Saturday, October 4, 2014

Song for My Father*

My father passed away this summer and in the intervening period I set aside my media hat. Before I formally return to the media space, I want to use this space to talk a little bit about my father.

My father was an eccentric man and sometimes a complete enigma even to those who were closest to him. For instance, while we share the same name, he insists that I was named not after him but his uncle Bill, who was a baseball player in his earlier years and later became coach, attorney and a judge. My father followed his uncle into the legal field, with his own twist, carving out his own niche as a modern-day country lawyer and advisor.

Outside of family and work matters, sailing, quantum physics and jazz were the three things my father was most passionate about. While part of the appeal of sailing was no doubt the escapist aspect of charting one’s one course – my father’s own moveable island – I have often thought that more than 90% of our father-son relationship and peer-to-peer relationship was formed while sailing together from Long Island Sound to Down East Maine. One particular trip that I often think about was a voyage from New London, Connecticut to Cape Cod Bay which was slowed dramatically by adverse currents and a lack of wind. Arriving very late one night at Cuttyhunk Island, we determined that the delays had almost entirely depleted our food supplies. After rummaging through the storage locker, my father declared that what remained were nine Saltine crackers and two bottles of wine. For dinner, he placed one bottle of wine on the table in front of me and pushed five of the nine crackers my way. I had begun that day as a 14-year-old boy, but when I woke up the next morning, I had no doubt that I was now a man. Several years later, we talked extensively about buying a Beneteau and sailing it back from Saint-Gilles-Croix-de-Vie, France, but this adventure never came to fruition.

Ironically, while my mother was a teacher, journalist and quite adept at communicating, my father preferred to use language as a puzzle, where he would leave a minimal number of clues and see if the recipient of those clues could find his or her way to the finish line. Dubbed “The Great Communicator” by some of those who spent extended periods in his verbal labyrinth, when he wanted to my father could be an expert writer or orator, but when he preferred to get overly creative with language, he typically lost most of his audience in a hurry.

As much as my father provided advice and counsel for countless family and friends, very little advice was aimed in my direction. One piece of advice I did hear over and over again was, “Keep your options open.” I have always attached a high degree of value to having options in life, but I often smile at the thought that a large part of what I do professionally is sell options to those who place a higher value on them than I do.  On a somewhat related note, when I was a child, my father was keen on having me play chess with him. I received no leniency, coaching, hints or advice of any kind while losing literally thousands of matches. Eventually, I was able to learn enough to win consistently and in the process also learned how to figure things out for myself, the value of tenacity and many other life lessons. Only after his passing did I find an old yearbook and discover that he was the chess champion at his high school. Needless to say, without his hand, I would never have developed some of the skills that I enjoy today.

Dad, wherever you are, I hope that the journey is smooth sailing and the wind is at your back.


[my father with my wife, Deborah, at the Cape Cod National Seashore, 2011]

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*The title of this post also refers to one of my favorite jazzmen, Horace Silver, who wrote Song for My Father

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