Sunday, August 9, 2015

Countdown to Qatar: Farewell Letter from my Dad, Jerry








Praise from my 
Risk-Taking 
Role-Model




I shared Dottie's farewell email earlier.  Dad's farewell email follows.  Some of the references require some explanation. Many relate to his pioneering work in dentistry. 

As background, I am the eldest child and only daughter in a family of four kids.  My Dad and Mom married when my Mom was 18 years old and my Dad was 20 years old.  

As newlyweds, they moved from a small farming town in central Illinois to St. Louis while my dad completed dental school at Washington University. 

They lived in a new public housing project, Pruitt-Igo, that gained the reputation as a failure in urban planning. In 1972, the Department of Housing demolished it in a fabulous implosion. When we lived there, in the late-1950s, we were one of three or four white families. 

During the 1960s, St. Louis experienced a period of "white flight" from the ring of suburbs, including University City, located immediately outside of the St. Louis city limits.  At the time, we lived in a rental house on the western end of University City at Washington and Bemiston.  I was in grade school then.  

My Dad had fallen in love with a three-story house at 7025 Washington, five blocks east of our rental, on the same street. It looked a lot like this house, but sat on a sloping yard.  We moved in to it at a time many people were "fleeing" to far parts of the St. Louis metropolitan area as University City leaders embraced an integrated housing policy. 

I don't necessarily process these parental choices as courageous or risk-taking.  Instead, I always wondered where my parents, both of whom grew up in exclusively white farm communities, developed these values of inclusiveness, but I am glad they did. 

My Dad happily practiced dentistry for at least 30 years.  For many years, he taught at Wash U's Dental School until it closed.  (His experience in that academy parallels my own experience, especially now that legal education faces many challenges.)   "In 1989 Wash U's Board of Trustees voted to close the School of Dental Medicine. The board said that the decision was based upon budget deficits, increasing tuition rates, competition from less-expensive state-funded dental schools, limited outside funding, and a declining student enrollment. By 1991, the Dental School graduated its 125th and final class."

Dad interrupted his professional life to attend graduate school when he was about 40 years old, something I also did.  He learned advanced dental techniques, including implants, and then returned to St. Louis to bring this technology to his patients. The Greater St. Louis Dental Society recognized him as a leader in the profession by giving him its Gold Medal Award, the highest honor bestowed by the Dental Society. (I, too, earned recognition by my tribe -- the Virginia Mediation Network -- when it gave me its first Distinguished Mediator Award.)

After my Mom died of colon cancer at the age of 61, Dad sold his practice and joined my brothers in a family business that manufactured and sold a product called the Lawn Funnel. My brother, Roger, invented each version of it. 

For the past several years, Dad has researched and designed an earth-sheltered home.  He is currently working on the building site and recently completed the solar collector associated with the structure. He blogs about his interest in green building here.

He mentions Paul Young, my grandfather, after whom I am named. Paul opened a successful grocery store in Virginia, Illinois in his mid-30s or 40s.

If I have disappointed my Dad (which he largely disclaims), it's because I did not choose a more traditional path that produced a few grandchildren.  But, I learned early, rightly or not, that I needed to take care of myself -- and so I have.  And, I never could figure out how to do it all -- so I didn't.  

So, with that background, here's his email. 

Paula, 

Not being the people-person Dottie is, I am incapable of a response to your email that is as supportive as Dottie's.  I always imagined that you would end your teaching career in Grundy and retire somewhere between there and the east coast.  I never expected you to come back this way despite the reservoir of love and support you could tap into through Dottie and me and her family.  Obviously, I didn't expect you to do anything like you are doing!  

However, I shouldn't complain (but I would like to) about the physical distance you are placing between us because I am probably partially responsible for it by modeling risk-taking behavior starting way back to Pruitt-Igo days and carrying on through moving to the first open housing suburb in St. Louis; in dentistry, pioneering in complete mouth rehabilitation, TMJ treatment and dental implants; in business, Lawn Funnels: and, at a ridiculously old age, green building.  

And, Paul Young is also partially responsible for your risk-taking behavior because he modeled it for me.  

So what else can I say besides GO FOR IT!?  I am extremely proud of your accomplishments and the person you have become. Really, I cannot help but think that you are more than ready for a new chapter in your life, and I support you completely. 

Excuse me for some random thoughts. Thanks for bailing me out as a parent -- in baseball parlance, with you, I am at least batting .225.  

Talking about baseball, do you know that you were the only one that went with me to baseball games regularly and learned how to keep a scorecard?  That was at the original Busch Stadium on Grand Avenue and while we still living at Bemiston and Washington.  

Maybe we could have shaped a different Paula by confiscating your Betty Friedman-like books that you read at Paige's age or by moving to a more homogeneous community, but I am glad we didn't.  

Don't count on us visiting you in Qatar.  We will churn away at our busy lives and wait for you to visit home, which sounds like, will be almost as often as we see each other now. 

Well, this email has been written as time permitted over several days.  I guess it is time to let it fly.

Love you a lot.

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