On January 12th, my wife Chris and I went to see my 95 year old father in Palo Alto CA. He had recently fallen and hit his head. I had been to see him after the accident and he seemed to be doing well. While i was there he and I had a long conversation with his doctor, Scott Wood.
My Dad, who just weeks before had been attending grand medical rounds, playing tennis, and leafleting for Bernie Sanders on University Avenue, was suffering from some cognitive losses, but he was lucid and clear. He told us in no uncertain terms that if this thing got worse there would be no hospital – only hospice, no food and drink, and comfort. We agreed. His doctor commented, “I’m with you – when I go I want plenty of morphine and ice cream, and the ice cream’s optional.”
During the time I was home I spoke to my Dad each night. He didn’t sound good, so Chris and I decided to go back out. We arrived mid-day on the 12th and had a wonderful day with him. But early the next AM, his caregiver woke me up and said, “Your Dad is having a stroke. Should I call 911?”
“No, I said,” and I called his doctor. He came over, said yes indeed he had had quite a stroke, and “I’m calling hospice now.”
Six days later he died.
Chris and I immediately became wrapped up in the aftermath. My mother’s care (she’s in a skilled nursing facility with Alzheimers), memorial service, vacating his apartment, dealing with the estate, etc. It turned into a long, un-planned absence from South Mountain. I would not return to the Vineyard until late March.
It was hard to lose my father. We had a remarkable relationship. My father was, among many other things, fierce. Mostly, his ferocity served good purpose. Not always. I took a very different path from the one he imagined for me. For a while, in the 60s and 70s, he had a hard time reconciling that. He was terribly disappointed (but supportive at the same time) and I was upset by his close-mindedness. Our relationship, which was always characterized by mutual love and respect, was also characterized by disagreement and strife. This continued much longer than it needed to. That got old. So after a particularly difficult year in the 90’s, I wrote to him on Father’s Day.
I said, “You are in your seventies. We have only so much time left. Maybe 10 years, maybe 15, maybe more. I have a really dumb idea that I want to share with you. How about this? How about, for the rest of our lives, from today until the day you die, if we, you and I, toss all disagreements out the window and celebrate each other 100%, enjoy each other 100%, every day, all the time? How about that?”
My brief missive inspired a breathtaking response. He wrote eloquently about our lives, and at the end, he said, “I’m in. Let’s do it.” He was in, with the full complement of his unshakeable optimism. And we did it, no, not just did it, but really did it, for the rest of his days.
Except once, in 2005, at which time, after a very rare disagreement, he bluntly reminded me, “You know, you’re not holding up your end of the bargain.” He was right.
He used to say about people he admired, “He/she is one of that small band of people who recognizes the difference between good sound reasons and reasons that sound good.” He held reason in high esteem. He was one of that band.
He was a complicated man, someone who was actually able to say, as I again use his words to define him, “I have the modesty to admit that lack of modesty is one of my weaknesses.”
Well, we all have a few, don’t we? He had his share, but my memories are deeply etched with love and respect and gratitude.
But back to my long un-planned absence from South Mountain. It turned out to be a great success. Some were affected more than others, but the overall sentiment was that everyone did very well, and it was a good practice run for the inevitable.
This was my first long absence since I was gone for 5 weeks in 2007. That one was planned, this one was not. Before that, it was my lengthy sabbaticals in 2003 and 2004. Also planned.
We did fine during those three absences; we successfully treaded water, put certain things on hold, and I made periodic returns. This time, however, was a fundamentally different experience. We thrived. No treading whatsoever; we revved up. Everyone stepped up and performed in spectacular ways.
This year has been one of the busiest and most complex times in SMCo history, maybe the most. Before I left we had a number of commitments that required my involvement. And yet it was nearly seamless (no, not everything worked just right, but a lot did and only a little didn’t). Led by Deirdre Bohan, Rob Meyers, Siobhan Mullin, Ryan Bushey, Newell Isbell Shinn (all members of our Management Committee) and others, the SMCo team stepped up and provided tremendous leadership and wisdom.
For me, and for the company, this is transformative. My role is shifting. I am becoming less generative and more reactive. Not only does that reduce bottlenecking, but it significantly increases my capacity and our capacity. Our company is evolving, in big ways.
I love where we’re headed . . . and I miss my Dad.