Dr. Spock, May 1997. "I’ve been afraid of the day when I’d be senile. And I still haven’t gotten over that.”
Baby and Child Care by pediatrician Benjamin Spock occupies a rarefied position in publishing history. Only a handful of titles — the Bible, Quotations from Mao Tse-tung, The Guinness Book of World Records, and a few others — have been more successful. Over 46 million copies of the pediatric manual have appeared, counting hardcovers and paperbacks and translations into just about every language in which books are printed, including (in the past five years) Serbian, Bulgarian, Russian, Chinese, and Czech. Second through sixth editions have been released.
Dr. Spock, c. 1945. As a lieutenant commander in the Navy, Dr. Spock was classified as a psychiatrist. He was transferred to San Diego and put in charge of pediatrics at the Family Hospital and Clinic in Coronado.
As they have, the original 1946 book has changed a lot. Now it is changing one more time. Dr. Spock and his wife Mary Morgan moved to La Jolla last November, where they’ve been overseeing the preparation of a seventh edition to be published early next year. But the doctor is a very old man. He turned 94 in May, and Death is stalking him.
The 53-year-old Morgan, Dr. Spock’s second wife, has been relentless and inventive in her search for ways to keep her husband youthful and healthy. For his 75th birthday, for example, when they’d been married for only a year and a half, she gave him lessons in transcendental meditation, and ever since, she and he have meditated twice daily, “even in his darkest hours,” she says. “It has had a profound effect on our lives.”
Baby and Child Care, first edition, May 1946. Within three years, the paperbacks were selling a million copies a year.
Morgan has prodded him into doing various forms of physical exercise, and she’s had the two of them submitting to up to nine hours of psychoanalysis every week. She’s been vigilant about what he eats, first nudging him into vegetarianism and then onto an even stricter regime six years ago. “He was dying,” she says about that change. Beset by respiratory ailments, “he’d been on antibiotics for nine months, but the doctors had been unable to clear his lungs. Finally we met with a macrobiotic consultant, and we started on the [macrobiotic] program at noon on September 6, 1991. It was amazing!” Within six weeks, Dr. Spock lost 50 pounds, his wife recalls. His lungs cleared, and he stopped taking the drugs. “On October 15 , when we started on the road [promoting the sixth edition of Baby and Child Care], he put on his suit, and he couldn’t believe how good he looked and how well he felt!” He was then 88.
December 5, 1967. In 1968, the U.S. Justice Department indicted him and four other activists for conspiracy to counsel, aid, and abet resistance to the draft.
More recently, however, other problems have bedeviled the doctor. “When he swallows, a part of the foods or liquids goes into his lungs," Morgan disclosed in a recent phone interview, adding that since the two of them arrived here last November, her husband has had six occurrences of pneumonia caused by this disorder. She says in March he began taking all his nourishment through a tube. “He’s supposed to get this special canned food, but we think he benefits more from the macrobiotic diet.”
A macrobiotic regime — which eschews any consumption of dairy products and consists of vegetables and whole grains — is demanding to prepare under the best of circumstances. But delivering this diet through a gastric tube sounds like a Sisyphean enterprise. Because variety is critical, she’s been preparing at least 20 to 22 dishes daily, she says. “For example, this morning he had whole oats, which I cooked all night long. He also had miso soup. He had kale. He had kudzu tea.” She says she rises at four or five each morning to prepare these and other dishes. “I put them in a hand mill and hand grind them myself. And then they have to go through a sieve, and sometimes I add some pickles, to give him the real healthy enzymes that he needs in his gut. And then I put them in a syringe and shoot him up!”
Mary Morgan and Dr. Spock, July 1997. She says Deepak Chopra assured her, “If you’ll bring him to San Diego, I know there’ll be people who will help you take care of him.”
Morgan told me that she feeds her husband through the tube in this way for 14 to 16 hours a day. “I start at five m the morning and I feed him till 11 o’clock at night. Even when he’s napping. There’s only 30 minutes in there that he doesn’t feed, and that’s when he has a medication that has to be taken on an empty stomach, and then we start back again. ’ On this sustenance, He's had a few good days recently, she indicates. The day before Halloween, she told me that the Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday of that week “were three very, very good days. We went out and he had energy, and he was up and walking and so on.’' But then the days that followed had been ' real low,” she said. “So he’s not into talking to or seeing people right now.”
Dr. Spock has ascended from other physical low points. Morgan indicates that things looked grim a few years ago, when she contacted health guru Deepak Chopra. She says Chopra assured her, “If you’ll bring him to San Diego, I know there’ll be people who will help you take care of him.” This was back when Chopra’s Center for Well Being was located in Del Mar, and Morgan says she and Dr. Spock moved there for a while, living in an apartment at L’Auberge Del Mar until they bought a 22-foot Winnebago. In it, “We lived mostly out in the desert,” she told me. A cold winter prompted them to move to Florida, but the landscape there disappointed them. “It was warm, but it was very, very flat.” She says by then, “we were looking for the climate of the Virgin Islands combined with the medical facilities of Boston.” So they came back to San Diego a year ago.
Morgan says the very first thing they did upon arriving was to drive the Winnebago over to Fay Avenue and park it in front of Chopra s institute (which by then had moved to La Jolla). She says she went there thinking she and her husband would study ayurvedic medicine as well as yoga. ‘We had only done yoga with a video before.... That was about it” Chopra referred her to the Master Yoga Academy, located next door to his own institute.
A woman named Rama Burch runs the academy. Back in the mid-’70s, Burch was an accountant in private practice in Orange County, and she still has a direct, sensible manner that would be comforting at tax time. In 1976, Burch had an encounter with a yoga teacher who made such a profound impression on her that she sold her business, packed up her three children (aged 11, 8, and 6), and moved to India to live in an ashram and travel with the teacher. She finally returned to the United States in 1987 and says she stopped off in San Diego to visit one of her children, who by then was studying at the University of San Diego. Burch wound up staying here, teaching yoga classes at the Pacific Beach Recreation Center and giving massages in clients’ homes, then moving into a series of her own facilities. The Fay Avenue academy now hosts 50 classes a week taught by 28 teachers, some of whom also do one-on-one “yoga therapy.” This is mostly what she and two other teachers have done with Dr. Spock, Burch says.
“When Ben came in, he couldn’t stand up straight. He stood like this.” Burch got up to demonstrate, allowing her upper back to sag forward, as if dragged down by the weight of her head. “He often put his hands [on the small of his back] because it kind of counterbalances the weight. And in addition to that, he had what’s called a ‘foot-drop.’ ” Burch stepped forward with one foot, then dragged the other one forward, the top of her toes scraping the carpet. “It only affected one foot, but it was getting worse. So we worked with him, and after three yoga therapy sessions, the foot-drop was gone, and he could stand up straight and walk.”
Morgan confirms this near-miraculous transformation and says that yoga breathing exercises also improved her husband’s lung capacity. By the middle of July, she and Burch were planning a public appearance for Dr. Spock to talk about his recovery at the yoga academv. Someone recorded the session, and the videotape of it begins after Morgan and her husband have already taken their seats in front of the large crowd assembled to hear the celebrated baby doctor. Morgan, a petite blonde, wears a loose-fitting white pantsuit; heavy, dangling earrings; a thick, ornate necklace; and a straw hat with a white cloth tied around the brim. A native of Arkansas, Dr. Spock’s wife still talks with the honeyed accent of the Ozarks, still projects the regal graciousness of the archetypal Southern woman. At the same time, there’s something offbeat and girlish about her.
Dr. Spock, known throughout his life for being a formal dresser, wears a sky blue blazer and summery white slacks. As the tape begins, he’s surveying the audience with an alert, birdlike curiosity. He looks frail, and the hip-looking beard that he grew in his 70s has thinned to a downy halo framing the lower part of his sunken face. Stare as I do at the video image, it’s hard to match this face with that of the vigorous antiwar activist whose image filled newspapers in the ’60s and ’70s, harder still to glimpse the towering medical authority of the ’50s and ’60s or the handsome giant (six foot four in his prime) who traveled to Paris in 1924 with his Yale rowing teammates and returned with an Olympic gold medal.
There’s no trace, of course, of the child Ben, and yet Spock’s childhood contained the seeds of all that was to come. The eldest of six, Ben, by the age of nine, shared his mother’s passionate love of babies, he says in Spock on Spock, a 1989 memoir he and Morgan produced together. The “child-centered” Spock family lived in New Haven, Connecticut, headed by a well-paid, easygoing corporate attorney for the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad. But although the Spock children grew up with the material comforts of upper-crust Yankee society, their spiritual world, once they were past babyhood, was a harsher, more demanding place. “My mother was certainly the person who most influenced my life and my attitudes,” Dr. Spock says in the memoir. “Too controlling, too strict, too moralistic...she never doubted that she was right in any judgment and never softened a punishment....” As a result, “We all grew up with consciences that were more severe than was necessary or wise. All my life, up to this day, I’ve felt guilty until proved innocent.”
Until they were 12, the children dined every evening at 5:30 on menus limited in the extreme. Mildred Spock was an avid follower of Dr. Luther Emmett Holt, whose 1895 tome on pediatric nutrition prohibited children from eating not only meat, but also raw vegetables, salads, hot breads, griddle cakes, pastry, nuts, candy, dried fruits, cherries, berries, bananas, pineapple, lemonade, cider, soda water, tea, coffee, and alcoholic beverages. Suppers, then, typically consisted of cereal and applesauce and were followed by baths and bed by 6:45, “because seven was the time my mother and father would be downstairs starting their candlelit dinner served by the Irish maid,” Ben recalls.
To develop hardiness in her children, Mildred had them sleep year-round in an unheated tent set up on a porch. Formal education, she believed, should not begin until age seven, and even then her taste in teaching ran to the unconventional. When Ben was ten, for example, she and some other parents “got together with the idea of starting an ‘open-air school,’ ” Dr. Spock says in his autobiography. “They persuaded the board of education to provide a teacher, a large wooden platform, a tent, twenty desks, and twenty thick felt bags to sit in.” This tent was also unheated, and when the temperature dropped, the children (dressed in “overcoats, knit toboggan hats, gloves, and fleece-lined boots over our shoes”) got in the felt bags and pulled them up to their armpits. Outside the tent, they folk danced “on the assumption that on cold days, it would warm us up and keep our blood circulating.” Going to prep school put some physical distance between Ben and his mother, but her psychic influence continued unabated. She demanded detailed, twice-weekly letters reporting on “what we had been doing every morning, afternoon, and evening, who with, and what kind of people they were,” Spock has recalled. “Write or come home!” she once telegrammed him when he let more than four days elapse without communicating.
Once he had enrolled at Yale, his parents made him live at home for almost two years, but he still managed to win social acceptance and acclaim for his contribution to the rowing team. With a major in English and a minor in history, his academic record was lackluster — a C+ average upon graduation. But in those days this was no barrier to becoming a pediatrician. Yale Medical College would “take anybody who could pass the prerequisite courses and was not a reprobate,” he says in his autobiography. In the fall of 1925, he started the grind of medical school course work, and once again, he lived within the dismal confines of the family home.
Only after Ben had completed his second year of medical school did he escape from his mother’s clutches—by marrying Jane Cheney, an earnest, “serious-minded” young woman he’d been dating for four years. He also transferred to Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, and the couple found an apartment in Greenwich Village in New York City. In the rich cultural milieu, they thrived. For the first time in his life, Ben began to pay attention to political discussions, and he was astounded to learn that some of his fellow Columbia students were Democrats and even Socialists. (“My father had given me the idea that no university graduate would be a Democrat.”) The high-minded New Englander jumped into the endless bull sessions and by 1928 had embraced the Democratic liberalism that would later evolve into his ’60s radicalism.
Although Ben’s studies required long, hard work, and Jane toiled at a job (taking histories for a medical researcher) to generate income, the couple made time for fun in those first heady years in the metropolis. They loved dancing and eventually organized a “Dancing Academy,” according to Dr. Spock’s biographer, Lynn Z. Bloom. At its functions, Ben preferred tails to a tuxedo and was a “lithe, masterful dancer with a tremendous savoir-faire and a booming laugh,” Bloom records in her 1972 Biography of a Conservative Radical.
By the mid-1950s, the Spocks had developed a prodigious social life, “dining out three nights a week and having six guests at home on another night,” according to Bloom’s book “We had to invite people two or three weeks ahead in order to get people who would be interesting to each other but wouldn’t know everyone else,” the 1972 biography quotes Dr. Spock as saying. “We both [he and Jane] like the same kinds of people, sparkly and mildly flirtatious; those interested in ideas and causes and the arts, whether they are conservative or radical, conventional or eccentric... We had hundreds of delightful friends in New York and were always finding more.”
His pediatric career got off to a much slower start. After medical school and a two-year medical internship, Ben had undergone a year of pediatric training that confirmed his fascination with the commonplace minutiae of taking care of babies and children. But rather than plunging right into practice, he sought still more education. “I already knew in a vague way that parents would be asking about toilet training and thumb-sucking and resistance to weaning, about fears, about sibling rivalry,” he says in Spock on Spock. In 1932, pediatricians were offering “traditional answers like the one for thumb-sucking: It’s a bad habit. You try to break the habit by painting nasty stuff on the baby’s thumbs or by enclosing his hands in aluminum mitts or by spread-eagling him, tying his wrists to the side of the crib.” Though Ben felt such methods were wrong, he was unsure of the alternatives.
So he took a year’s residency in adult and child psychiatry, and although he started his own pediatric practice the following year (1933), he also enrolled at the New York Psychoanalytic I restitute and underwent a year of psychoanalysis followed by five years of twice-weekly seminars. He could spare the time. His own patients were scarce at first, partly because his dual interests in psychology and pediatrics confused people, partly because in the Depression people had little money for doctors of any kind.
Those who did make their way to his East 72nd Street office encountered the kind of service that seems unimaginable today. He made house calls, of course, but within his office he also would spend up to an hour talking to each set of visitors. Though he treated the diseases that came his way, they didn’t interest him much. “For some reason, I always wanted to know about everyday things,” Bloom quotes him. Out of the office, “he could always be reached through his answering service, even on vacations,” the biographer writes, mentioning “one delighted father” who remembered writing to Dr. Spock at his summer address and getting back “a long, detailed letter which included such advice as ‘And put a little honey in the baby’s milk.’”
Over time, Bloom says, “He gradually developed a clientele among psychologists, psychiatrists, psychoanalysts, psychiatric and medical social workers, progressive educators, and anthropologists, including Dr. Margaret Mead.” Given his developing avant-garde reputation and his wide circle of acquaintances, it isn’t surprising that an editor from Doubleday eventually (in 1938) asked Dr. Spock to write a child-care guide. “Immediately I told Doubleday that I didn’t know enough,” the pediatrician says in Spock on Spock. “I was having enough trouble finding out what to tell my own patients.” But five years later, another editor, this one from Pocket Books, approached him and assured the pediatrician that any book he wrote wouldn’t have to be very good because it would only cost a quarter. That “made it easier for me to accept,” Dr. Spock has said. “First of all, ten thousand copies a year (the publisher's target) meant reaching a lot of people. That appealed to the do-gooder in me. And his saying that it didn’t have to be very good... relieved me of the need to be perfect in my advice.” Ben knew he could write (Mildred Spock’s epistolary demands had ensured that), and he says in his autobiography that he felt no need to do any research. His decade of pediatric practice had been “one long, elaborate experiment,” he says. Putting his latest conclusions down on paper at that point “was as simple as reading a computer printout.”
The writing process took a little more than two years, complicated by the fact that in the spring of 1944, he was called into active military service. As a lieutenant commander in the Navy, Dr. Spock was classified as a psychiatrist (since the Navy didn’t need many pediatricians). For more than a year, he was stationed in New York City, but then he was transferred to Northern California, lust as he finished creating the index for his book, he was transferred to San Diego and put in charge of pediatrics at the Family Hospital and Clinic in Coronado. There he got a chance to test one of his key beliefs. Although he had written in his book that most women could breast-feed their babies, if given sufficient support, he didn’t “know for sure whether it was true,” he confesses in Spock on Spock. In New York “I’d had few patients who wanted to breastfeed and few nurses who were sympathetic.” In Coronado, however, he was able to order that newborns be brought to their mothers whenever the babies appeared hungry (rather than on a rigid four-hour schedule during daylight hours only). The result: “We turned out the babies about 80 percent breast-fed.”
He was discharged from the Navy in May of 1946 and returned to New York in time for his book’s publication. To understand its immediate (and continuing) success, it helps to reflect for a moment on the childrearing advice that had preceded it. For most of human history, such advice had been given by extended family members or community elders. But industrialization and the rise of the nuclear family wrought havoc with such ties and created a need for other information sources. By the second half of the 19th Century, an advice-giving industry had sprung up. (Holt, the dietary dictator, was one leading provider.)
As male obstetricians replaced midwives, and B.F. Skinner and his followers gained ascendancy in the field of psychology, child-rearing advice in the first decades of the 20th Century took on a rigid and intimidating quality. Feeding was to be done on a strict four-hour schedule and toilet training begun within a few months of birth. “No one today knows enough to raise a child,” warned behaviorist John B. Watson, whose 1928 directive to treat children “as though they were young adults” was reiterated in Infant Care, a guide produced by the U.S. Children’s Bureau. “Let your behavior always be objective and kindly firm,” the latter advised. “Never hug and kiss them, never let them sit in your lap. If you mast, kiss them once on the forehead when they say good night. Shake hands with them in the morning.”
By the time Dr. Spock started his practice, so many experts were Issuing dictums that the biggest problem facing new parents was their feelings of inadequacy, he says in Spock on Spock. This seemed wrong to him; certainly his own mother was never racked by any such uncertainty. “She knew what was good for health and morals, and you’d better not irritate her by raising questions.” One of his aims for his own book, therefore, was to reassure parents of their fundamental competence. “Trust yourself ” are its famous first words. “You know more than you think you do.... Bringing up your child won’t be a complicated job if you take it easy, trust your own instincts, and follow the directions that your doctor gives you.”
To young men and women still reeling from the horrors and brutality of the war, Dr. Spock gave permission to kiss and cuddle their babies, to play with them. “He was saying exactly what they wanted to hear,” Bloom writes. And he was saying it in a style that managed to be simple and vivid without ever hinting that his readers were any less smart than he. “He uses three times as many one-syllable words as multi-syllable words,” his biographer notes. He avoids “the common suffixes and locutions of bureaucratic prose: ‘tion,’ ‘sation,’ ‘ize,’ and ‘wise.’ ”
He does this while introducing many of Freud’s central ideas. Yet while Dr. Spock felt that his book’s psychoanalytic perspective was its most important offering, readers cherished the specific, practical advice with which it was stuffed. The first edition of Baby and Child Care described in detail, for example, how to fold the (cloth) diaper for a boy baby, how to do so for a girl, when to change the diapers, how to wash them, when waterproof pants can be put over them, and how they in turn should be sanitized. Hundreds of other parental tasks are treated in similar detail.
In the first ten months, over half a million copies of Baby and Child Care seemed to leap off bookstore shelves across America. Within three years, the paperbacks were selling a million copies a year, netting the author between $25,000 and $60,000 annually throughout the ’50s and ’60s, according to Bloom. (News stories by the early 1990s reported that Dr. Spock’s yearly income from the book was about $150,000.) Fame came a bit more slowly. Dr. Spock testifies in his autobiography. “For the first six or eight years after the book came out, I got no recognition from. hotel/motel operators [when asking for wake-up calls].” By 1953, however, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz were consulting Dr. Spock’s book before millions of I Love Lucy viewers. Two years later, NBC cast the pediatrician himself as the star of a series of half-hour discussion programs. Dr. Spock also began writing a series of monthly columns for the Ladies’ Home Journal. By the late 1950s, he was a big-time celebrity.
He by then had left private practice and entered the world of academia (teaching first at the Mayo Clinic and then at the University of Pittsburgh and at Western Reserve University in Cleveland). In 1956 he took his first small step into the political arena, making a brief television commercial for Adlai Stevenson. A few years later, the National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy (SANE) begin inviting him to join their national board, but it wasn’t until 1962 that he did so, appearing in a full-page newspaper ad for nuclear disarmament that eventually ran in a hundred newspapers nationwide. Throughout the next ten years, his role as a political activist accelerated. He started marching for peace, and in 1967 he got arrested, the first of at least a dozen acts of civil disobedience. In 1968, the U.S. Justice Department indicted him and four other activists for conspiracy to counsel, aid, and abet resistance to the draft, and a jury convicted him. (An appeals court later reversed the decision.) In 1972, he ran for president of the United States on a People’s Party platform that called for an end to the draft and the nuclear arms race, along with institution of free university education and a progressive income tax. He got 79,000 votes in ten states. “ This experience demonstrated the reluctance of the American press and much of the public to see anything in elections except the personalities of the Republican and Democratic candidates and their weekly standing in the polls,” he later said.
When he appeared before the La Jolla gathering this past summer, someone asked him which of his accomplishments made him most proud. He answered that he wished he could say he’d had an impact on world peace, but “I don’t see the slightest indication that we’ve gotten any closer to world peace than we were before.”
Instead, if he had any sense at all, he told the audience, “I would be proudest of having written Baby and Child Care…there are millions of people around the world who have found it useful.” Although he vowed at the end of his 1989 autobiography to continue climbing over barbed-wire fences “until I keel over,” at least a couple of years have passed since his last act of civil disobedience. But work on his most famous book, in contrast, has continued to engage him.
Although the heart and soul of it—the reassuring plea for parents to trust themselves—remains intact, the specifics have changed almost as much as America itself has over the last 50 years. As early as the second edition (released in 1957), Dr. Spock had begun to react to early charges that he was too permissive (charges that came to a head in 1968 when Norman Vincent Peale accused the pediatrician of corrupting an entire generation with his notions of “instant gratification”). The son of rock-ribbed Mildred Spock argued that this was laughable; he had never advocated spoiling children. But in the third edition of Baby and Child Care (published in 1968), he added a section (“What Are Your Aims in Raising a Child?”) in which he preached explicitly about the need for parents to raise unselfish children with strong moral values.
With each new edition, he also made changes to innumerable “small and medium matters,” revising his pronouncements on such topics as toilet training, circumcision, and fresh air. (For example, one can almost hear Mildred speaking in the 1946 injunction to place every baby weighing ten or more pounds outdoors [“when it isn’t raining”] for two to three hours a day [“as long as the temperature Is above freezing, and the wind isn’t bitterly cold”]. By 1968, the pediatrician had at least come to admit that “there is no such tradition” outside the eastern United States.)
The issue of sexism had come to the fore by the time the fourth edition appeared in 1976. “When I traveled the nation speaking out against the war, the women followed me, yelled and hollered until I really woke up,” he told one reporter that year, adding that it took him five years to understand what the feminists were talking about. Once awakened, however, he changed many of the “he”s in the hook to “she”s or “the baby”s, and he expunged such offensive passages as his 1946 observation that a father could encourage his daughter’s development by doing “little things like approving of her dress, or hairdo, or the cookies she’s made.” Replacing them were statements about the subjugation of women and the need for men’s liberation.
The 1976 edition contained another politically correct change that at the same time was very personal. In place of the simple dedication (“To Jane”) that had appeared in the previous books, the doctor included a four-paragraph paean to his wife’s contributions to the original manuscript. “She figured out such details as how many diapers, sheets, pads, nighties, shirts, bottles, and nipples should be recommended…It was Jane who spent hundreds of hours on the last-minute revisions and indexing… The book couldn’t have been what it is without her.” But if Jane had seethed over what she saw as inadequate acknowledgment of her contributions, the new dedication failed to appease her. “I did an awful lot more than he put in the dedication,” she stated in a 1976 Newsweek article that announced the couple’s divorce. Furthermore, by the time the fourth edition hit the bookstands, Dr. Spock was deeply involved with his current wife, Mary Morgan.
Jane Cheney Spock died in 1989 at the age of 82, having spent some of her final years organizing and running support groups for older divorced women. If she ranted at all within those groups about what caused the collapse of her own 48-year marriage, she didn’t talk to reporters about it, and Dr. Spock doesn’t discuss the breakup in Spock on Spock. He and Morgan do give a sketchy description of how their romance began. Shortly after separating from Jane, he was invited to talk to the University of Arkansas Department of Child Development in Little Rock. Morgan, then 31, was in the audience because a friend had dragged her there. (Divorced from a Fayetteville, Arkansas, physician, Morgan had one child but no plans for ever having another.)
Still she was impressed enough by the speech that when she took a job as a program organizer in California, she invited Dr. Spock to speak before a psychotherapists’ conference on the uses and abuses of power. “Mary met me at the San Francisco airport with a dozen red roses,” he says in the autobiography. Over breakfast the next day, the two talked at length. Mary’s “vivacity, her beauty, and her intense personalness” attracted the 73-year-old from the start, he says, and “by the end of the weekend I was falling heavily in love with her and she with me.” Within a few weeks, she flew to New York to visit him, and ten months later, the two were married by a Methodist minister before 200 guests in a country club ballroom in Little Rock. (Mary Morgan announced that she wanted to be known by her two-part given name, rather than using either Spock’s, her ex-husband’s, or her father’s last name.)
Spock on Spock offers little insight into the marriage. About the age difference between the two, the pediatrician states only that it “has not been a problem though people seem to expect it to be.” Various interviews of Morgan and her husband published in the past few years offer a few more scraps of insight. One New York Times reporter, for example, compared her in 1992 to a live-in personal trainer and quoted the famous doctor as saying, “Mary heard that meditation leads to longevity, so we meditate. Mary is a great swimmer, so we swim every day.” A Washington Post reporter asked him point-blank in 1989 if he would be engaging in twice-weekly psychotherapy and couples therapy and group therapy if Morgan weren’t around. “No,” the pediatrician reportedly answered. “After all, we got into it because of some of the tensions between us.”
This prompted Morgan to respond with a speed that suggested to the reporter that the two had “had this discussion before and had it in front of other people.”
“Well,” [she said,] “it’s not — it’s to be creative, to continue to grow. Most people stop growing and they’re dead before they even hit the ground, but at age 86 if you still want to continue to be creative, if you still want to look at issues of intimacy, if you still want to grow, instead of having blocks —”
“I’m not saying I haven’t got these things,” [the doctor said]. “But the reason you and I both got into therapy was because of tensions.”
‘That’s not the reason that I was there, and that’s not the reason I’m still there.”
“We don’t need to argue this point,” Dr. Spock said.
At the Yoga Academy appearance this summer, the audience got only one glimpse of this feisty kind of interchange between the two. It came when Morgan made the statement to her husband that he seemed to be very welcoming and open to his new life in San Diego, rather than “mourning the loss of Maine” (where the couple had a home on the Camden waterfront).
“I’m delighted that that’s the way my life seems to you,” he said. The audience laughed, and Morgan beamed. “Isn’t he wonderful!” she said, not for the first time that afternoon.
Dr. Spock didn’t talk much. Instead, Morgan ran the show, first asking the assembly to do a few minutes of deep breathing. She and he recited the 23rd Psalm and then she announced a two-minute meditation session. “Ben and I begin every day with this routine,” she said when she finally broke the silence.
She mentioned that Deepak Chopra “has us doing oil massages. You know, they love that sesame oil. So one of the things we do is every day I heat the oil and give Ben a massage from top to bottom. He especially likes it on his feet.” Kneeling down before him, she stripped off her husband’s tennis shoes and socks. “See how big his feet are?” she said, holding one of them up for the group’s scrutiny. “Aren’t they wonderful!”
As she massaged, she talked. She explained the macrobiotic diet and the yoga program, and she encouraged the group to do a few neck rolls and a gentle arm exercise. Then Morgan announced that she and her husband would give a demonstration of the group therapy that’s still a significant part of their lives. “Ben and I have been doing groups for 20 years.... When I met him, I organized groups. So we’re going to do a little mini-group here.... The way we got into this is that we worked with [health authority] Dean Ornish up in Oakland, and he insists that the group is one of the most important parts of his recovery program. The idea is that to heal the body, the soul also has to be healed.... It’s extremely powerful.”
Several audience members accepted her invitation to be part of a “mini-group,” and Morgan announced that each person, starting with her, would take a few minutes to “check in.” “I’m going to begin today by saying what my agenda is, and where I’m working in my emotional being. And then we’ll go around to Ben.” On this day she was working on “being more in the here and now,” she declared. Then she leaned over and placed a hand over one of her husband’s. “Ben, you’ve always been my hero.” He beamed. “And one of the reasons is because you live in the moment. You live in the here and now.”
Morgan continued, “I’ve had a problem recently about mourning the loss of your youth. And I have been very sad about the loss of your good health and your vivaciousness and your energy. I’ve been real sad about that and very perplexed about what I could do to bring that back to you.” The other problem she’d been having was “living in the future and dreading your dying. I was terrified that you were going to die...when you got real sick and had pneumonia.... So what I want to work on in the group today is to be right here and enjoying you. Every minute with you is precious to me. Very, very precious.”
At last Dr. Spock spoke. “That gives me inspiration and a feeling that I ought to be —” he paused. “Since you assume that I ought to get more out of every hour of the day —” Again he stopped. “I ought to be going about my business of getting more out of every hour of the day.”
A moment later, Morgan asked him, “You don’t have any fear of dying, do you?”
“No,” he answered. “What I fear is —”
After a long pause, she offered, “Senility,” then asked, “Do vou fear senility or do you fear...?”
“Being senile,” he agreed. “That’s certainly — for the last 20,30 years, I’ve been afraid of the day when I’d be senile. And I still haven’t gotten over that.” Morgan later assured the audience that Dr. Spock was hardly senile yet. The upcoming seventh edition of Baby and Child Care will include “a whole section on alternative medicine,” she announced, adding that the entire section on diet had been revised to reflect the doctor’s new thinking on the importance of eating whole grains and avoiding dairy products. “Can you imagine Dr. Spock telling mothers not to feed their kids milk?” Morgan asked the assembly, grinning. The dairy industry will be furious, she predicted.
Dr. Spock hasn’t worked on any of the last few editions alone. A dozen years ago he announced with great fanfare that he had picked a Seattle doctor by the name of Michael Rothenberg to be his collaborator and eventual successor. Rothenberg’s name was as big as Dr. Spock’s on the fifth (1985) and sixth (1992) editions of the book. But then the two men had a falling out, and a Boston doctor named Steven Parker was selected to collaborate on the upcoming seventh edition. When Dr. Spock moved to San Diego, however, he also turned to La Jolla pediatrician Dr. Martin Stein and asked him to provide some additional assistance. Stein explains, “He really needed somebody locally to be able to work with him, day to day, on some of the final editing and details of the book” Stein, who’s also a professor of pediatrics at UCSD’s medical school, says he felt honored by the request. “Ben Spock has been an extraordinarily significant person in child care in this country.”
Stein says Spock himself wrote “a lot” of the new material this time. But whenever Stein had a question about the book’s contents “We’d go through and look it up and get other people’s information,” Stein says. “Ben has never appeared threatened by new ideas. He always kind of listens and works through suggestions.”
The decline in Spock’s health has had some impact on the process of preparing the book for publication, Stein indicates. “He’s very weak and he sleeps a lot. But when he’s awake, he’s alert and his mind is really right there with you. He recognizes he’s lived a good life. He’s contributed something significant He’s clearly not afraid to die. I think a lot of people who’ve lived a good life and a long life are like this,” Stein reflects. “They very much live in the moment.”
Some of Spock’s moments in recent weeks have been harrowing, Morgan has indicated. A month ago, his gastric tube “sliced a hole in his gut, and he was hemorrhaging.” She said they considered returning to the hospital (where she in the past has carried a cooking stove along with her, so she could continue to prepare the macrobiotic meals). “But he made a decision not to go to the hospital and instead we called the yoga center and had [the yoga healers] do a three-hour session with him. After a while, the hemorrhaging stopped,” Morgan said. “His blood pressure returned to 140 over 78. It was an incredible life-saving experience. The doctors couldn’t believe it”
Since then Dr. Spock has continued to participate in the psychotherapy group, which meets every Saturday for two hours, according to his wife. He also continues to undergo private analysis, she told me. “He’s gone back and relived a lot of his early childhood experiences that have to do with swallowing difficulties. He had a near-drowning episode, for example, when he was very young.” She added that when Dr. Spock hasn’t felt well, the psychotherapist has come to the house that they’re renting in the gated Windemere community near the top of Mount Soledad.
It has a beautiful garden, plus Morgan makes sure there are “dozens of roses” in the house every day. They have “a beautiful saltwater aquarium,” and she’s also set up bird feeders. She puts on music that he likes and sometimes she reads to him. The tube feeding is “constant.” But Dr. Spock’s slowness and weakness are “just a temporary thing,” his wife is convinced. His energy level goes up and down, but it will come back, she predicted. “Because it always does."