Saturday, October 28, 2023

A Song for my Father

Barry and me in Chicago, c. 1987

Today, my father would have turned 91, but he died six months ago. In August, we went to California for the memorial service. I had to speak, and it went well. Eleven of us - my dad’s widow and his four children, their spouses and two of the four grandchildren - rented a house in Pacifica for four days after that. We had fun. Unfortunately, someone had come to the service with COVID and half of us got it. So, my wife and I came back to Illinois sick with it for a couple of weeks, but we’re all better now.

I thought some of you might be interested in what I said about my dad. First, for some context, I’ll quote the local paper for Barry’s obituary:

Barry William Strejcek, affectionately known by some at Rossmoor as “The Mayor of Oakmont,” died on April 29, 2023, at age 90 1/2, peacefully at home, from aging with heart disease and dementia.

He was born October 28, 1932, to Doris and William Strejcek and grew up in the Cleveland area. He attended Shaw High School, then Miami University of Ohio, then served in the U.S. Army in Germany during the Korean conflict.

He returned to earn a BA in political science and a master’s degree in labor economics, both from Ohio State University.

Barry married his first wife, Mary Jo (“Jody”) McPherson, in 1959. They lived in Ohio, Missouri, New Jersey, and Washington DC. Children Kier (1960), Nathan (1962), and Mardi (1969) were born to Barry and Jody. Their marriage ended in divorce.

Barry’s working life centered on civil rights and the common good. He was active in the Democratic Socialists of America, founded by Michael Harrington. His career was with the National Urban League, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Barry appreciated that the federal government gave him the opportunity to work towards justice and equality.

In 1976, Barry met Yvonne Schumacher when they were both working for EEOC; they married in 1980 in Washington DC. Their son Brendan was born in 1981. When Barry retired in 1989, they moved to Nevada City, California, where they were leaders of Sierra Foothills Unitarian Universalists in Auburn. They were among the founders and charter members of the UU Community of the Mountains in Grass Valley. Barry and Yvonne moved to Berkeley in 2004 for her completion of an MDiv degree at Starr King School for the Ministry, and then to Harrisburg PA, Boston MA, and Brighton MI following her parish ministry calling in the Unitarian Universalist Assn. They retired

to Rossmoor senior community in Walnut Creek CA in 2015. There Barry’s friendliness earned him that moniker “Mayor of Oakmont” as he would wave to every car driving by while walking his dog Sammy daily, schmoozing with everyone he met along the way.

His passing is deeply grieved, after nearly 43 years of marriage, by his wife Yvonne, of Rossmoor; also his children Kier (and Cathleen) of Naperville IL, Nathan (and Stacey Moye) of Washington DC, Mardi (and Alberto Muciño) of Arlington VA, and Brendan (and Chenbo Zhong) of Toronto, Ontario, Canada; also four grandchildren: Conor (and Laura), Liam, Locke, and Marissa, and two great grandchildren, Ellis and August. He was predeceased by great granddaughter Violet Joan.

Barry stood for human equality, believed in it fervently, and

worked for it all his life. He loved his family and friends. He had a great sense of humor; loved the natural world especially exploring national parks, hiking, and climbing mountains, visiting great cities, playing card and board games, watching TV and films, reading great books, engaging in schmoozing (especially political conversations), eating out, and most especially donuts, blueberry pie, and root beer.

Memorial gift suggestions: Equal Justice Initiative (, NAACP (, The Alzheimer's Association (, or Threshold Choir International/Diablo Valley Threshold Singers (

Deep gratitude to Suncrest Hospice staff, whose tender, skillful care for Barry was essential in his last months of life, enabling him to die at home in peace. 

And this is what I said at the memorial service: 
[If you’d rather listen, go to]

Hi, I’m Kier, Barry’s eldest child by Jody McPherson. I’d like to talk about what my father handed down to me. 

Barry taught me to appreciate music, reading, movies, comedy, science fiction, politics, and sports. 

He preferred jazz and classical music, but had Beatles records, the Woodstock soundtrack, and Santana and Grand Funk Railroad records and 8-track tapes. He took me to my first concert when I was almost 14, which was Grand Funk Railroad, which was his choice. The second concert he took me to was Led Zeppelin, which was my idea. I returned the favor years later, taking him to see Czech composer Beidrich Smetana’s Ma Vlast performed in Chicago’s Grant Park. 

Barry took us to Washington Senators baseball games in DC. In 2006, I took him to a Cubs vs Tigers game at Wrigley Field with my kids. Barry rooted for the Tigers, living near Detroit with Yvonne at the time. The Cubs lost. 

He would take us to Hechinger’s hardware, Sears, and The Waffle Shop across the street for a treat, usually a hot fudge sundae, which I would “inhale,” according to the server. 

Barry helped me build model planes and cars and took us to hobby shops. He encouraged my HO train hobby and built an elaborate pulley system for a drop-down train table in the basement. He helped with building the mountain out of chicken wire and plaster. He built things in the house: a laundry chute; and a doll house and bunk bed/study for Mardi; parts of our kitchen; and a bedside shelf that I still use. He re-roofed the house, with a little help from us. 

He took us to movies, especially comedies, like the Marx Brothers, and Woody Allen. And of course, science fiction movies, and books. He read many books and lefty magazines, such as Dissent and The Nation. 

One of the first moral lessons Barry taught me was when I asked what a certain word beginning with “N” meant. The part I remember is that I shouldn’t play with anyone using that word. Harsh, I thought at age 6, but wise, as revealed in time. We had Martin Luther King Jr quotes on the fridge. Barry took us to see the King documentary in a DC theater in 1970. 

For Boy Scouts, he took me to hike a section of the C&O Canal. I had missed that part by getting sick in the middle of my Troop hiking the whole thing, from DC to Cumberland, Maryland. Nathan went with us. We had to camp out one night, and it rained so hard that our tent floor was floating on water in the morning.      

Growing up in DC, we went to protest marches. On May Day 1971, we marched against the Vietnam War. Many were wearing paper masks of Lt. Calley of My Lai Massacre infamy. 

When I was 12, in the summer of 1972, I was complaining about President Nixon and Vietnam, so Barry suggested that I volunteer for his Democratic opponent, McGovern. He volunteered to drive me to the McGovern headquarters on K Street to try it. We went and then I continued to work there on my own, and then at Watergate, but that’s another story

When I was 14, he let me use his Super 8 camera and editing equipment to make a short silent movie called “Revolt!” starring Nathan in long hair and one of Barry’s Army shirts, and a cast of local kids and toy guns. In 2005, I digitized that and his Super 8 home movies as a Christmas gift.

Barry taught me to drive, back when a Driver’s Ed class wasn’t a requirement, though he might not want to be held responsible for that. Our first test drive with Jody was… tense

Jody once said that Barry was a Democratic Socialist before Democratic Socialist was cool. In the 2016 Democratic primary, I voted for Bernie Sanders as a nod to my political heritage. Sometimes in my head I would confuse their names and think of Sanders as Barry Sanders, who was of course a famous Detroit Lions running back. And where is Yvonne from? Detroit. And Grand Funk Railroad is also from Michigan. Just sayin’. 

Barry drove me to college in Illinois in 1978, stopping at his parents’ retirement place in Ohio. It was nice to see my Strejcek grandparents. I didn’t know then that I would never see them again. That kind of separation can be a side effect of divorce. 

I made my peace with the divorce. None of the stereotypical “I never told my Dad I loved him” or vice versa. I wasn’t there for his final days, but was in DC with Mardi and Nathan. Two visits that mean a lot to me are: when I went visited several days with him at Sacramento’s Mercy Hospital after his big heart attack in 2002; and a few years before that, Cathleen, the kids and I were visiting Barry, Yvonne, and Brendan in Nevada City, and Barry got sick. While the others went to town, I sat with him and fed him soup. 

I do have one regret. I was supposed to call Silver Spring, Maryland during Barry’s 50th-birthday surprise party, but I failed. I was at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois at the time, playing guitar in a rock band at a Halloween party. My costume included one of Barry’s Army fatigues, and an Army Surplus gas mask. I was not feeling that well. Anyway, this was before cell phones, in the time of pay phones and long-distance call plans. Even with all that, I could have planned better. So, I apologize again, Barry. 

For Barry’s 60th birthday, in 1992, I wrote and recorded a song for him. I will not sing it now, but I will read it to you. [I have since made a slideshow video of the song:]

Handed Down (1992)

I remember protest marches
Where everybody had a dream
We'd get together and make things better
Eliminate war from the scene
A dozen years have passed in darkness
Maybe now we can redeem
What our souls were needing
As if our hearts were bleeding

You introduced me to Marx and Lennon
Of course I mean Groucho and John
Double features and weekend matinees
Woodstock or Woody would be on
No more sundaes at the Waffle Shop
Just like the Senators, it's gone
And so we too are distant
And though our visits are not frequent...

I hope I can hand down
What's been handed down
What's been handed down to me

I've always thought I had a happy childhood
That means that you did something right
Driving lessons and model airplanes
And more important what is right
Now I find myself where you were
Parenthood is such a fight
For sleep, for reassurance
To bring the past into the light

I hope I can hand down
What's been handed down
What's been handed down to me

I've had some help in learning my role
‘Cause every father is a son
When that son becomes a father
He's thought of what is to be done
Patience is not the highest virtue
Selflessness could be the one
And now I want to tell you
I think some battles have been won

I hope I can hand down
What's been handed down
What's been handed down to me

(I also posted these lyrics on Father’s Day 2019:])

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