Here’s what I remember about my father Don Bower.
Every Christmas when my sister and I were younger, he sent us Advent calendars that were made in Germany, the ones with the 25 windows and chocolates in them. My kids and grandson still get them today.
One of the biggest things I remember is a court date he missed in family court in Alameda County. At the time my mother lived in Oakland, and I lived at St. Vincent’s School for Boys in Marin County. He wrote a letter to the court saying he could not come as he was marching on either Oakland city hall or the courthouse with the Black Panthers (that’s what I recall, but it could have been for something else, who knows since everyone was marching someplace in that era), but the judge was very unhappy with this and revoked all his parental rights.
Some time later I was allowed to leave the school on my own during the day and met him in San Rafael. He was shorter than me by then as I remember, and kind of quiet or shy. At one point he asked me to spend the summer with him at a camp up in Northern California. I talked it over with Sister Vincent Marie, the nun who had raised me most of my nine preteen years at St. Vincent’s. She didn’t think it was a very good idea at all, and told me to be careful. So I declined the invitation, and he disappeared. Looking back on this, I think Sister Vincent Marie was most likely correct.
After I left the school in the 70s, I looked for him through his case worker in San Francisco, where I guess he was living by then. Either I blew it off or he didn’t respond; whatever the reason, I never saw him again. I looked again in 1979 – again with no luck – until my mother sent me a newspaper clipping from the Oakland Tribune with his death notice. Very strange, I thought. Why would he get mixed up with a cult? He was a pretty smart guy I thought. He worked at Scripps in San Diego when he was younger, I believe, and had a few degrees from some pretty good schools. Nonetheless, he was permanently gone, along with many other people. I remember everything we all watched on the news about Jonestown (not knowing my dad was there), and thinking what a crazy bunch, why would anyone do that?
And like a lot of other things, some people never learn, as we all watched the Waco bunch make the same error in judgment. And who suffers the most? The children. Adults get to pick, but kids don’t.
The bodies of the children in the Jonestown photos bother me the most, and so does the news of them at Waco. In both places, the ones who walked away were adults, and the children who could not, died. They had no chance. This is very wrong. If you’re an adult and want to kill yourself, that’s between you and whatever god or non god you believe in, but don’t take the life of the next doctor or teacher or maybe president or whatever that child might have been, good or bad.
I never got involved with the court part after the whole thing was over, as I’m sure that others lost far more than me, and it didn’t seem right to take from the others that might need it more than I did.
My father is buried at Point Arena on the north coast. It’s a pretty peaceful place and quiet, but nonetheless a waste of human life. He missed a lot, like his kids and grandkids and even a great grandkid that I’m sure he would have enjoyed. But people do what they do for whatever reason and think it’s right. Maybe to them it is. I guess we all have free will. But use it wisely, as it may affect others at the time or far into the future.
(Greg Bower may be reached at Twogoodbeingbad@aol.com.)