Listen to the mustn’ts, child.
Listen to the don’ts.
Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts.
Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me…
Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.”
I love that Shel Silverstein poem.
I don’t know when I first came across it (the poem, I mean).
I know exactly when I came across someone who didn’t just tell me, but showed me it was true.
I was nineteen years old, fresh from – but still somewhat tethered to – a fairly fractured childhood, and the strange amalgamation of interesting relationships and occasional heartbreak that implies.
We weren’t a family who believed deeply in the possibility of achievement, of dreaming and of doing, let alone things like ‘true love’ or ‘happiness’… as a matter of fact, those things were poo-poo’d. Scoffed at.
Now, I should be clear here. In general ‘we’ didn’t believe in those things. I was the rub, because I did believe in those things. Totally did.
I mean, sure, they hadn’t happened to me, or to any people (zero) I knew yet… but…
That pissed my mother off to no end which, then, made for a very tense household as she tried to make it clear to me that I was living in a dream world.
The good news is that this meant I nailed my teenage rebellion period, the goal of which was to drive my mother nuts. Okay, sure, it was my strange reality that all I had to do to accomplish this was to offer a positive view to any given situation, but sometimes the world is indeed a bit strange.
When you come from a household that beats positivity and possibility down, it’s kind of inevitable that you begin to wonder if your sunny disposition might have flaws.
What if the world is not navigable?
What if it is, indeed, a constant disappointment?
Without love you can believe in?
Without dreams that might come true?
One summer day in 1985, as I was working my way through community college doing odd jobs, I got a call from a temp agency I’d registered with.
And it changed my life.
Bob had been driving Human Resources crazy. They would send him experienced secretaries who could type up a storm and had great organizational skills. Bob would ship them back and say he needed a certain type of person.
Happened over and over again.
I was there as a temp, but his executive secretary met me and ended up recommending that he interview me for the open, permanent position.
I didn’t know, then, that he was supposed to be “scary”.
I didn’t know people cleared hallways and tried to appear very busy when he left his office and went to get himself some tea.
Probably wouldn’t have mattered.
Due to the aforementioned childhood, I didn’t do afraid very well. Didn’t really know how. I just did ‘me’.
I will not confirm or deny that I once released my rabbit into his office, nor the fact that it pooped on his pristine carpet near the super shine-y mahogany conference table. I will say that when he immediately yelled, “Lisa!”, it came as a surprise. (How did he know?!)
Anyway, one thing led to another that week, and soon I was sitting with him in his big corner office and we were talking, and suddenly I had a permanent job as a junior secretary.
I couldn’t even type.
He was looking for the right person, he said. The skills would come.
That was a little over thirty years ago.
My new boss eventually became a mentor, a mentor became a trusted guide, and then more than that.
JoHn doesn’t even try to explain the relationship, when asked who Bob and his wife Linda are to us, he simply says, “Lisa’s parents”.
About five years ago, in a posh conference room at the Ritz Carleton hotel in McLean, Virginia, Mac and I went to Bob’s retirement party. It’s funny, because not a person in the room believed Bob was done working.
And he wasn’t. A victim of an antiquated ‘mandatory retirement at age 65’ rule, Bob handed out business cards for his very first start up, at his retirement party. It was hysterical.
Listening – just sitting and listening – to person after person, each with amazing careers and credentials themselves, tell of the support Bob had given them was just… so cool. And, to be clear, we are talking about everything from computer graphics to space travel here. Like, literally. It was as awesome as it was aspirational.
And no, I didn’t mean to type inspirational (though it was), I meant to type aspirational.
Because who doesn’t want to follow in the footsteps of a great Dad?
Who wouldn’t want a life that includes lifting people up when you can, helping them to be more than they thought they could be?
And he just does it.
It’s not about credit or adoration.
He just does his thing, bringing good people together to get the stuff done that his curious (and I dare say brilliant) mind wants to get done. And he does it all while being absolutely, 100 percent, true to himself.
This is a guy who worked the Apollo missions – including the landing and the safe return of the astronauts on Apollo 13 – and still insists, with Sam, that Terminator is one of the best movies of all time (well, maybe it’s Aliens. They go back and forth).
This PhD in mathematics who has pioneered work on everything from weather prediction models to cyber-security, to artificial intelligence and the first generation of the Internet (now he is consulting on the second)? He’s the same guy who did math equations with seven year-old Mac during dinner at Disney World, while they excitedly chatted about the upcoming light parade and the possibility that they would see Mickey Mouse.
You tend to do cool things when you hang with Bob. Back in the mid-eighties, we were doing some of those cool things when Bob decided to partner with a little computer graphics company. The group started by George Lucas (yep, that one), that was just purchased by a guy named Steve Jobs.
So on Friday I went to the museum to see the Pixar exhibit with my Dad. We were working with them in early days, on stuff that laid the groundwork for all the blockbuster movies and Academy Awards.
I walked around and oo’d and ah’d with the man who was instrumental in me getting a college education, and then a career. Who walked me down the aisle, and showed up after the births of my children (including speeding to the hospital when Sam’s birth went terribly wrong).
We’ve danced at his daughter’s wedding, and worried when medical stuff has gone sideways for him and for Linda (and for his children, or their children). He has included me and my family in his life, and he and his are included in mine.
My Dad, JoHn’s Dad-in-Law… my kids’ grandfather.
There are clichés for what happened to spark this relationship for sure, from “When the student is ready, the teacher appears” to the idea of being open to magical guides in one’s life.
But this was somehow different.
Back in 1985, Bob had a job opening for a Jr. Secretary.
I had an opening in my heart, and life, for a Dad.
Wasn’t actively looking, not even really thinking about it.
But look what happened.
Thanks for readin’.
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