Braille Monitor                                                    January 2009

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Reflections on My Father

by Dutch tenBroek

A family portrait of the tenBroeks (left to right) Nicholas, Anna, Hazel, Jacobus, and DutchFrom Dan Frye: Dutch tenBroek, son of NFB founder Jacobus tenBroek, delivered an address full of nostalgic reflections and memories about his father to delegates at the 2008 national convention on the afternoon of July 2. His remarks were part of a panel presentation highlighting the tenBroek Law Symposium that was held at the Jernigan Institute in April 2008. Dutch's remarks added a personal and poignant dimension to the scholarly profile of Dr. tenBroek that was otherwise emphasized during this review of his legal career. Curious historians and longtime Federationists will appreciate Dutch's presentation. Edited only for space and clarity, here is what he said:

Dr. Maurer, thank you very much, and thank you all very much. Since I know I am the only thing between you and walking out the door, or as dad would say, probably the only thing between you and a big pitcher of beer and a pepperoni pizza on French bread, I will do my best to take only a few minutes. What I would like to do tonight is just share a few things with you and perhaps bring Dad a little more to life for you through my experience of him.

I’m going to start by telling you a story about Abdul Hakeem Shabaz. Doodle, as we affectionately call him, is my number two son’s best friend. I met him when they were in college together at the Munich campus of the University of Maryland. Later they moved to Illinois, and Doodle became the press secretary for the attorney general of the State of Illinois. The state of Illinois funded Doodle’s advanced education, and he went to law school in St. Louis.

He had a professor in constitutional law who had a policy that no one in his class ever got an A. On the last day of class the professor had done quite a bit of talking about a couple of cases that went in front of the Supreme Court, and he quoted my dad frequently. He then went off on a tangent and talked about Dad and said that he was a blind professor. He said several other things and just had it all wrong. Doodle put his hand up and bravely corrected the professor, at which point the professor said, "Mr. Shabaz, I’m going to have to give you an A. But I must ask you, you must have done years of research to get this information?" At which point Doodle replied, "No sir, his grandson is my best friend."

For me, it is in hindsight that I really see a lot of what I grew up with. People like Perry Sundquist, Muzzy Marcelino, and Earl Warren were always in my house; they were always meeting and talking with Dad. I really had no idea what was going on at that point. After twelve years of growing up in that environment, I became the bartender, so I pretty soon learned what they all drank.

At the dinner table and the breakfast table Dad really challenged each of us every day about life. He pushed us. He was always taking the other side of whatever we brought up in conversation, always making us think, always stretching us, always pushing us to look at the other side and to see the other perspective. I think that was one of his greatest gifts. And this gift was borne out in the formation of the tenBroek Society, which is a group of his students (mostly in California), who are now attorneys and judges on supreme and appellate courts, that meet on a regular basis just to relive their experiences with Dr. tenBroek. I think it’s a good example of one of the things that Dad did. He continually questioned and pushed.

But, you know, it was the walk that we did every Sunday morning at 4:00 a.m. that actually inspired me and really set the tone for me. Dad used to wake me up at 4:00 a.m. on Sundays, and we would get up and walk. We would head up the hill. Those of you who have been around Berkeley know that there are one or two hills there. We never started down; we always started up. And we would walk at a rapid pace. If you knew my mom--if you ever had the opportunity to walk with her--you would know that she was a very fast walker. My wife Cathy is five feet tall, and she had a hard time learning to keep up when she went shopping with my mother. That's because Dad taught Mom how to walk, and he taught me how to walk too. At one point on our walks I asked him, "Why are we walking so fast? There’s nothing out here. The world’s not going very fast."

He said, "You never get anywhere going slowly."

I really think that was the frame of his life: constantly challenging, working, pushing all of us to work and to do the things that we needed to do. In many ways Dad seemed bigger than life. When I was about twelve, we went to LA, and my dad gave a speech at a hotel, but he wasn’t the primary speaker. The host was sitting where Dr. Maurer is sitting. After about the third time of looking at his watch, Dad made a comment. "Well, I see you’re looking at your watch for the third time, so I guess I better draw my remarks to a conclusion." That brought another point home to me, so I asked him about it on the airplane coming back. He said, "I thought I heard the sleeve come off his wrist, and I calculated he was looking at his watch. But it had a much bigger impact for me to make a comment about it than just to stop speaking." And that’s kind of the way Dad was. He saw those kinds of things very clearly.

In many ways he was bigger than life. He had vision that was far beyond what any of us would have thought. But, you know, the great thing about my dad is that his vision is sitting here in this room alive today. And that vision, I’m sure, is definitely headed in the right direction.

I remember Dad and I used to walk to our respective classes together; I'd go to high school, and he would be headed down for his eight o’clock class. We’d part paths at the north gate of the University of California, and Dad would charge on through the students. I could always tell where he was because I could look back and see the students parting–almost like the parting of the waters. Dad believed in a big cane–he carried a six-foot cane--and he swung it 180 degrees. Well, he had to do that because it’s the only way it would allow him to move as quickly as he wanted to move.

I would encourage you not to take tentative steps, to swing that cane 180 degrees, and to charge forward. Thank you very much.

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