Happy Birthday Pops

In the preface to the 2004 edition of DREAMS FOR MY FATHER Barack Obama ends by paying the most exquisite tribute to his mother “… She had spent the previous ten years doing what she loved. ..She gathered friends from high and low…I think sometimes that had I known she would not survive her illness I might have written a different book – less a meditation on the absent parent, more a celebration of the one who was the single constant in my life…” The first time I read the book I wept when I read this at the palpable love, respect, and loss of his mother; my mother loved these lines and was the one who called my attention to them. Since her death these lines have taken on a different tone for me.

I spend a lot of time and attention expressing the sudden and enormous loss of my mother, but now when I come across these lines it reminds me how much my father has also contributed to the person I am, and how often both in her life and death he has happily allowed my mother’s light to outshine his own. But my father has lived an admirable life, even if he is not one to call notice to it.

My father was the oldest of four boys; he went to the seminary at the age of 12 and spent over 8 years studying to become a Jesuit priest. He was a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War. He lived with communities in Detroit, Las Vegas, and San Francisco. He moved to Derry Northern Ireland less then a month after Bloody Sunday and worked with the first Catholic/Protestant joined youth group. He spent time in a Northern Ireland prison (ok not much time).

My father was the constant, the stable, and the dependable in my childhood. My mother raised millions of dollars for homeless, she hosted Mother Teresa, and the Dalai Lama, she was written about in the news paper and for a scattering of years could be heard on local news and radio tirelessly standing up for the city’s forgotten. My father, Zelda, Annie, and a slew of extended family were the people at home with me. My father held 2 jobs my entire life; he worked with the elderly, refugees, an Episcopal Church, and Last Gasp.

My father put me first in as many times as I can remember. He would drive me to rehearsals; he helped me learn lines when I didn’t know how to read. When I went to high school knowing how much drama meant to me he worked out an arrangement with my tutor so that I could come to her house in the evenings and still be in school plays. He would pick me up in his second and third hand Datsuns and drive me to my tutors, and he would wait in the car reading the newspaper twice a week while I studied.

He let my mother be the larger than life presence she was and continues in many ways to be while giving me a quieter support. He withheld his anxiety and trepidation about me going into a career in the arts, and never asked if I had a back up plan, but I knew it was hard for him to sit with his own fears of what this might mean for me.  He believed in me just as much as my mother but he also gave me the very real tools and support  (shipping all of my stuff coast to coast) that my mother never could grasp.

He is a storyteller; after his brother died of cancer he read stories once a week to terminally ill children. He brought me with him and introduced me to Elizabeth whose appetite and appreciation for life (and pancakes with bacon for dinner) are still unparalleled. He loved the arts; he introduced me to Swan Lake and To Kill A Mockingbird. He brought me to see Jean Cocteau’s BELLE ET LA BEAT when I was six. Years later when I asked him if he had any idea the way that opened my mind he merely said “I couldn’t find a babysitter and I figured you knew the story already”. Of all of the musicals he would schlep me to CAROUSEL was always his favorite, when I asked him why he said, “Too often fathers are lost characters, absent or underappreciated, but Billy sings of a fatherly love.”

I find so often in my loss and missing of my mother that I do not pay proper attention or tribute to my other parent. So this year on his birthday I thought I would say Thank You Pops and I Love You.



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07 2013

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  1. Annie #

    That’s so beautiful Ra–George is such a devoted Dad. you had me weeping with the first sentence. thank you for this!

    • ra #

      Thanks Annie. I have a lot of devoted and loving parents including you 🙂 Sending you love. xoxox Ra

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