You wouldn't think that something as universal as a year to celebrate children and to insure that the weakest members of the human race should be loved, protected and nurtured would be reviled by anyone, but it was.
There was a very vocal minority that feared that the plan was that children would be able to divorce their parents, and other nonsensical fears about a United Nations' hidden agenda for the International Year of the Child. I'm afraid the same lunatic fringe is still active 31 years later, although I'm not naming names.
That kind of insanity kept commissions all over the country from getting the support we really needed to make important social changes.
What we could do was celebrate childhood, and we did. With the help of Governor Hugh Carey's office, virtually every New York state and city agency and the city's parks department, we threw a huge party in lower Manhattan, at Battery Park, in mid-September of 1979 – “The Great New York State Children's Party.”
Posters, designed one of my soon-to-be ex-stepsons, appeared all over the city. All of New York's newspapers, radio and TV stations were alerted, and we had some great publicity. The weather was perfect, thousands of families showed up and the day was a success.
We put together one more event, celebrating families, in early December in the concourse under the Empire State Plaza in Albany, once again with the cooperation of many state agencies, who donated time and talent. We featured family counselors, family movies and family events.
Since we started late in 1979, the commission lasted into early 1980, but the only work left to do was prepare a report and wind down. Not being politically savvy, I felt uncomfortable writing that report, so it was farmed out to a writer who knew the proper legislative language. Personally, there wasn't much for the three employees of the commission to do except to start thinking about our next jobs.
With a sort of a Mr. Micawber attitude of “something will turn up,” I decided to take an earned vacation, and on the spur of the moment I accompanied my friend, Rich Capparela, as he drove across the country in his tiny Honda Civic, making his professional leap from announcing on Schenectady's classical music radio station to the same position in a major market – Los Angeles. The plan was to drive out together, and for me to fly back.
We saw a lot of the country, shared the driving and a lot of laughs, and became good friends. We noted a lot of strange place names, experienced some unusual incidents, ate well and stayed in some beautiful hotels. I'll probably write about that trip someday, but for now, its purpose was to ease my mind and prepare me for whatever the future would hold in 1980. And, as John Lennon sang back then in “Beautiful Boy,” “life is just what happens to you while you're making other plans.”
And when I got back, life happened in a way I could never have planned, even though I had inadvertently set it up years earlier. Sitting in my office in the Helmsley Building early one afternoon, starting to put my portfolio together in preparation for looking for work, I got a call from my friend Mary Van, who was now an Account Supervisor at Kenyon & Eckhardt – a big, international agency with headquarters right next door, in the Pan Am Building.
She told me to come over right away. There was a job with my name on it.
Next time: Fate takes a hand.