BoomerCafé recently ran an excerpt that our co-founder and executive editor Greg Dobbs wrote for a new book that resonates with baby boomers, a book called “1969: Are You Still Listening?: Stories & Essays.” It looks back 50 years to the end of the stormy decade that helped shape us all. Now, BoomerCafé periodically is publishing excerpts by other writers who also contributed to the book. It’s part of our series of reflections for boomers from 50 years ago.
This excerpt is by Willits, California’s Jed Diamond, as he looks back to how different his life was — and society was — a half century ago. His story about the birth of his baby helps explain how he came to create MenAlive.com, a healthy organization that helps men live lives long and well.
I was in graduate school at the University of California at Berkeley between 1965 and 1968. One of my fellow students was Mel Newton, the brother of Huey P. Newton, who had co-founded the Black Panther Party with Bobby Seale. Although the Black Panthers started as peaceful advocates for human rights, police violence and attacks on the Panthers contributed to armed confrontations with the police.
In the evenings I spent time at Synanon, learning to play the “Synanon game,” the confrontational group therapy approach that helped addicts break their drug habit. At a time when violent confrontations were the order of the day, Synanon was able to bring Panthers and Oakland Police together to leave their guns and engage each other in a non-violent confrontation in the Synanon game.
I still remember seeing Black Panthers, resplendent in their black leathers and Afros, coming into the Synanon house in Oakland along with Oakland police, equally resplendent with their bulging muscles and thick necks. It was a noble experiment that lasted for many months. It didn’t bring peace, but it allowed conflicting groups to see each other as human beings and to express their anger, pain, and fear in an atmosphere of safety. It might have succeeded if the government had not decided that the Panthers were enemies of the State who needed to be eliminated.
During the summer of 1969, we had a radical musical experience that spoke deeply to our lives. In August, the American Conservatory Theater (ACT) put on the rock musical Hair at the Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco. The themes of war, the draft, protests, clean air, sex, friendship, betrayal, and love touched our souls. At the end of the performance, we joined the actors on stage where we held hands and sang to “let the sunshine in” and bring on the Age of Aquarius.
Hair was a wonderful prelude to the event in November, 1969, that forever changed my life. It began at Kaiser Hospital in Vallejo. I’d been coaching my wife through the breathing exercises we learned in our Lamaze child-birthing classes. She’d been in labor more than 14 hours when the nurse announced, “It’s time to move into the delivery room, Mrs. Diamond.” My wife offered a wan smile and nodded her head.
The nurse then turned to me. “OK, Mr. Diamond, your job here is done. It’s time for you to go to the waiting room.” I kissed my wife on her cheek and squeezed her shoulder. “I’ll see you and the baby soon,” I assured her. As they wheeled her to the left towards the delivery room, I walked to the right towards the waiting room. But as I started to push through the doors, I couldn’t go through them. Something stopped me. In my mind, I heard the voice of our unborn son calling to me. I don’t want a waiting room father. Your place is here with us. I turned around and walked back the way I had come. The words kept reverberating in my mind. I don’t want a waiting room father.
Holding him for the first time, I made a promise to become a different kind of father than my father was able to be for me and help bring about a world where fathers and families were together for life.
Jed’s 15th book is, “My Distant Dad: Healing the Family Father Wound.”