There was no greater love in my father’s life than for his nine grandchildren. He was the most tolerant and indulgent of grandpas and would say to us, the anxious parents, “It’s your job to raise them, not mine.”
Pop always had a special empathy for the trials and tribulations of growing up. He had no illusion that childhood is a golden time. As he put it, “Someone is always telling you ‘No, you can’t,’ or ‘Yes, you must.’ ” With a sense of irony that was typical of him, he also observed that “raising your parents is hard work as well.” He never forgot that in childhood there is so little freedom and that in growing up the gaining of freedom is never easy.
Throughout his life Pop enjoyed traveling, and in recent years we began making Friendship Trips to foreign countries with his balloons and motorcycles. In 1982 we visited China, and the night before he made his balloon flight over Beijing he and I had quite a discussion, because we didn’t have permission to do it. Our Chinese hosts had denied our request on the grounds of national security. I urged Pop to acquiesce; it wasn’t clear why he was willing to risk the goodwill I believed we had engendered up to that point simply to free-fly the balloon. But the next morning he took off. And to the profound dismay of the gathered officials, the tether line fell to the ground, and the friendship balloon floated away—free. He landed about twenty minutes later smack in the middle of a Red Army base. National security indeed! That base was the reason permission had been denied in the first place.
Pop and I spent more than an hour together in a small room there while Chinese officials decided what to do about it—and, of more immediate concern, what to do with us . Finally they apparently concluded that the whole thing had never happened. We returned to the hotel, and not another word was said about the incident. But again, Pop couldn’t and wouldn’t let it go at that. There was a purpose to what he had done, and he wanted everyone to understand it. At the farewell banquet that night he explained: “What we did today, it wasn’t to be unfriendly. It was to demonstrate the sport of ballooning. A balloon is not meant to be tied down. It’s meant to be free, to float with the wind.” You see, for my father a balloon was, and is, an apt symbol of the human spirit.
This magazine was, for him, a symbol of the human spirit too. It represented the heritage that made his and every American’s freedom possible. Its values were the ground from which our dreams—whether raising children or simply floating in a balloon—could ascend.
Pop was so many things: an infantryman in World War II, a politician, a businessman, a collector, a father. But I believe that in all he did he strove for freedom, for the worth and value of an individual life.