Monday, January 31, 2011

Monday Morning Interview: My Dad

Today's Monday Morning Interview is with my dad.  As I found my sister's interview to be, this was a hard one.  When you've known someone your whole life, it's difficult to think of interview questions.

In the course of this interview, it becomes pretty clear why I'm so passionate about social justice and treating everyone equally. I was raised that way.
(And yeah, I know I look almost exactly the same as the day I graduated high school.  It's a gift.  Neeners- that picture really is 14 years old.)

If you have follow up questions for my dad, feel free to leave them in the comments and we'll get back to you.  and if you are interested in being interviewed, please let me know and I'll be sure to get back to you to set up a time.
Charissa Howe: This sounds like a stupid question, but not everyone who reads my blog knows you.Tell me a little bit about yourself.

Richard Clark: hmmm....56 (for a few more weeks, anyway), two wonderful daughters and three incredible grandkids... very happily partnered to Julian for a little over 10 years now. Science writer for the National Institutes of Health. Cute GSHP (editor's note: this is some fancy acronym for hounddog-mutt- rescue mutts rock!) mix named Buddy...

CH: What exactly does a science writer for NIH do?

RC: Answer inquiries from the public about the diseases we research...write news stories about resarch advances. Right now I'm about to become the head Twit for NIAMS...We're going to be posting on Twitter, and I'm the one who will be writing the tweets. Just for NIAMS, not for all of NIH (NIAMS is one of the 27 Institutes and Centers of NIH)

CH: What do you enjoy most about what you do?

RC: Explaining the science to the public in ways that are meaningful to them. It's not hat much different from what I did in preaching....

CH: Can you tell us a little bit about your time as a preacher?Google Talk

RC: 16 years in three very different Presbyterian churches...Google Talk

CH: In what ways were they different?

RC: Different size congregations, different mixes of people...One older congregation that wanted to grow, but really what they wanted was just to return to the "glory days" of being a big church. They weren't willing to make the changes needed to be relevant to a changing community. Maybe a bit of "unwilling" and a bit of "unable."

CH: You grew up in Pittsburgh, and while you don't still live here, I know you are still somewhat familiar with the area and you still have a great fondness for it. What do you think is the biggest difference between Pittsburgh and DC (where you are now).

RC: Pttsburgh has more of a "hometown" feel to it. People have lived there for generations and the neighborhoods have distinct identities...DC has such a transient population that it doesn't develop that kind of a culture. And Pittsburghers are fiercely loyal to their city. You don't find that in a city like DC.

CH: It's true. All you have to do to find the Pittsburghers in any given city in the world is yell, "How 'bout dem Stillers?"

RC: I was on the Metro a couple years ago and heard a stranger talking to their companion....with a definite P'burgh accent. We also know a checkout clerk at Walmart who is from P'burgh and always asks us "how bout dem Stillers?"

CH: What have you seen change around here since you were a kid (if anything)?

RC: The Pgh skyline has certainly changed, and the downtown has become a much more pleasant area. The city has gone through the transition from heavy industry to more high-tech. Its still strange to drive down the Parkway near the Oakland exit and not see the steel mills there along the river. But the communities (Dormont, Mt. Lebanon, et al) are very much the same as they were.

CH: Tell me a little bit about what it was like to grow up in Pittsburgh in the 50's and 60s.

RC: For one thing, we walked EVERYWHERE...to the business district, to school, to the pool and the park in the summer. If we were going dahntahn, we took the trolley or the bus. Dormont was largely a white community. First black kid I knew was when I was taking some summer astronomy courses at Buhl Planetarium one year. He and I both got rides in with people who came early, so we had some time to kill before our class started....we would walk around the area together. Got me to thinking "what's all the fuss about with civil rights? This kid's pretty much just the same as me." We got to be pretty good friends by the end of the summer....but I knew I better not tell my grandparents that I was friends with a black ("colored") kid

CH: Did you get any resistance from anyone because of that friendship?Google Talk

RC: I never got any resistance because I never told them !

CH: So you knew it wasn't a really popular idea, but you went with it anyway?

RC: Yep. I guess I just kind of naturally developed the friendship and then realized I'd better keep it on the down-low...

CH: Are there any other examples of that in your life? Making the less popular choice because you know it's the right one?

RC: Well, I think you're pretty familiar with the "big one" in that regard...coming out of that closet...you know, it's amazing to me how many gay men my age got married because it was "expected" and then went through a long struggle with coming out...it seems like it's a good bit easier on people in your generation and younger. Julian is only 9 years younger than I am, and he never even considered trying to fit into the "straight" world. However...there were two huge benefits to getting married and "playing straight" for a number of years (you and Sarah, of course).

CH: (Well, me, anyway.) I think it's also interesting that you got to live the Racial Civil Rights movement first hand and are now watching all of the same-sex marriage rights stuff unfold. What similarities and differences do you see between the two?

RC: (Yes, you and your humility...) One difference between the two is the "closet" aspect...most people can't hide their race.

CH: Well, yes. It's hard to keep your race under wraps. (Although there were a few who managed.)

RC: Yes there were a few....but very few. And there's the whole argument about whether sexual orientation is given or a choice. Anyone who has been there can tell you there's no choice in the matter. The only choice is whether to hide or be open. I do see a strong connection between the move for same-sex marriage and the civil rights movement....it was only in 1967 that the Supreme Court struck down laws prohibiting interracial marriage. It was considered perverted and unnatural in many areas...

CH: Still is in many places/cultures. I heard a crack about it the other day. . .

RC: It seems like those who've been victims of discrimination eventually become discriminators themselves. The other day I saw someone ask the question "Who will the gays discriminate against once they get equal rights?" I had to think it was really a good questions.

CH: That is a really good question! So, if you could put out a public service message to the country about discrimination (of any type), what would be the main thrust of it?

RC: Let people live their own lives the way they want to, no matter how different they are, as long as they're not hurting anyone else.

CH: Thanks for taking the time to talk with me today, Dad!

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