Voltaire said, “I had more sense than to contest with him, since there is no possibility of convincing an enthusiast.” I dare say that we all run into people who affect us like that person did to Voltaire. We have other, less nice descriptions of such people which we use frequently. Stubborn comes to mind. So do other words. But enthusiast echoes the reality of the situation.
I recently wrote a post on the Lowell City Library and I wrote that I disagreed with the 1980’s renaming of a library that was dedicated to those who died in the Civil War. I guess on that issue I fall into the position of being one of those enthusiasts. Its source is the belief that you cannot rename a memorial to dead veterans. My father was one of those veterans who have passed, and I got a room named for him at Lowell High School. But it was unnamed before that plaque was affixed to the wall.
I find that, the older I get, the more like my father I become. He was extremely well-educated, with a Ph.D in School Administration. His thesis was on something that was very boring, I believe it was in his experiences as a young teacher making sure that people received the same treatment in the allocation of space in a school. Every student deserved his own space, he wrote, and it was his duty as the Superintendent to make sure that happened. Little did he know that one of those areas was the locker which his son (me) would be locked in on the days he did not call school off if there was a snowstorm. He checked the snow himself, getting up at 4 AM and going out in the snow, listening to the news, and making his decision. His decision was usually to hold school. On those days, teachers and students would stop everything to put him down. And, they did it primarily to me.
Growing up in schools with your father as the head, was very difficult. I had to toughen up. I did. Once a teacher told me that my earned grade in Chemistry was a 74%, but “I am giving you a 64% to show your old man that I could not care who he is.” So I failed Chemistry and Algebra for the same reason, because I was my father’s son.
Years later, he wrote a beautiful poem to me, extolling my sacrifices made on the altar of family relationships. It never occured to me to be upset with him, it was not his fault. He just thought I failed Chemistry and Algebra.
I got heavily involved in politics, even majoring in it in college. I was not supposed to get into college, but Dr. MacGovern was the admissions guru, and she found enough college work in high school to get me into Lowell State College. I believed that politics was a science. I got my Bachelor’s Degree in a Bachelor of Science program. I am looking at my Bachelor’s degree now, and I am a recipient of a Bachelor of Science degree, Cum Laude.
My first year in college I had broken up with a girl, and I spent all of my time studying, getting straight A’s in my first semester. I owed that girl a debt, because I had a rough time getting back to work, but I studied on average six to eight hours a day that semester.
Later, I would be glad that I had that level of experiences because I married Vicki Tsongas, Paul’s sister. We just celebrated our fortieth Wedding Anniversary. We got married while we were still in college because it seemed the thing to do. Vicki was spoken to by her entire family. We were so young we did not even know, or at least I did not, what roles were played at a wedding. We did not know that you could smash the cake into each other’s mouths, for instance, and there were other things we had not learned at twenty-one and twenty. We still had a year of school to complete. Vicki did it best, going to school for nine years, getting her degree, getting her Master’s degree, and getting her CAGS. She is more educated than I am. It was hard but she did it.
Being the brother-in-law of a United States Senator was kind of like being the son of the Superintendent. You had to watch your step. Once, Paul, on the night before he was to be sworn in, took me to his new office. The guards knew him by facial recognition and he said to me, “There is no one in this office who did not start out as a City Councillor or School Committeeman.” I was duly impressed, but I was more impressed a few days later when he told me he had gone up to Boston and met Celtics Manager, Red Auerbach. I was even more impressed when I answered his phone and his caller said, “This is Bobby Orr, is the Senator there?” I mean, I talked to Bobby Orr!
Paul’s mind was always going, even when, or perhaps especially when, he was diagnosed with non-Hodgekins Lymphoma, a cancer I now have. I understand his wanting to finish things, run for President, and do things that mattered like saving Walden Woods and Walden Pond. He once told me, when I turned down a job offer to be the Town Manager of Cavendish, Vermont, that I had made a serious mistake. I ended up teaching, and that negated the serious mistake. But, I knew he had a point.
Later, he would tell me, after spending six weeks in a solitary bed and room while undergoing cancer treatments, that he understood my thought processes better because of what he had gone through. I never felt closer to him, and I had spent a lot of time feeling close to him.
I must finish up by saying that I miss him. One man said that he was the eight hundred pound gorilla that kept the downtown going. Niki Tsongas once told me that he saw Lowell, Massachusetts as the “Center of the Universe.” It has become so to me. So here are my few words on my father and Paul Tsongas. Both men formed me, and I hope I reflect their strongest sides. No one could have foreseen how important to me both men would become. Being the son of the Superintendent and the brother-in-law of an Icon, is just about as cool a growth opportunity that you could get. I have loved every minute of it.