My Dad and What He Cared About

I only remember seeing my dad cry twice.

The first time was during the funeral of Robert F Kennedy. I was thirteen and sitting in our living room reading a book. My dad came in and turned on the TV and sat down in front of the live coverage.

I was just becoming politically aware, though basketball and girls were at the top of my priority list. But like many of my generation I responded to Bobby Kennedy. So did my dad, a Depression-era, FDR-inspired Democrat.

Soon, my mom came into the living room to watch what was going on. I don't remember which newscaster narrated the events. Probably Walter Cronkite, who at the time was the most watched and most trusted of TV news anchors. I do remember a train carrying Kennedy's body, and hundreds of people lined along the tracks. Some held flags, some saluted, some simply stood with hands over hearts.

And then, all of a sudden, my dad turned to my mom and started weeping into her chest.

The sight absolutely stunned me. My dad was a big, strong World War II vet. He was my rock. To see him so vulnerable moved me in ways I could not, as a young teenager, even begin to express.

Many years later, when I was in law school, I went to a criminal law convention where my dad was speaking. He was the leading expert on the law of search and seizure in California, highly respected by his peers. The ballroom was packed. I was proud to be his son, hearing the warm reception he got.
Art Bell, lawyer, 1963

He began to speak about the Fourth Amendment, and a particular case in Los Angeles. The police had gone into a neighborhood with a tank-like battering ram and just plowed down a house suspected of being a drug hub. A house wherein there were children eating ice cream.

When he got to the part about the kids and the ice cream he choked up. My dad was not a knee-jerk anything. He didn't dislike cops. But he loved the Constitution most of all, and the injustice of the event touched him to the core.

Again, I was profoundly moved. Why? Because it was so unlike my dad's "normal" self? Perhaps a little. But it was much more than that. It was seeing how much Dad valued justice under law. It made me want to dig deeper into my own core.

Dad believed that lawyers should do more than make a living; he thought they should actually make people's lives and society better (lawyer jokes to the contrary notwithstanding!) He was especially concerned with the weak and vulnerable.

These memories came rushing back to me the other day when an interviewer asked me a question about my Mallory Caine, Zombie-at-Law series (written as K. Bennett). Mallory is a criminal lawyer in Los Angeles who just happens to be one of the walking dead. Hey, nobody's perfect.

The interviewer asked how much of me was in Mallory. And as I started to think about it, it hit me that Mallory is not based on me, but on my dad. She is a lawyer who represents the outcasts in LA (like vampires and werewolves). She is passionate about the law and the Constitution. And she is a great trial lawyer.

My dad was all those things. And his desire for justice was transferred to me, by his inspiration, and I can see now how it permeates all my writing. It's like
Rumpole's Golden Thread, running through my novels and stories.

For his example I am truly grateful.

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