A Different View of my Father on his Birthday


My father was born 119 years ago on this day, June 26th, in Hannibal, Missouri. He is best known for having created the Learjet. Less known for inventing the 8-track tape, and even fewer people know that he was he first to come up with a practical car radio. He did not invent the car radio — but he made it doable on a large scale by reducing the size (it only took up the space of a briefcase!). If you’re old enough, you’ll know the name Motorola. He coined that term. It’s a combination of ‘motorcar’ and ‘victrola’. He is in the National Aviation Hall of Fame, the National Inventor’s Hall of Fame, and the International Air & Space Hall of Fame.

I’ve never done this before, but I looked him up on Wikipedia. I noticed that nothing is said of his mother or his father. It tells all about when he was born, what he did, how many wives he had, and children. But absolutely nothing about where he came from.

He was a difficult, charming, brilliant man in the world. He was as good a father and husband as he knew how to be, given his many demons. But today, on the day of his birth so long ago, I look for him as a newborn.

His mother is said to have been cruel and little is known about his father, except that he was unremarkable. I say these things with no actual knowledge of them. They were both long gone before I came into the world. And the only stories I have of my paternal grandmother are stories of abuse, both psychological and physical. Dad ran away when he was fourteen and never looked back.

What actually happened on this day, 119 years ago? Was he born at home or in a hospital? What was his first welcoming to this hard world? Were his parents even a little bit in love at the time? Did they hold him, speechless with awe, as I did my children? I don’t know.

He was not a wanted child. His mother eventually became a single mom, running a coffeeshop at the Chicago Stock Yards. So I look for her, too, on this day. Who was she as a newborn? What were her challenges growing up poor in the late 1800s? Who cared about her? How was she treated as a child?

In so many indigenous traditions, on important occasions the ancestors are acknowledged. In America, we don’t do this. Well, unless our ancestors are ‘important’. I am the daughter of William P. Lear, Sr, inventor of the Learjet, so if anyone were to do my Wikipedia page, it would definitely say that. But as a rule, we have this attitude that it all starts with us. I was born (never mind to whom), and THIS is what I made of my life. This puts a great deal of pressure on accomplishing something of import — since if you don’t, you will be erased from history.

Our ancestors aren’t important because they did something extraordinary. They’re important because we wouldn’t be here without them. They make up the unbroken line that stretches all the way back to — where? how far? — the amoebas? Something of everyone who came before me is in me right now. I honor them, today, starting with my father. I bow my head to whatever was good in that unbroken line, and I offer myself as healing to whatever was not.

My father did not spring forth, fully formed out of the head of Zeus. Gertrude Elizabeth Powell Lear had to lie down and give birth to him; and her husband, Reuben Marion Lear, had to have been somewhere nearby, worrying. My father’s parents (my ancestors) were just people, sleepless, new to this, stumbling through the massive upheaval that a new baby brings.

Today, on the day of my father’s birth, I envision him as a newborn. I hold this newborn baby in my arms. I give him all the tenderness I wish he’d known. I watch his intelligent eyes, and I know everything he’s going to become, everything he’ll discover and do, all the help and all the harm that lies his wake. I see him with the eyes of unconditional love, compassion, and wisdom — knowing that we all carry our karma, and we will all return over and over till we burn it off.

Happy birthday, William Powell Lear. Grow in grace, wherever you are now.