My Father, His Firebombs and Me, Part IV: A life laid out in court documents
The fourth instalment in the five-part series My Father, His Firebombs and Me, in which Post reporter Peter Kuitenbrouwer, in Ukiah, California, describes growing up with a hippie father who was on the run.
Encapsulated in these pages is the whole arc of my father’s life to age 35, which bears similarities to those of others of his generation: from his childhood in occupied Holland, through immigration to Canada, aged 19, his early success founding a steel company in Vancouver, then overwork, leading to the collapse of his marriage to my mom and his embrace of the hippie culture, emboldened by the people he meets in Mendocino.
“My life took a new turn,” my father, who wore handcuffs, told his lawyer, Merle Orchard, during his sentencing hearing on Dec. 23, 1969. “I felt I should probably spend more of my life in, in helping people, looking for a new direction in which people should live.” These sentiments may sound lofty to some but to me they drive home how he entirely stopped thinking of his own three children; he even misstates the year of my birth. (As I type these words, back in Toronto, I am preparing to stop in at my son’s Grade 3 class at lunchtime, to present a soufflé that he and I baked together, to celebrate his 9th birthday; I can’t help but reflect on my own childhood, and a father who was not there for me.)
What emerges from my father’s court documents, more than any grand tale of 1960s heroism, is a portrait of a man who, scarred by the squalour of his youth during World War II, then fuelled by plentiful drugs and easy sex, makes a series of bad judgment calls, flees at every sign of trouble, and ends up a remorseful shadow of the hero he had styled himself.
Part I: Growing up with a father on the run
Part II: Eviction and retribution
Part III: A back-seat view of my father’s arrest