Song for My Father

Posted By on March 18, 2007

More than three years after his death, my father has been officially memorialized. A new book, “The Sociology of Radical Commitment: Kurt H. Wolff’s Existential Turn,” has just been published by Lexington Books, a division of Rowan & Littlefield. It’s a largely academic work, edited by Wolff disciples and former colleagues Gary Backhaus and George Psathas, and it’s largely populated by essays about my father’s work in phenomenology and sociology, the highly philosophical fields that occupied him until Sept. 14, 2003, the day he died.

Even in his 91st year, my father was writing; in fact, some of his work was published in Japanese—for the first time in his long career—that year of his death. Since then, he’s been eulogized in numerous academic journals, but nowhere near as copiously as here. I haven’t read the book much; I was interested mainly to note that Backhaus, a prickly sort in inordinate love with the comma, credited all the contributors with short biographies except for me, my wife Karen Sandstrom, and Jim Kaufman. All the contributors he credited were academic, tightening that little circle, no doubt; I and Karen are professional writers, while Jim is a broker in Boston who made my father quite comfortable in his later years. Jim provided the artwork from Kurt that graces the cover, along with a very funny, very moving essay about my father, whom he advised for years and came to love as a kind of father, too. I wrote about my relationship with Kurt as honestly as I could; Karen, meanwhile, arranged to have a lovely essay she wrote for the Cleveland Plain Dealer in 2002 reprinted here. It speaks eloquently to my father’s persistent foreignness and deep love for the United States, the country that gave him freedom and an illustrious career after he fled Europe in the late ‘30s.

I must admit I didn’t read much of my father’s work; I likely won’t read many of these essays, either. It just strikes me regrettable that Backhaus and Psathas, whom I know, couldn’t find it within themselves to credit the laymen who contributed to this book—in both an editorial and financial sense. Sour grapes? Maybe. But also typically stingy of academia, which I grew up with (and under). Academics, it struck me as a young man, stick to themselves and find it difficult to converse outside their own field. Perhaps that’s why it’s hard for them to give appropriate props to those less specialized and rarefied. (For those interested in the book, there’s a link to it at the bottom of this blog.)


One Response to “Song for My Father”

  1. Victor says:

    Hello, I was just wondering where is the place of publication for the book “The Sociology of Radical Commitment: Kurt H. Wolff’s Existential Turn.”

    Thank you very much.

Leave a Reply

About the author

I'm a veteran critic and business writer who reads and listens and writes about music, books, hotels and travel. I've been in the business for many years and still enjoy it. My pride and joy is my book, Cleveland Rock & Roll Memories. Follow me on Twitter: