Father's Day bittersweet for Oregon lawmaker

Father's Day bittersweet for Oregon lawmaker

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by PAT DOORIS, KGW staff

kgw.com

Posted on June 14, 2013 at 5:37 PM

Updated Thursday, Aug 29 at 3:33 PM

SALEM -- For Father's Day weekend, a lot of people are thinking about their dads and the influence they’ve had. For a rising star in the Oregon Legislature, Jason Conger, the relationship with his father is one of the few failures he regrets.

As 45-year-old Conger walks through the upper chamber of the state house, he carries the memories of a childhood that few of his colleagues can imagine.

Conger was born in California to parents he says were caught up in the drug and hippie scene of Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco.

“They were pretty heavily involved in that," he remembers.

It was his grandfather Merle who anchored him with unconditional love and found him wherever the family moved.

“They both told me we lived in a cave for a while but apparently it was when I was too young to have memories of it,” Conger says.

When he was 8 years old his parents divorced. He'll never forget the drive back to his grandparents.

“There was no civilization anywhere,” he remembers one time his father got a flat tire. “And so he hops out with the tire, and it was dark, but I don’t know what time it was, and we just start walking. And I had this distinct impression…we don’t have a lot between us and the ground."

His adventurous childhood now included fear.

“It scared me. It scared me to realize that that was all we had,” he says.

As a young teen, Conger rebelled. He left home at16 years old. At 18, he lost his job and his place to stay. He hit rock bottom.

“It’s really frightening and there is nothing I know of that’s more motivating than having that sense of being on the edge of the abyss," he says.

But a caring alternative school teacher pushed him along. And his high school sweetheart Amy--now his wife-- believed in him. Eventually he got a job. They bought a van and trailer, and even though they didn’t have a lot of money, they bought a home.

He worked three jobs to get through college and discovered despite his resentment of his parent's, a gift: intelligence that allowed him to nail the law school entrance exam.

Or even after high school, into my early 20's, I didn’t have any idea that I could go to Harvard Law School," Conger says.

But he applied, got in and graduated. The boy who spent much of his life homeless graduated with a Harvard law degree. He's now a rising star in the Oregon Legislature and a successful attorney in Bend, Oregon. He’s also a proud father of five.

And yet, there is one significant failure that still bothers him.

“Really that's probably one of my biggest failings is that I haven’t done better, you know, showed a higher level of respect for my parents,” he says.

Running from the life they created, Conger cut all ties with his mother and father.

“Regardless of what mistakes he may have made, I share heavily in the fault for the relationship going so sour,” he says. “So, you know, it’s not something that I'm proud of. I'm actually very disappointed in myself for having not done a better job of that. With that said, it’s very difficult after all this time to put it back together."

Sometimes in life happy endings are elusive. Conger says his former hippie father can’t stomach a son who is a Republican.

“To me, party affiliation doesn’t mean as much as it does to him. But I'm not sure that the disappointment hasn’t overwhelmed the pride,” Conger says. “He came to my graduation at Harvard, flew out to Boston.”

When asked if he was going to send his Dad a father’s day card, Conger said, “No. No. I'm not even sure what his address is anymore, so probably not."

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