contained in the book. I know I couldn’t. So what I did write down was a simple chronological accounting of the events as they had occurred in real life, using my storytelling ability, in my own words, as if I was telling the story to my sons.”

I was honored to be able to discuss My Father’s Giftrecently with Rodney and learned that the author is as animated and passionate about life and fatherhood as is represented in his book.

MN- I was very impressed with the press kit that accompanied your book, My Father’s Gift: A Louisiana Outdoor Legacy. From an author’s perspective, what is harder, writing or marketing your book?

RH- Mary before I begin to answer the question I must also thank you for the kind words regarding the press kit and your generous support. You caught me by surprise when you used it for your Press Kit 101 example in your website, Mary’s World. (

You played a large part in its creation by asking if I had one available. You caught me unprepared; I did not. Your prompting resulted in the brain storming sessions involving me and Ms. Pat Fox and Mrs. Stephanie Young-Ryder. Pat and Stephanie are two very talented special ladies.  Pat was the first on board after reading the book.  She was the first to volunteer to offer her precious time, public skills, and personal finances free of encumbrances to help promote the sharing of the stories contained in the book with other readers. Stephanie followed her example soon after. I had no knowledge of this wonderful woman at all until I had the privilege to meet her for the first time during my first book signing/speaking event held in in Crossroad’s, a local Christian book/gift store. It was just before last Father’s Day and my first public speaking engagement. I didn’t think I was doing well, my nerves were shot, but she ended up purchasing two of the books to give as gifts for the upcoming day of celebration. It was quite an honor.  However, she read the book and soon contacted me afterward to say how much she loved it and wanted to volunteer her services/time to promote it and help share it with others, as Ms. Pat had. I am extremely grateful to all of these precious readers, but you must know there is something very important to me all must understand, it is a God thing with me, as Pat and Stephanie likes to often point out. So all of the honor, glory and praise I personally receive is passed onward to Him, for it is He I am most grateful for.

MN- You are a gifted storyteller as you create pictures in the mind of your readers. I am sure you have been told that a few times along the way, am I correct?

RH- Yes, you are. Readers with whom I have had the privilege to have personal contact with all tell me the same thing. Each inform me they had the experience of immediately becoming a part of the story in the book and joined in the grand adventures filled with the same emotions as I and three of my seven sons, literally. I was kind of glad to hear this, for it is true, ‘misery does enjoy company.”

Meanwhile, other readers (some considered professional) have often compared my writing skills to the likes of Mark Twain (Samuel Clemons) and Patrick F. McManus, perhaps the greatest outdoor writer of humor. Another reader, Roger, enlisted the aid of an editor to help me with the commas for free. The editor’s name is Chick. He said pages flowed like a river and recommended I read Ernest Hemingway. What all of this means or what it will lead to, I do not know. But I could never have imagined being mentioned in the same company of these great writers before, but nevertheless it is the judgment of readers. Two have sent me copies of Patrick’s work to read and make their case. Although I know it shouldn’t have, it surprised me to learn I had broken Patrick’s golden rule as for as the writing of humor is concerned. I learned this by reading one of the books sent to me by a reader, Mr. Booth. The title of this piece of fine literary work is: The Deer on a Bicycle: Excursions into the Writing of Humor. It’s a well written/informative how-to-write-humor book. I really enjoyed reading it and would recommend it to everyone, but I’ll quote what rule number one is for you. It is short and succinct and gets right to the point, something I cannot do. Rule number one is this,‘Never write about real life humor.’ I almost quit reading his book and quit writing after reading rule number one on page forty. Thank God, the readers have my back.

MN- I have always believed we need to be more vigilant about passing down stories to our children from our lives and even our parent’s generation. I love to see that you have capitalized on this concept as well. How can parents who are not artistic or creative enough to pen a book do so?

RH- Thank you for asking this question Mary. It is a good one and I couldn’t agree with you more. I believe it to be everyone’s duty to bear witness to help others learn. A direct result of my taking the giant leap of faith to write and publishMy Father’s Gift is that I continue to receive the privilege of meeting several good and interesting people. One of which is the Red Chief Bud Dark Cloud Grimes of the Cherokee American Indian people. Dark Cloud had read the book, contacted me and asked for an audience and I drove to meet with him. He placed me in front of him and peered deeply into my startled eyes. What he was doing was this; he penetrated my soul, to the core. And I knew it. He began speaking words and promptly sent me into shock. The words coming from his mouth and entering my stunned ears to be deciphered by a scrambled brain informed me that he, the Red Chief Bud Dark Cloud Grimes, by reading My Father’s Gift: A Louisiana Outdoor Legacy had determined I had, ‘Done a good thing for man and God. By writing down this true family story and having the heart to share it with the people, so they may be thus inspired to serve the Great Creator of all things good and thus, all people.”

He presented me with a beautiful feather to wear in my hair so, as he further stated, ‘so all of the Indian people will recognize you as a person who has done a good thing for man and God.’

The point is: This is a family historical event for the Hennigans and people of races other than American Indian. For a white man to be thus honored by a Red Chief in this way is a rarity. A Red Chief is the spiritual leader of his people. If this story is not told, the feather I wear today is simply that, a feather. Now however, it represents a great honor and an inspirational story with staying power. I can pass the feather to one of my children upon my demise and it will have meaning for him, perhaps all the boys will take turns wearing it and sharing the story of their dad and what he did. Who knows?

The beauty of this is you do not need to worry about being creative enough to pen a book or even worry over how to spell properly or in my case, those dad blasted commas. Just tell the stories and preserve the all-important family history, which is often the history of the world, for future generations. The roots become thicker and life through memory continues. Witness, witness, witness, I can’t say more.

MN- It is obvious in your writing that you love being outside and fully embrace God’s creation as some of your stories include nature-tornadoes, fires, and canoeing. Do you think that you have successfully passed this love of nature to your sons?

RH- You are right, I do embrace God’s wonderful gift of the great outdoors. He and His Precious Gift to mankind have blessed me tremendously while I’ve spent time witnessing nature in action while in solitude. A day came where the pursuit of game awakened a part of me that drove home the point He really does have a unique plan for each of us. My life journey of faith through acceptance and believing filled with hope took a giant leap to one of knowing and being secure. I don’t think I’m telling you anything new here, but there is a huge difference between believing and actually knowing. Consider every species of plant, animal, insect, bird, or fish. Each has a delicate role to play in the balance of nature and thus, life and the delicate balance of the world. Every interaction provides a small piece of the beautiful mosaic puzzle of the circle of life as we know it, in its entirety. And as glorious as this exhibit of nature is, there is one more beautiful waiting on those of us who choose to make the right choice to accept the Truth.

My son Daniel  joined the Louisiana National Guard. Before leaving for boot camp he had to spend a weekend in the field with the unit. I drove the nervous new recruit to the pick-up point. He had stayed up all night and his nerves were shot. He didn’t know what to expect. The bus filled with soldiers and at least one green recruit left me alone in the parking lot. I watched it leave in the early morning darkness and wondered how he will do and praying for the best. The phone rang a day later. I answered and was surprised to find it was my new guardsman calling. His voice was filled with excitement.

“Hey Dad, you’re not going to believe this!”


“I was worried over nothing. They’re paying me two hundred and fifty dollars this weekend to camp out in the middle of the woods with a bunch of cool guys and outdoor girls. And we’re all shooting some awesome guns! Dad, I can’t believe they’re paying me to have this much fun!”


“What is it?”

“The paymaster may be nearby listening. He may sense a weakness and try to dock your wages. Now hang up and get back to work. Time is a wasting. Calm down, the torture will be over before you know it and you’ll be able to fill in the horrible details for me when you get home.”

We both hung up laughing and I felt much better. My other boys aren’t much different.

MN- You are an accomplished communicator and successful writer and speaker. You have made many contributions to magazines and have been written about in publications including USA Today. When did you realize this was something you wanted to do?

RH- I find some folks have difficulty accepting this fact when I try to relate it, but to do otherwise would be a grave disservice to everyone, especially my precious readers, and most importantly to the One who caught my undivided attention in the woods one day, long ago, six-and-a-half years ago to be more precise. When the incident I’m talking about concluded I knew I had to start writing. It was/is that simple. I never had the desire to write before that moment occurred and struggled with the realization I must afterward. Nor did I ever want my name to be shared in public discourse or on the cover of a book. When it became obvious I would be forced to make the attempt to become known as an author, I struggled with what I termed “The Doubting Thomas Effect.”

I constantly asked myself and others if I was in my right mind. Really, who in their right mind with a high school education would willingly and knowingly throw his precious family out there, to risk burdening them with embarrassment, and perhaps come under negative public scrutiny or criticism. I was perfectly content with my station in life and in who I am. The Lord has blessed me mightily. There is nothing else I need.  I certainly did not want to do this writing thing. But after receiving the privilege of witnessing a prayer in the act of being answered before my very eyes through the loving actions of a complete stranger in the heart of the great Atchafalaya Delta, the world’s largest swamp, miles from civilization and the most unlikely of places, I knew I had to start the writing process.

MN- You are very involved with your family. Not all families are as traditional and many fathers experience road blocks in being an ideal role model. Young fathers are gone many hours a day trying to bring in enough money to take care of their family, while other fathers only get to see their children on weekends due to divorce. How can they be involved fathers that can still make a positive impact on their children with limited time?

RH- Oh dear Mary, please don’t take this the wrong way, but I think you might have made a common mistake I used to make all the time and still occasionally do. You see, it is true, we do have a traditional family and we do give thanks for it and ask for guidance on a daily basis to keep it so, but the road has not always been easy. I must take issue with any perception I may be the “ideal role model.” God help us all if I am. Being a father is a constant work in progress. There is always much to learn. If I am successful at the end, maybe at least one of my boys will declare I am ‘good.” Oh, to be so blessed!

What I have done is try to keep in mind the fact anything worth having is worth working hard for and doing your best at it. When times are tough it’s good to always remember commitment is the key to building a good and healthy relationship, whether it is personal or spiritual. No one said it will be easy. It takes a conscious loving willfulness to remain committed to and/or dedicated to building a solid relationship with anybody. Discard selfishness and stay rooted in the Cornerstone of God’s love and soon you will discover you have unwittingly enlisted the aid of your precious child and/or family. Others, perhaps former strangers, will soon be stepping up to lend a helping hand and you will soon be on your way to a glorious adventure!  Ponder the following and I assure you, life will become much more bearable and you can come to expect to receive everlasting rewards.

Talk to God in prayer multiple times on a daily basis, whether troubled or not. Now we recognize He is working for us. So try paying on your debt to Him by allowing yourself to be used to do something good or loving for another.   Allow your offspring the gift of seeing your ability to love others in action. They’ll often offer to help.   I pray continuously for the inner strength, the help to become ever more determined to endure character building trials and to accept His will. We all have them.   I strongly recommend one to read or listen to the gospel and try to learn to place your trust in Jesus, all of it. Focus. Find a nice quiet place outdoors, perhaps a park under the shade of a tree near a pond and open your heart in preparation to receive Jesus’ truthful words. Pause to ponder and listen to the silent wind whispering through the leaves. Before you know it hours will have passed in a blink of an eye. Always ask questions while seeking the Truth in all things.   Give everything and everyone you encounter what I call the “God test.” Start by asking yourself if what you are encountering at any given time is a good thing for everyone. If it isn’t, reject it. Remember sometimes trouble can’t be avoided and is necessary for us to learn and grow.    Be prepared to stand your ground and never willfully lie.

Sometimes it helps to recall the “lessons” of the past to gain strength. You know the ones, those long ago forgotten difficulties designed to crush us in their time. Yet we survived and then we promptly went to work trying to forget the pain, do so, and then are doomed to repeat the same mistake. Stop! Forgive the offender (it may be one’s self) and hold onto the memory of the pain. It reminds us not to play with “fire,” what not to do. And they serve as reminders to teach how to recognize His constant good presence and workings.  Keep in mind He is gracious and good. He often allows other people with good hearts to be vessels do His Will for Him. Oh, to be so blessed to be one of these. Become proactive. There is no gain in any relationship with a child by remaining sitting on the high fence separating one from the other. Leave your worries behind with Him and jump off to continue your wonderful journey, climb down if you must and go play. Just get moving; for what we do know is precious time is short. The children will be grown before you know it and they will begin their own journey with what you have taught them.

Always put your priorities in order. There are times the earning of money must take a back seat. The purchase of new things can wait. Other things can’t. Some things must be given the highest priority. Our children are one of these “high priorities.” They need our time, our love, and our personal displays of affection more than a new game console of distraction, more than any material thing. Especially when they are young and impressionable. We need their loving attention as well. Each of mine have taught me a lot.  To sum it up: The best thing we can invest in our children is our personal time. There is a time to do good work, a time to play hard, a time to expose the heart to love. Time spent with a child combines all three of these and is well spent. It’s up to the individual to discover the balance.  I have found the best legacy to give your children is one with no end, one filled with joyful life rooted in a Good Memory.   I cannot stress the following too much. Always spend as much time as possible with the family and/or child: Focus. Focus. Focus. Keep God first. And stay focused. Continuously search for the proper balance with everything.

MN- Complete this sentence. “This Father’s Day, more than ever, I would like my sons to know……..”

RH- I thank God each day for the privilege of being your dad. Each one of you is a fine example of the best a man could hope to have as a son. You have brought great joy and pleasure into my life, never trouble and provide my life meaning. THANK YOU, ALL OF YOU. You know I love each and every one of you and want nothing but the best “life” for you, whether you choose to dig ditches or become president. It’s your choice. I’ve done my best to teach you to follow your heart and not become entrapped by the false demands of the world. And I hope my tendency to get into trouble has not caused you too much discomfort and you have not inherited it. If you have, feel free to blame me. And if so, I beg forgiveness, but you know it’ll continue. But don’t worry, I’ve been grabbing that ol’ bull by the horns for so long, we’re actually starting to like it and have some fun. May God bless you all!

My Father’s Gift: A Louisiana Outdoor Legacy can be ordered online by visiting:

If you wish to place a mail order or would wish to discuss a speaking engagement please contact Rodney via email. The address is:

Please visit My Father’s Gift on facebook (!/pages/My-Fathers-Gift/228740593813128) to keep up with recent activities of the book and/or Rodney.

Author bio: Rodney is a husband, father, a natural Louisiana outdoorsman and now, an exciting new author. He is also a railroad conductor nearing retirement and realizes he has indeed been blessed to be the father of seven wonderful sons, all of which have been a tremendous joy to raise.

Rodney remains humbled by the written and unwritten adventures he has experienced. He willfully and truthfully acknowledges each one as a gift from our God of love, and he thanks all of you who have offered prayers of support on his effort to spread the good news. Rodney has had many of his stories recognized and published both locally and nationally in newspapers and outdoor magazines. Rodney's prayer for you is simply this: May you soon reach the waypoint in your spiritual journey of faith to receive the same surprising joy he has found with the discovery there is a real difference between the active desire to believe and knowing that God is a very real, loving and attentive Father, from whom all good things come.

About Mary Nichelson:

Other interviews featured in The Wordsmith Journal: David Vince, William D. Burt, and Bryan Liftin.
This interview is courtesy of  The Wordsmith Journal Magazine.

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