Wednesday, February 25, 2015

On Being Raised by Radicals and Growing Into Rebellious Motherhood

´How to raise radical kids´ excerpt from Frida Berrigan´s book ... forward by David McReynolds

On Being Raised by Radicals and Growing Into Rebellious Motherhood

By Frida Berrigan, Feb 12, 2015

The daughter of two antiwar activists, Frida Berrigan was raised in a
faith-based community with a mission of social justice advocacy. In
her book, It Runs in the Family, Berrigan writes about being raised by
radicals and gives advice on how to integrate child rearing into
fighting for change.

This excerpt is about the passing of Frida Berrigan's father, Philip
Berrigan, and the impact of her parents on her life:

On December 6, 2002, sometime after dinner, he died. He died at Jonah
House, and more than thirty of his friends, family, and community
members were there. We had walked the last weeks with him.

Each of us wept, probing the hole that his absence would leave in our
lives. We stood around him and prayed, cried, and said goodbye. There
was gratitude too—that his long, painful journey was over. We were all
confident that we gained a powerful advocate in heaven. The pine box
that my brother and friends made was ready, beautifully painted by the
iconographer Bill McNichols. We prepared the body and laid him in the
coffin in dry ice.

The wake and funeral were at Saint Peter Claver, where Dad had served
as a priest decades earlier. The night after the wake, we gathered
around him one last time and then nailed the coffin closed. I remember
my Uncle Jim, my dad's oldest living brother at the time, driving
nails deep with just two whacks of the hammer, in contrast to my own
clumsy, off-center pings.

The next morning was cold, clear, and so beautiful. Dad was loaded on
to the back of a pickup truck and my sister Kate, our sister-in-law
Molly, and I rode in the truck with him. Other people carried signs
and banners as we processed the mile or so to the church for the
funeral mass. I don't remember that much of the service, but it was a
strangely happy occasion. Dad was gone, but he was still so present in
the room full of people who loved him. That presence was the theme of
the eulogy that Kate and I wrote, which read in part:

He is here with us every time a hammer strikes on killing metal,
transforming it from a tool of death to a productive, life-giving,
life-affirming implement.

He is here with us every time a member of the church communicates the
central message of the gospel (thou shalt not kill) and acts to oppose
killing, rather than providing the church seal of approval on war.

He is here whenever joy and irreverent laughter and kindness and hard
work are present. He is here every time we reach across color and
class lines and embrace each other as brother and sister.

We ended by saying, "Thanks, Dad, for lessons in freedom, inside and
outside of prison. And thanks to all of you for struggling toward
freedom and working to build a just and peaceful world. Our dad lives
on in you." I have only seen my mother cry a few times. She broke down
at my dad's grave—wept and sobbed as he was being lowered into it,
with the torches and snow and music evoking some sort of timeless
Viking ritual.

She broke, and then she began to remake herself. For the last twelve
years, she has continued a life of community, labor, prayer,
organizing, resistance, studying the Bible, and innovation. She
devotes time and energy to her prodigious gift for art. Donkeys,
goats, llamas, and guinea fowl have joined the Jonah House community
and now quarrel and push one another at feeding time. Six incredible
youngsters now call her Grandma, showering her with sloppy kisses and
clumsy drawings and pawing her with sticky hands. She wears her
"Grandmothers for Peace" sweatshirt like a banner—fiercely and with
great love.

Now that I am a mom, I do more than rely on my parents' fierceness. I
shake my head in awe at what they were able to accomplish. Their basic
competency, indomitable strength, spiritual consistency, and
indefatigable spirits are guideposts for me as I try to find myself as
a parent. They leave me with big shoes to fill. Big shoes, but many
gifts. My mom is quick to reassure me that I'm doing just fine as a
mom. My dad always told us that we—his kids—were way ahead of him
because he didn't "wake up" until he was in his forties and we
were—God bless us—born awake. I know I can't match their intensity or
their dogged pursuit of peace. So what can I offer my own children?

The great American poet Wendell Berry calls us to "be joyful though
you have considered all the facts." That seems to sum up my
parents—unlike so many conscientious people, they were not burdened or
haunted by the ills of the world. My dad was joyful. My mom still is;
inspite of everything they knew and experienced. Why? Because they saw
themselves as part of the dynamic that is trying to change the world.
With that belief—and lived experience—they endowed us with a moral
cheerfulness that is both sustaining and infectious.

My parents showed me that being part of building a new society in the
shell of the old is fun, interesting, and refreshing. It brought my
sister, brother and I into deep relationships with strange and
fascinating people, freed us from the bounds of convention,
consumption, and carelessness. It allowed us to be creative; it
motivated us to build what you need and share it with neighbors. I see
that moral cheerfulness in my husband's upbringing as well. At our
best, Patrick and I draw from that well of strength in our parenting
and offer moral cheerfulness to our children.

From our parents, Patrick and I learned how to live well without a lot
of money, to speak up for justice in big and small ways, to treasure
the richness of diversity, and to value truth and love above pretty
much everything else.

What does that look like in practice? Potluck dinners, composting,
knowing our neighbors, belonging to the community garden and the food
co-op, looking after other people's children, joyfully embracing
chores and family work, pitching in with food and time when a neighbor
is in need, advocating for peace and justice, being enthusiastic
members of our local Unitarian Universalist church, greeting people by
name, cultivating curiosity in our children, having time for each
other and for others, sharing what we have, and so much more.

Our life today isn't a cookie-cutter version of my own childhood—thank
goodness—but I am grateful for the many ways in which my unique
upbringing informs, complicates, and supports my own parenting.

Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218. Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at] Go to

"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs

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