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Editorial: Losing Dad, Gaining Freedom

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Losing My Dad, Gaining My Freedom

by Morgan Jones

18 July  2002

Last Sunday, July 14th, was Bastille Day. It was also the anniversary of my father's death.

My dad (we called him Pop) was born on December 7th (which would become Pearl Harbor Day on his 22nd birthday) in 1919, the year after World War I drew to a close. Pop always had a flare for a dramatic entrance or exit.

I remember the day Pop went to the hospital, unable to breath as his lungs filled from congestive heart failure. The doctor on call administered some drugs, and Pop's condition stabilized. The doctor determined that Pop's arteries very 85% blocked by plaque resulting from almost 60 years of smoking 4 packs of cigarettes a day and a lifetime of eating the Standard American Diet. A few days later Pop died from multiple stokes after a routine angioplasty (catheter inserted into his artery) caused thousands of tiny shards of plaque to break loose and clog the smaller arteries and capillaries in his brain and his lower body.

My father was one of the most intelligent individuals I have ever met. His IQ was measured in the genius range, he would read one or two books a day in his spare time, and he had a photographic memory. I remember that my sister and I always lost when we played Scrabble or some other word game with my dad (he knew lots of word games), but it was always so interesting trying to decide whether we should challenge him for making up some strange 20-letter word we had never heard of. (He was just as a good at bluffing as he was at recalling multi-syllabic and little-used terms from medicine or quantum physics.)

Pop had a marvelous and playful sense of humor. He was physically strong and had been a judo instructor and infantry officer in World War II, but he would rather roll on the floor laughing and gently losing a wrestling match with a little kid than almost anything else, all the while singing some old sea chantey or a slightly off-color ballad that used words the child would never understand to be risquι.

My dad made his living with his wits: He worked as a reporter and newscaster in radio and television, as a newspaperman (he thought the word journalist was arrogant) covering politics and the police beat, as the editor of a couple of small-town newspapers, as a labor union organizer, and as campaign manager for state and national political races. Pop spent his adult life fighting the good fight for the underdog, the little guy, the average man and woman.

But Pop had his dark side. George Ohsawa, who brought macrobiotic philosophy to the West, was fond of saying
“the bigger the front, the bigger the back.” By this he meant that good and bad always exist in equal proportions. Thus when you find some powerful good, you will necessarily find an equal size dose of bad. Pop had a really big front. As I grew into an adult I discovered that this came part and parcel with a very large back. He was an alcoholic who suffered from a bi-polar (manic-depressive) condition. Pop could be the most beautiful, generous individual you could imagine—ready to drop everything to help someone he loved or respected—and occasionally he could be the most miserable, self-destructive, unreasonable man on the face of the earth.

Needless to say, even with his faults and his unique human weaknesses, Pop was always my hero. And my life-long challenge was to live up to his example
—to be half the man he was.

After Pop died, I spent two years carrying around a mountain of guilt that I hadn't been able to save his life. It wasn't until I met Herman Aihara that I finally learned to accept that it was my dad's choices that lead to his premature death (at 73 he still looked like a man in his 50's) and not my failing to convince him to change his ways. And Herman taught me that it was my dad's right to make his own choices and that I could love my dad completely
—good choices and bad—because they came as a package deal. Even more importantly, I learned that it is OK that I make some bad choices on a regular basis. I am not a bad person—I just have a front and a back, too—exactly like Pop. This last lesson is probably the one that has finally given me the freedom to stop beating myself up for never being as strong or as smart or as clever or as generous as my dad. And it has helped me accept my children's choices as good and valuable, even when they differ from the ones I would make for them (in the unlikely event they would allow this).

In life, my father taught me to understand the difference between right and wrong, to always do my duty (as the Universe reveals it a piece at a time), to never attempt to drive nails with anything other than a hammer, to take care of those people in my life who need my strength to augment their own, to tackle each task the right way (rather than the easy way), to never give up just because the opposition seems stronger, and to believe in the First Amendment (freedom of speech, of assembly, of the press, and of religion and the right of citizens to petition the government to change that which is wrong).

As important as these lessons may seem, the ones Pop taught me through his death (with a little help from Herman Aihara) were even more powerful.

Oh, and he left me this poem:


This is the thing
That makes the blood hum:
Dust on the wing,
Smoke on the plum.

This is the thing
Death cannot eclipse:
Steel in the heart,
Stone on the lips.

—Lyman Jones
14 March 1975


Thanks, Pop. Thanks, Herman. I miss you guys.


Peace, love, and brown rice,


Last modified: 02/21/05