I received an email recently that began: “I found the fierce bison underpants.”

A photo was included and although I remembered the phrase, the image of the underwear — blue with a set of large, white teeth on the front — came as a bit of a shock.

The email was sent by an old friend named John who I had not seen or heard from in over a decade. But we were fathers together when our sons were toddlers and that sort of bond starts strong and never fades.

The underwear was my son Hardy’s during a time when he preferred to run around naked. We lived on the campus of Union Seminary in New York city where my wife Cathlin worked as chief of staff for the president of the seminary. John was a graduate student.

Evidently, as John reminded me in the email, Hardy and I were hanging out with John and his son Sam in the seminary quad when Hardy decided yet again to go au natural. A crowd of students and professors milled about and so I concocted the fable of the fierce bison who found his super power by wearing these toothy underpants. Without them, he was just a small boy, not fierce at all.

It worked, this dad sleight of hand, and instead of running around naked, Hardy ran around in this odd pair of underwear, interrupting the scholarly pursuits of seminarians with a roar and thrust of his pelvis emblazoned with the imagery of sharp teeth.

In retrospect, nudity makes a lot more sense.

I laughed at John’s email, remembering those days, but also grew thoughtful thinking about our lives at the time and our journeys since then. A year into his seminary studies, John took a sharp turn, remaining in seminary but also studying for the entrance exam to business school. Fatherhood had opened his eyes to the fear of providing for his family, to being a breadwinner. I helped him study for the test and marveled when he got a job at a top consulting firm.

I could help John study for his test because for many years I had worked in the business world where he was headed. But not long before we met I had taken my own sharp turn, pulling back because I wanted to be a writer. When I became a father I was no breadwinner for my family and I carried that guilt with me, often regretting my decision. But I also knew I had no choice, even though I still had no clue where this decision would eventually lead.

A memory I often linger on is one of me tucked away in the stacks of a large university library. I am seated in front of a long row of Paris Reviews, a literary magazine near mythical in its aura of writing and writers. Each issue includes an interview with a writer of note and I was going through back issues, one by one, reading interviews with Ernest Hemingway, Flannery O’Connor, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It was glorious but I also realized in that instant that I was doomed, at least financially. If only I could be in the economics aisle, the stock trading aisle, the internet entrepreneur aisle, feeling the same flush of excitement, I wished.

But that was not the card I was dealt. I felt this so clearly while reading those Paris Reviews, when the world fell away and I was completely at peace and energized. I knew I had to follow this feeling or forever regret it.

I moved with my family to Martha’s Vineyard in 2008, for Cathlin’s job as the first female minister in the 350-year-old history of the First Congregational Church of West Tisbury. What I would do here was unclear, but eventually I found my way to the Vineyard Gazette. The day I arrived for my interview, the newsroom had been punched in the stomach by the death of a high school student in a car crash. Then, a month or so later on my first day of work, the Menemsha wharf caught fire, nearly destroying the entire harborside.

I almost didn’t last that first week. There were also happy stories, but it was overwhelming, I thought, covering a community in sickness and in health, in joy and sorrow. But I stuck it out because of the community of writers I had found there and because for the first time in my life my job was to write — about people, events, even myself.

One of my favorite things to do at the office is visit the morgue — newspaper slang for the library — where we keep all our clippings, stretching back to when the Gazette first began 175 years ago, celebrating its birthday recently on May 14. By the strangest of coincidences I have the same birthday, although at 56 I am a bit younger.

Wandering through the morgue, holding those ancient bits of newspaper in my hand, some of which contain stories about my ancestors who came to the Island as whalers, I am always struck with a familiar feeling, of the world falling away and being at peace and energized.

In John’s email he tucked in news about his family. His son, like mine, is now driving and independent. John also talked about his career and eventually leaving consulting.

“For some reason I’ve developed an expertise in developing software for home service providers (plumbers, electricians, etc.). Who knew? Certainly not me,” he wrote.

In many ways I knew exactly what he meant. So often it feels as if we are the last to understand our lives when confronted with the twists and turns they take. Although, deep down, it also seems like the answer for me was always quite clear. I just had to follow my inner fierce bison to find out.