Gov. Deval Patrick's new book, "A Reason To Believe," has been out for a few days now and he's been all over the country touring and talking about the memoir.
But on Thursday evening, he was back home in Boston at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library before a local audience who already knew much of his story. So when he spoke onstage with WBUR's Bob Oakes it was a more intimate conversation.
Patrick spoke about his childhood sharing a single room at his grandmother's apartment on the south side of Chicago with his mother and sister. He talked about the pain of watching his father leave when he was just four years old — and of the slap he received when he tried to stop him. He spoke about how his life changed when he won a scholarship that took him to Milton Academy, then on to Harvard and into a new world of privilege and possibility that was foreign to his friends and family back home.
Still, Patrick said he never forgot about the world he left behind and the lessons he learned in those years. My grandma forbid us from describing ourselves as poor," Patrick recalled. "She said, 'we're broke.' Because broke is temporary. Her whole point was you have to imagine where you want to be."
So despite the fact that no one in Patrick's family had ever been to college — "or close to one," he said — none of them suggested he couldn't do it. And when he called his grandma to tell her he'd gotten into Harvard College, she was thrilled not because of the name — in fact, she didn't even know where Harvard was — but because he was going to any college at all.
"I think she actually understood something about that better than I did," Patrick said. "What she was excited about wasn’t the prestige, it was the opportunity, it was the chance.”
Three decades later, when his two daughters were at the same stage in their own lives, about to go on to college, Patrick was struck by how different an upbringing he'd been able to provide them.
He told a story about when his daughter Katherine was in kindergarten and was assigned to go home and describe the four seasons to her parents. "First you drive up and the doorman takes your car," Patrick laughed as he recalled her telling them — misunderstanding the assignment to be about the hotel in Washington, D.C., that she had visited on several occasions.
"My grandma forbid us from describing ourselves as poor. She said, 'we're broke.' Because broke is temporary."
"The point is," Patrick said, "one generation and the circumstances of our lives, my family's lives, were completely transformed. And while that story doesn't get told as often as we'd like in this country, it gets told more often in this country than any other place on earth."
Patrick also writes candidly and intimately about his relationship with Diane, his wife of 27 years. He began with a silly story of mutual friends setting them up at a Halloween party in Los Angeles. Patrick was told it was a costume party and showed up barefoot and in a kaftan he'd bought in West Africa — it turned out he was the only one who'd been given that message. Diane was in a pantsuit and pearls.
But there was also darkness in the early stages of their courtship. Many were surprised to learn that Diane was married to another man when she met Patrick — it surprised Patrick when he found out — and it was an abusive relationship that she had been trying unsuccessfully to get out of for some time.
With Patrick's support, Diane left her husband, but the damage came back years later in the early days of Patrick's first term as governor. Diane was hospitalized for exhaustion and depression. In fact, the couple talked seriously about whether he should resign from the position he'd worked so hard to win.
Now, Patrick sees a connection between the feelings that Diane experienced as the victim of an abusive relationship and in those tough weeks in 2006.
"One generation and the circumstances of our lives, my family’s lives, were completely transformed."
"She was particularly despairing because the sense of not having control of her own life that she was feeling in the early days of the first administration was what she remembered feeling when she was in the last days of her first marriage," Patrick said.
Patrick said he felt guilty for how single-mindedly he had been focused on his gubernatorial campaign and then on his new job.
"I paid a whole lot of attention to the transition and the budget and trying to figure out how to be a governor, not having been in elective office before," he admitted, "and there were a lot of demands on her that I wasn't paying any attention to."
Ultimately, Patrick said, his book is about optimism. When he recently appeared on "The Daily Show" on Comedy Central, host Jon Stewart jokingly asked if he'd ever considered giving up that optimism and conviction to run for national office. Patrick maintains no job should require that sacrifice.
"Of course I've felt that pull," Patrick said. "I have never taken a job or done a job where I felt I needed to leave my conscience at the door. One of the the great things about not being in politics as a career is that I can do this job without thinking about my career. I can think about what we're trying to do, what we're trying to accomplish and what we're trying to leave."
This program aired on April 15, 2011.