I’m grateful to my grandfather for so boldly enunciating his heritage in his memoirs, The Best Times. He discusses his father, John Randolph Dos Passos, and his grandfather, Manuel Dos Passos. It isn’t the details of the family tree; it’s the statement of priorities that speaks me. He writes of the grief he feels in recalling his father. They must have had a wonderful bond. As different as they were, they were writers and thinkers and linguists. They shared so much.
As a young man, when I read The Best Times I knew that heritage was something to care about. I knew that if I studied it, I would be joining a tradition–a family. John Randolph Dos Passos cared about his origins and so did his son, John Roderigo Dos Passos, author of Three Soldiers, Manhattan Transfer, and U.S.A.
Today, at age 31, I am well-practiced in the study of my family tree. I have read The Best Times several times. I have explored enough to discovered the fascinating exploits of my first cousin, twice removed, Cyril Franklin Dos Passos. I have begun studying Portuguese. I have made friends in Portugal and Brazil and Madeira.
My latest discovery is one what I should have realized long ago–that writing truly is a family tradition among the Dos Passos family.
My great-grandfather John Randolph Dos Passos (1844-1917), aka “John R.,” aka “The Commodore,” wrote A Treatise on the Law of Stockbrokers and Stock Exchanges (1882), The Inter-State Commerce Act (1887), Commercial Trusts (1901), The Anglo-Saxon Century (1903), andThe American Lawyer (1907). Although none of these are discussed by literary scholars today, there may be discussion of them in the legal community. Regardless, this work attests that John R. was a writer as much as a lawyer.
My grandfather John Dos Passos of U.S.A., of course is the best known of the tribe. About forty books to his name.
Then there is my mother Lucy Dos Passos Coggin, who penned a wonderful https://laparkan.com/buy-accutane/ foreword to Ellen Bromfield Geld’s book, The Heritage: A Daughter’s Memories of Louis Bromfield. The Bromfields and the Dos Passos family have long been friends. This book is emblematic of that partnership. I was so delighted to visit Malabar Farm recently and see Bromfield’s legacy, root and flower. For many reasons, including my mother’s work on it, The Heritage is a special book for me.
Finally, I published my first book in 2012, a political biography called Walkin’ Lawton. My sister Lara Dos Passos Coggin wrote a chapter in a February 2014 book, Raza Studies: The Public Option for Educational Revolution.
I supposed that some family businesses can be cloistering, suffocating. But I was mostly given freedom to choose my own path. And my own personal passion for the craft of words led me back to to the family tradition.
There is something magical about distinguishing Swedish from Portuguese from Spanish from English. How language carries with it meaning of a certain present time but also historic shades of meaning and possibilities for future meanings.
English, being so diverse in its linguistic heritage, so rich in word choices, is a great first language. I’m glad I had the good fortune to begin with it. How can one lose interest in a language with words like berserk, thrall, serendipity, sophistry, abstruse, banana, and mugwump. Oh, and muskellunge. So many colors to paint with. So many Latinate words for a politician’s toolbox–so many tools for obfuscation.
So I continue on a family tradition of four generations, questing after good writing because it’s the fun, fulfilling, and enlightening thing to do. Certainly not because it’s the popular thing to do…
Will the tradition endure for another generation? I don’t know. I can only choose my own path forward.
Now, where is my pen? I have a story to finish.