Sunday, March 09, 2014

I Always Loved Him

Dad, second from left at top
My father, who died only two weeks ago, was an enigma to me. I always loved him, and he represented a good human being and my parent, but he was mysterious and indecipherable almost from beginning to end. He had a fabulous life as an activist for social justice, reaching into the highest echelons of government and philanthropy, working behind the scenes to bring about better conditions for disadvantaged and oppressed people. A consummate strategist, his ideas were not about giving handouts, but rather bringing about social change so people could rise out of poverty and become contributing members of society. (See New York Times article.)

Richard Boone's trajectory from the time he finished study at the University of Chicago was that of social work, and he immediately rose to leadership in any work he found himself. For most of his life, he was at the top of his field—always the executive director.

For a man who worked so hard, he also had five children and a wife. I am the oldest son, and all the other siblings followed within eight years. Our circumstances were poor to begin, but improved to stable middle-class and upper middle-class. My father was never about getting rich—it was not in his perspective. He was a devoted father, but not the ideal family man. His work took precedence. I do have fond memories, especially the days we lived in Washington DC—of vacations, wrestling matches with him on the living room floor, and visits with him on weekends in his bedroom, where he sat me down and asked about how my life was going, lending all his attention to me for a wonderful hour. He also informed my life with the fascinating people he brought home. People of all races who he championed and chose as allies—people who would never have appeared in the homes adjacent to us. One summer, when I was a youngster and our family lived on Long Island, we welcomed into our home two inner city kids, brother and sister, from a gang riddled neighborhood in Spanish Harlem, New York City. I do not know how my father found them. They spent the summer as part of our family. The boy told me about the zip guns his friends made to shoot, and I was very impressed. I don't know how my mother handled seven kids then . . . my father was always surprising her and sometimes she complained loudly.
My father's folder he kept for me . . .

Dad was mysterious to me in that he did not share his inner feelings and was impassive. He studied and thought, and could be incredibly attentive, but also inaccessible. He never said, “I love you.” Yet, I knew he did in a deep way.
I never saw his body after he died, but arrived to the family home a couple days after he was taken away. Nothing much remained, since he was not a great collector of things and mementos. But he had folders for all his children, and I found letters and correspondence between him and I that he had kept.
I also found some hand-written notes he had made and considered important enough to stash away. Since he had no religion, he developed his own philosophy and reason for living. His notes indicate his primary beliefs were in:
  1. The energy of love
  2. Recognition of the world being bigger than “self.”
  3. Live life so as to hurt others as little as possible.
  4. Know that the individual is not the center of everything.
  5. The imperative to build something of enduring value.
  6. The dynamic process of becoming.
  7. “Truth” can be found at any level; physical, emotional, rational, and spiritual.

I am feeling tides of emotion in the aftermath of father's passing. Death is final and draws a close to life.

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