Monday, February 20, 2017

“The Theft of Memory” – A Review

subtitled:  “Losing My Father, One Day at a Time”
Jonathan Kozol
Signal Press (imprint of McClelland and Stewart)
© 2105

Jonathan Kozol is a highly regarded author of books on education and the underprivileged.  As a school curriculum superintendent, I recommended many of his works to colleagues and staff.  He writes with clarity, passion and conviction and his authorial wheelhouse is the realm of the mismatch between educational opportunity and educational need.

Long out of the profession, I picked up “Theft” in order to revisit the wisdom of this extraordinary thinker.  Never mind that it wasn’t about schools, but his dying father.  On page 2, Kozol writes about “Daddy” smoking his pipe: “The aroma of the smoke as it rose up about him remains in my memory, comfortably intertwined…” My Dad smoked a pipe.  And his favorite leather chair and the maple ashtray stand Dad used to use is at my elbow as I type.  Kozol had me hooked.

Harry Kozol, a renowned psychiatrist of the 20th century, would succumb to Alzheimer’s at age 102.  My dad only made it to 76.  Jonathan Kozol writes about the journey he takes with his father.  Along the way, he shares the contents of some of Daddy’s musings and reports found amongst the boxes of memorabilia left for Kozol to store.  Included were thoughts about professional contacts his father had with, among others, Eugene O’Neill with his gnawing creative self-doubt and Patricia Hurst and her turbulent path toward captive revolutionary.  The passages make you somehow feel as if some aspect of HIPPA is being ignored.  It’s all fascinating. 

But more intriguing is the thread of Kozol’s personal history with a driven father – attending on Saturdays, as a youngster, father’s examination of patients as a “guest consultant,” fishing with Daddy and losing fancy lures in the thicket across the creek, the aching fatherly disappointment when the son foregoes an Rhodes scholarship, and the resolution of this – and how son’s relationship with that father evolves, turning 180 degrees as son the cares for an aging parent.  The memoir is poignant and compelling, concluding: “Some blessings our parents give us, I need to believe, outlive the death of memory.”

I lived several hours from Dad as he progressed through his illness. In his last year, my career brought me to within 90 minutes.  That change meant I could hold his hand and read to him just a little bit more than before – and I did until the end.  It’s been seventeen years since Dad died.  A dozen or so boxes of knickknacks and writings remain sealed somewhere here in the house.

Kozol has convinced me to open them up and explore.

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