Five Years Later


Originally uploaded by officergleason

I don’t know how old Tony is in this picture. I”d guess about seven. Now, twenty three years later, Tony and I both make faces like this for the Camera. This picture shows where we get the inspiration for these faces.

Today is my dad’s five year anniversary. Typically, I post my memories about my dad. Today, I’m posting other people’s stories and memories of Patrick M. Gleason. This post will be edited frequently throughout the day.

First–my aunt Toni. She’s an IO psychologist in dire need of a website.

oh, so many stories. so we shall start from the beginning. For some odd reason, I thought I wanted to be a prison psychologist — yes, for years I knew psychology was for me, but working in a prison? When I was in later high school I had these visions of helping people who had taken a wrong turn in life. Your dad didn’t try to dissuade me. He merely offered me the opportunity to get a close up and personal look at prison life. Needless to say, one walk through the Cook County prison system sobered those dreams into another application of psychology…but that is the subject of the next story.

Seth, who occasionally blogs and is an old friend of mine, writes:

Let’s start out by saying the most important thing there is to know about Patrick Gleason: he understood. That sounds simple, but it isn’t, and it requires some explanation. He was a hugely intelligent man, and very intimidating in his own way. There are countless individuals in the world who are smart and capable, and by those virtues are frightening to encounter, because the rest of us are implicitly aware of their capacity to judge our worth accurately.
Many do not do so kindly. Many are willing to observe our flaws and dismiss us without ever comprehending what those flaws truly meant, or where they came from.

In Pat’s world, these people were sometimes known as prosecutors.
For Patrick Gleason, an understanding of those flaws explain the reason that he could be a Public Defender. Clearly, he believed that the accused deserved a defense. The root of this went far deeper, though, and perhaps was less frequently revealed. Pat understood people. He understood their triumphs and errors. He understood their innate nobilities and flaws. Pat really, just simply…He got people. He understood.

In writing, that sounds so simple, and so inadequate, but it is entirely rare and even heroic when you knew the guy. He was capable of judging everyone in a legal and ethical sense. He could and did pass judgment on any boneheaded act you can imagine. In the process, though, he was never dismissive. Harsh, maybe. Truthful and demanding, always. But he understood that the way we act was not due to villainy, but instead because we were flawed humans, and as such belonged in the ranks of sinners who deserve forgiveness. He and I had very, very few conversations about religion in general, and his Catholicism in particular. From those three or four conversations I do recall, though, it is clear that he expected humans to fail as ethical actors from time to time, and that the expected response from us as actors within society was to move to prevent such actions through social intervention, and to forgive those who transgress. (This is important: not excuse, but forgive. He knew the two to be distinct.)

I don’t want to bring this up, but I should, because it is one of the more indelible moments from my own life, and it exemplifies how understanding and kind Pat could be. (I promise you, anyone who has met Pat Gleason has an encounter to relate. They are all exhilarating, terrifying, and enlightening about the man. They also sound great, and tend to get better in the telling after three beers. Note: one scotch equals three beers.) To preface, as a teenager who first really knew Mr. Gleason (as he was called then) I was completely batshit insane. The conditions that explain the genesis of this story are thereby explained by this revelation. Please don’t bring it up again. I’m much more sane these days.
It was a random afternoon, and I had nothing to do. I decided to go over to Marty and Tony’s to hang out, but when I arrived, no one was there. As an irrational being, I decided to go around to the back of the house, jimmy open the garage window, and enter the house through the garage door. You know. To wait for them to get home. Because that makes sense, when you’re nuts. I settled into the comfy easy chair (Pat’s,) turned on the TV, and helped myself to a soda while waiting for Tony or Marty to come home. They’d be thrilled to see me! (Again: nuts)

As I sat there, Mr Patrick Gleason arrived home. Unbeknownst to me, a neighbor has witnessed my illicit entry, and has phoned Pat about a possible burglar. It says something substantial about Pat that on this news, he did not barge into his home, bat or gun at the ready to dispatch the intruder. He instead strolled in, dropped his copy of the Sun-Times onto the table, and asked how I was.

“Fine, thanks, Mr. Gleason. How are you?”

“Good. Good. Listen, how’d you get in?”

“Oh. Uh. The back door was open?”

“Sure. Well, pal, a neighbor saw you in the back, and was worried you were up to no good. Next time, just hold off till someone’s home, okay?”

“Yeah, I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay. Wanna another drink? Put on ESPN, and get out of my chair.”

Do you see? For all the paraphrasing, and muddled memories of years past, my most potent memory of Mr. Gleason was that of him finding me in his house after I broke in, and immediately forgiving me. He knew I was no villain, just a crazy idiot, desperate to be somewhere.
I want to call that compassion, but for Pat, I think it was something more automatic and smarter than such an emotionally charged word. He just was better at understanding people in a fundamental way, and I think, for him, that this made it difficult to judge others. So yeah, Pat Gleason: Understanding.

Another thing to know about him is how strong he was in his personal sense of himself as himself. This can be translated for some people as either pride or shamelessness. For Pat, these were the opposite side of a single coin: a sense of certainty about who he was. It think he was proud of who he was as a person, but that he was confident enough about who he was that he could comfortably ignore what you might think of him. Pride and shamelessness. The shamelessness is probably best explained as a product of his understanding that your opinion could not make him less worthwhile, and that he therefore did not need to cater to your opinion. This sometimes led to such odd situations as seeing the top public defender in the county arguing about what Voltaire really meant…while in his underwear, slippers and bathrobe, reclined in his easy chair with the day’s football reports in the background. The upshot of this was that the man was impossible to dispossess. He was always at home. He was always comfortable with himself. He was always there, and he knew it. Hell, we all did.

I suppose the last thing I want to say about Pat is a direct offshoot of his strength of character, and that is in regards to his ability to welcome people. He was never threatened or inconvenienced in my recollection by the presence of someone or anyone. He had no doubts or worries about his home. If you were there, you were welcome, and if he wasn’t in a mood to talk, well that was fine.
How peculiar this is deserves clarification. We have all had the experience of being the intruder, someone present but unwelcome in some capacity.

At the Gleason’s, you were never unwelcome. It was possible to be present and not an object of attention from Pat, but it was impossible to be present and unwanted. Pat was certainly possible of indifference on a casual basis, but to be unwanted, you would have had to piss him off. To be honest, that seemed hard to do, unless you were family. (I’m aware that Tony and Marty both pissed him off occasionally. In my opinion, this was just because he wanted them to exceed his own achievements. This was, and is, a tough order to fill.)

How welcoming he was is comprehensible, if you were aware of his personal strength in terms of his identity, and his ability to understand other people.

I feel saddened, that all I can give you to explain this guy is words, because they are completely inadequate. Pat was so far beyond that, so much more than can be described. For him, it all has to be implied, and I can only hope you understand what the following means, and just how sad I am that I won’t see him anytime soon. Pat Gleason defended the weak and defenseless. He loved his wife and children absolutely. He was a hero. He is missed to a degree that would shock and embarrass him. He is an inspiration. He lives on in Tony and Marty. In my life, he will never be forgotten.

So the next time you have a glass to raise in toast, do so: to Pat Gleason. He was better than you. Don’t forget it.

Please add your own stories in the comments.

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