BOSTON — Those hoping for a daggers-out political tell-all from Gov. Deval Patrick’s new memoir will be sorely disappointed.
Instead, in his book A Reason to Believe, the Massachusetts Democrat tells his version of the American rags to riches story, chronicling what he dubs his “improbable” rise from a broken home and poverty on Chicago’s South Side to the upper echelons of American politics.
Along the way, Patrick says he hopes to impart some of the lessons he’s learned, including those from the grandparents who helped raise him, the teachers who took him under their wings, the strangers who treated him like a cherished guest and even the Chicago bus driver who forgave his lack of a fare.
“I’m a very hopeful person. I’m an unrepentant idealist,” Patrick says. “I’m just passing on some of those lessons that have been transcendent to me.”
Many of those lessons focus on how Patrick learned to navigate between what seemed like polar opposite worlds — the crowded, urban and largely Black neighborhood of his youth and the privileged, largely White world he entered when he won a scholarship to the prestigious prep school Milton Academy near Boston when he was 14 years old.
At first, Patrick says he felt like he was living on two different planets, but learned to navigate through both, eventually graduating from Harvard University and Harvard Law School.
While acknowledging the boost he got from attending Milton Academy, Patrick dismisses the idea that without that opportunity, his life would have spiraled downhill.
“Some people will believe that, but for Milton, I would be peddling drugs or gangbanging on the South Side of Chicago,” he wrote. “I reject that. Even back home, others had high expectations for me.”
Among those with high expectations were the teacher who first pointed him in the direction of Milton Academy and another teacher at the prep school who refused to make excuses for shoddy workmanship from any of his students, including Patrick.
The book also describes the tumultuous relationship between Patrick’s mother and his father, who left the family to pursue a musical career when Patrick was a young child, for a time performing in New York with the legendary avant-garde jazz band leader Sun Ra. Patrick tells the story years later when he was in his third year of law school how he went to see his father in a nightclub in Washington, D.C. Patrick would write that the two were able to connect over his father’s performance.
“No words were spoken, but the music gave us our own language,” Patrick wrote.
While the book spans the entire sweep of Patrick’s public life — from the time he spent traveling in Africa to his work at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, to his years as a corporate attorney for Coca-Cola and Texaco and serving in the Clinton Justice Department — much of it deals with his personal experiences.
That includes the challenges facing his own marriage in the crucible of his first run for governor in 2006.
When the public spotlight intensified after he won the governor’s race, Diane Patrick became ill and had to be admitted to McLean Hospital, a psychiatric hospital in Belmont. At first the couple tried to keep the situation under wraps but they eventually went public.
Race also plays a role in his book.
Patrick, the state’s first Black governor, says he experienced prejudice and bigotry at various times in his life, including during family trips when he was too young to fully appreciate Jim Crow-era racism, to the times he said he was stopped by Milton police officers and asked for identification.
Those experiences even included a campaign ad run during his first campaign that he said “played into racist fears about Black men and White women.”
“The curse of being Black is always having to wonder whether the things that go wrong in your life are on account of your race,” he writes in the book.
But Patrick said he doesn’t want a racial struggle to be the central message of his book. He said he tried to resist the labeling that occurred after his 2006 election when he and then-candidate Barack Obama, who was also a friend, were portrayed as the new face of post-civil rights era Black political leadership.
Patrick called the label “a box too confining for me and certainly for this president” and said he’s both benefited from the struggles of past generations and has also participated in the same struggle.
“Race is a part of who I am so it is part of my story, but it has not consumed me. It has not been the sole defining characteristic of my life,” he said. “I have been fortunate to have so many positive experiences with so many kinds of people from around the world that one of the takeaways for me is how much we have in common.”