My father was an amazing presence and thinker. Tom Mooney passed away this summer after 89 years of living. A book could easily be written about what he did and said-especially what he said. He had so many ideas, stories, and knowledge to share. Anyone who knew my dad for more than five minutes realized this.
Before I was born in 1960, my dad and mom, Doris, and my brother, Mark, and sister, LeeAnn, lived in Southern California-Ontario, Twentynine Palms, Chino. Dad was a deputy sheriff and police officer for 14 years. It’s a life about which I heard many a story. He seemed larger than life-exciting tales about riding horses into the desert, forays into Hollywood with Mom on a Saturday night, and occasional “trouble” that required Dad and a fellow off-duty police-officer friend to jump in and “fix” it. But Dad wanted out of the business of carrying a gun, and so he resigned from the force and moved the family to Santa Barbara in 1961.
Dad worked for the Santa Barbara Recreation Department through most of the 1960s, becoming a fixture at the Rec Center and Chase Palm Park. It was during this time that he became involved with the folk dancing community, and he brought his family with him. On Sundays, we’d all go down to the park by the sea and dance, and I loved it. Unfortunately, Dad injured his back in 1969, and couldn’t dance, or work, after that.
He became devoted to reading every book ever written (or so I thought) and writing furiously in notebooks, always carrying a small notepad in his front pocket, with a pen that would invariably end up leaking all over his shirt. He’d write down the names and phone numbers of just about everyone he met. He appreciated creativity, thinking, and compassion. He wanted nothing to do with people who were phony, pretentious, or indifferent. His favorite poet was Yeats. He wrote poetry, and participated in many poetry readings in town, at the Bluebird Cafe, Borsodi’s, and the Unitarian Church.
I always considered Dad to be a bohemian. I’m not at all sure he would have appreciated being called that, but I’m sticking with it. He spent time in the grape-stomping scene on Mountain Drive in the ’60s. He played piano and guitar, and loved to sing. He became involved in political and social concerns. LeeAnn remembered, “My father taught me early in life to always stand up for what I feel is right and to get actively involved in social causes that speak to my heart and mind. At 8 years old, all us kids got dressed in our pajamas, and the family drove our VW bus to De la Guerra Plaza and parked overnight in support of the Voting Rights Bill, which was part of the civil rights movement. Dad was a very compassionate and passionate man.” I concur.
My dad loved Ireland. One St. Patrick’s Day in the early 1970s, Dad (in his fifties) and his fellow revelers decided to put green dye in the fountains on State Street. He could often be seen with my mother on the corner of State and Anapamu streets, protesting England’s presence in Northern Ireland, but always ready to engage in discussion with the opposition. In the early 1980s, he had a radio show on KCSB called The Irish Hour, although it was two hours long.
My half-sister Coralyn said that’s sort of a metaphor for Dad’s life, because my father had absolutely no concept of time. If he was given a half-hour slot to read poetry, there was no doubt he was going to go over. If he ran into someone he knew in a store, there was just no way you were going to get away with a five-minute “How ya doin’?” kind of exchange. He did manage to be on time for my wedding, which amazes me to this day.
He was a big man, 6’1″. This past Fiesta at El Mercado, I remembered being there with Dad many years ago, riding on his shoulders. I spent a lot of time on his shoulders back then. I broke my leg when I was in kindergarten and wasn’t exactly proficient at using the crutches. When I was six, I started wetting the bed. It was scary and uncomfortable, of course. Dad would get up in the middle of the night, carry me asleep to the bathroom, gently wake me up so I could use the bathroom, then carry me back.
Growing up, all I wanted was The Brady Bunch dad. What I got was a bearded dad with a ponytail who listed “Poet” as his occupation. Yet my father’s desire to learn continually created an exciting world for us, and I would not be the person I am today if it hadn’t been for the people, places, experiences, sights, and sounds to which I was exposed while growing up. I know that my father’s “age is an attitude, not a number” thinking has guided me to love life and seek meaning-and fun-no matter how old I am. As someone who knew my dad said, upon learning of his passing, “Impossible; he’s one of the immortals.”