Over the last four decades, I have traveled widely, speaking about reopening the Rosenberg case and about the RFC. Whenever possible my wife Elli has accompanied me; many of you have met her. Now we are turning the tables.
This week Elli’s first book, a novel titled House Arrest, was published, and during the next year I’ll be accompanying her to as many of her readings and book signings as I can. I welcome the turnabout, especially since her novel addresses some of the same issues that underlie the RFC project, although explored from a different perspective. That’s also why I think the RFC community will find this book and her discussion of it fascinating.
The issue I think of as “politics and parenting” has been central to my life and our family. Of course, my parents’ arrest and resistance defined my childhood; the political choices my parents made have had a profound impact upon me to this day. Elli and I discussed politics and parenting intensely in our early twenties, when we decided to start a family while we were deeply involved in political activism. We grappled with it further in 1974, when we decided that I should “come out of the closet” of anonymity and embark upon a public campaign to clear my parents’ names, even though we worried about possible risks to our two-year-old daughter.
Sixteen years later, I figured out how to connect my parents’ legacy and my work life and founded the RFC to aid kids whose parents’ activism had a significant negative impact on their children’s lives. The RFC staff and Board see things primarily from the children’s point of view while simultaneously remaining sympathetic to their parents’ activism. We understand how complex and challenging this issue can be for both generations.
Not surprisingly, Elli’s book addresses similar issues against the backdrop of her decades of work as a nurse and nurse practitioner. House Arrest is about the relationship between two women from strikingly different backgrounds whose parents’ political decisions left deep scars upon their children.
Emily, a home care nurse from Maine, has led a muted existence since her anti-Vietnam War activist father was imprisoned for burning down a draft board office. Pippa joined a religious commune after fleeing her Georgia home dominated by her racist father. Pippa is pregnant and under house arrest because her first child died during a cult-related ceremony. Emily is assigned to monitor her pregnancy and report to Pippa’s probation officer. As their relationship develops, Pippa’s request of Emily forces Emily to face the question she’s been avoiding all her life: When is it right to follow higher ideals and break the rules even if the consequences could be disastrous?
Elli and I have talked about these issues more times than I can count. Similar thoughts must have dogged my parents while they sat in prison. I’ve had many conversations with RFC parents and their grown children about this as well. I don’t think there is any pat answer, any satisfying one-size-fits-all response. And no course we choose will guarantee that we’ll have no regrets. But one of the main reasons parents try to improve the world is for their children. My whole life has been a rejection of the narrow idea that it is impossible to be both an engaged activist and a good parent.
I suspect that many of you have wrestled with these same questions, and I wonder what you think. Your support for the RFC provides me with some idea, but I urge you to check out Elli’s book and share with me your comments about this and the other issues it addresses.
The book launch party will be Wednesday, February 9, at 7 pm at The Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley, MA. For more information about House Arrest and Elli’s book events, please visit www.ellenmeeropol.com.
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