Maura Murphy was born in New Mexico in 1964. Her mother was 26 and her father 24. “I was an only child. My father worked on the reservation as a social worker, on a government stipend. We didn’t have a lot of money, but I always had the feeling that there was enough — I never felt that I needed to hoard. I’d come home and my mom would say, ‘Where’s your coat?’ and I’d say, ‘I gave it away to So-and-So ’cause she didn’t have one.’ And my mom would be like, ‘Maura!’ But I always knew there would be enough for us.
“When I was 13 my father had a major heart attack and almost died. After that he went through a kind of midlife crisis thing. He started smoking pot, getting into alternative ideas. That was sort of the end of the family. My mom didn’t understand it, and then she had to leave for a new job. My parents divorced when I was 15, and I stayed with my father. I didn’t have a real gender-bound upbringing. My dad was my Girl Scout leader; he was written up in the paper for that. I think he was one of the first male Girl Scout leaders. I laid brick with my dad. I played softball from the time I was 10 to 20, and he was my coach. My gender lines — there weren’t any. ’Cause I was it, the only child.
“After my parents divorced, I was basically on my own. My father left me the money and the car. I had a checkbook, and I was alone in the house. One time I came home from school and he was smoking pot with my friends. My friends thought he was so cool, and I was like, ‘Oh my God.’ But they were both trying to do the best they could — my mother and father — for themselves, for the family, and with very little money.
“I started getting into trouble. My father had no clue what to do. Then we got into this communal-living arrangement, and that was what saved me. There was a woman who worked with my father, helping abused children, another social worker, another single parent. She was raising three kids on her own. So they decided to pool households. We all moved in together. They shared their money. They weren’t in a relationship. They were both just trying to get on with their lives, and they thought this would help. And it did. If I hadn’t had this experience of communal living, I don’t know where I’d be.
“We were living in Poway and I was in continuation school, the last-ditch thing before they throw you out. My counselor suggested that I go two days a week to high school and three days a week to the local college in San Marcos along with my communal siblings. They were older than me. I looked up to them. I took a logic class and a class in human sexuality — and I did great. It made me feel successful.”
Does she keep in touch with her communal siblings?
“Yeah. They all live in North County, and we keep in touch. One of them has three kids now. Another one went to Annapolis and then dropped out to become a hippie. I went on to college and then dropped out. Ran with bikers and was wild for a little bit. Now I’m finishing my bachelor’s degree and working with abused and neglected children at the Polinksy Center. I’m a teacher’s assistant in a kindergarten. Before that I taught in a gang unit for six years, but I started to give up. I had ten students that were murdered through gang-related situations. Another ten killed other kids and are doing life. This one kid, Jose, he was brilliant. He and I fought back and forth over finishing his econ class. It was all he had left to graduate from high school. I got the kid through the class, and three months after graduation he went out and shot three people and one of them died. And I thought, ‘Why bother?’ So I switched to the kindergarten. I thought, ‘Maybe here I can make a difference. Maybe it’s not too late.’ But then you start to see these kids get placed in foster homes and then come back to us again. You can just see the trauma. They’re only five or six years old. They’ve got marks on their faces. It’s a feeling of hopelessness, that’s what’s coming from this experience.”
Did Maura consciously follow her father into social service?
“I’m doing exactly what my father did — it wasn’t that he talked about social responsibility, but he set an example. And I was so proud of him. I wanted to be like him, to be a social worker, but he told me not to. He said, ‘It’ll break you down.’ And now I’m seeing it.
“I’m 34. I couldn’t see having a child by myself. But I think that the example that my parents gave me was wonderful. I remember, I was sick one time and my friends came over and asked if I could play and my mother said, ‘No, Maura’s sick.’ And my friends said, ‘Well, can Terry play?’ That was my dad. They loved him.”
Michael (not his real name) was born in New York City in 1964. When he was two years old, his father joined the Hare Krishna movement. “My father was a social worker, and he wasn’t satisfied with what he saw around him. He was ‘in search of,’ as my mother put it. In October of 1966, my father was walking through Tompkins Square Park and the gentleman who brought the Hare Krishna movement to the United States was there. He was surrounded by people, chanting and singing in his orange robes. My father sat down. The founder spoke a little bit, and literally from that moment forward my father had found what he wanted.”