Franklin Burroughs watched from his office window in Tehran as members of the Islamic Republic climbed over the walls of the U.S. Embassy compound and claimed it as their own.
The then-executive director of the United States Chamber of Commerce in Iran quickly realized the imperative of his exodus from the country in 1979, and his return to American soil, unaccompanied at the time by his Persian wife Mahin and their two daughters.
"I was able to integrate the two cultures. I never felt like a foreigner," he says of the 15 years they spent there, and his reluctant departure.
Soon after, Burroughs' name appeared on the list of U.S. citizens who were ordered not to leave the country.
His oldest daughter, then 12, recently told him of the terrifying experience when men wielding guns came to their apartment, inquiring of their father's whereabouts.
The Walnut Creek resident describes the event in his recent memoir, which begins a retelling of a compelling journey that weaves together the threads of his quest to find his authentic self.
And, like other young children seek out cherished spots where their imaginations can run free, Burroughs, at age 5, found his in a lone pepper tree that stood next to a shanty-like apartment in Wilmington, Calif., where he lived with his beloved "functionally illiterate" grandmother.
"The swing (hanging from the tree branch) became like a throne. I could pursue ideas I wasn't sure of. I gave myself permission to imagine," he says of the more spiritually expansive path he embarked on, shedding what he describes as a legalistic Christian orientation.
Burroughs credits his father, albeit a strict fundamentalist, with "instilling in (him) an overwhelming appetite to learn about the spiritual realm."
Burroughs' boyhood fascination with stories of the Old Testament foretold a visit to Iran, he says, noting that his wife, who died several years ago, "represented the strength of the Persian culture," and his time in Iran bred a greater self-confidence.
And as that experience beneath his cherished tree became a virtual one, where Burroughs could return in his mind's eye, it became the title of the memoir, "The Pepper Tree Kingdom" (Azalea Art Press, 2013).
The professor of international business at John F. Kenney University in Pleasant Hill hopes his journey to self might help others on a similar path of personal discovery.
"I have more of an understanding as I take the next step," he says. "I feel more authentic than I ever did. Now I can be myself and go forward. It's such a liberating feeling."
His characteristic diplomatic bent toward understanding myriad cultures, as he's studied their languages and with an open heart has long tried to understand a situation from their particular lens, inspires those with whom he comes in contact to this day.
Burroughs has a doctorate in Middle East history and comparative education. He still works under contract as an English language officer for the U.S. Department of State, also hosting foreign dignitaries.
His wife's cousin, Davoud Nassiri, recalls their initial meeting in Tehran: Burroughs' gentle, quiet demeanor, insatiable curiosity, and their ensuing 50-year friendship.
"He didn't have this chip on his shoulder," says Nassiri, who lives in San Diego. "Frank is very tactful. The new people he meets, the culture where he is living, he's so detailed (about his approach). He was always very interested in learning the actual meaning of expressions."
Burroughs will be discussing his book at 4 p.m. Monday, Feb. 10, at the Walnut Creek Library, 1644 N. Broadway. For more information, call 925-977-3340, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.