Tom Matlack finally asked his dad the things he most wanted to know.
James Matlack, my dad, earned his BA from Princeton in 1960, his MA from Oxford in 1962, and Ph.D. from Yale in 1965. He was a leader in the civil rights and anti-war movements. He taught American Literature at Cornell from 1965 to 1969 and at the University of Massachusetts from 1970 to 1978. He served as an administrator at Hampshire College from 1978 to 1983. Matlack then worked as the Director of the Washington, D.C., Office of the American Friends Service Committee from 1983 until his retirement in 2003, traveling frequently to Latin America, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia on service missions. He met my mom when he was 16 and they have now been married 52 years. He has three children and six grandchildren, and has retired to Rockport, Maine, where he is Program Director for the Camden Conference on International Affairs.
I’m 46. My dad is 73. I wouldn’t say we are close. I can’t really explain why. He tried to save the world and I have tried to conquer it. I am not sure either of us succeeded, though in certain ways I think my dad had more enduring success than I have had. Yet when we are together there is always an awkward silence. He often tells me how proud he is of me and that he loves me. But it is hard to break through some unspoken barrier between father and son who chose very different paths and yet remain similar. He reminds me of where I came from and, in so doing, makes me uncomfortable of my own inescapable shadow. Still, there are things I want to know, questions I’d like to ask. So I decided to talk to my dad as a kind of Father’s Day gift to both of us.
What I discovered, unexpectedly, is that my dad is a pretty cool guy.
Click through the slide show to see what I asked and what my Dad had to say: