Lessons for the Grandchildren from Kona Jack

Well, I’ll just start by saying that I can’t put into words how much I miss dad. There are so many emotions around the void I feel without him. It’s been quite a change in life for me.

Dad was a man’s man, that’s for sure. And I guess I lucked out by being his boy. We didn’t have to talk things out. In fact, never really did as far as I can remember. Life with dad just happened.   Hanging out doing things guys do together, largely around sports. He taught me most of what I know about surfing, tennis, skiing, football, baseball, basketball and more. But I don’t mean that he instructed me – that definitely wasn’t dad. It was just about being together and doing whatever it was we were doing, and then I learned through that experience. It’s been a good lesson for me in life. I wouldn’t trade that time with dad for anything.

I know this won’t surprise those who know me well, but I look very forward to going to heaven, which is a nice way of saying that I look forward to dying. I have a firm belief in the truth of a glorious life in heaven awaiting us. For eternity. I’ve read so many books on it, and of course, the Bible is so crystal clear on the joy and peace that awaits us. There in heaven, I believe I will be reunited with dad again in the prime of his life. It will be a joyous reunion that I look very forward to. I am imagining of course that he is going to say,

Michael, let’s go surfing!”.

Until then, my hope is that I can have as much of an influence on people as dad did on his friends and family and neighbors in Kona. Somehow, he seemed to rub off on everyone, even on people he would seemingly completely ignore. A good example of that was a neighbor of his at the Keahou Kona Surf & Racquet Club who gave him a case of Coors Light for Christmas one year. He simply returned it to them and said he didn’t drink Coors Light.

That was dad.

I think we all would agree that dad left quite a legacy that won’t soon be forgotten.

I thank God for this opportunity to summarize a few of the areas from dad’s legacy that I think his grandchildren should take note of. I like to think of it as the passing of the baton to Marisa, Matthew, Brennan and Hayley. They are all quite simple, not anything that would surprise those who knew dad. But I think the combination of them together is what really set dad apart.   He lived each one of them to the fullest.

So here they are — 6 lessons for the grandchildren from Kona Jack.

#1 – Keep your sense of humor (even into your 80’s and beyond!)

"You should have seen the OTHER guy!"

“You should have seen the OTHER guy!”

In my opinion, this had to be the top lesson from dad for all of us!

Plain and simple, he was hysterical with his many dry comments that seemed to always come out when you least expected it. He had an amazing wit, and used it all of the time, on anyone! It didn’t seem to wane at all as he launched into some challenging times in his 80’s. There are so many examples to cite. Dad was a walking comedy act in my book, and I appreciate that now more than ever…

On my last trip over to Kona to see dad, I had come to rescue him after he took a pretty serious spill walking down the hill from KTA with a bag of groceries.  He was quite bandaged up, head to toe, not moving too well, when he asked me to take him to town for a haircut. As we entered the barbershop, dad was shuffling slowly through the door as a customer was holding the door open waiting for dad to get by. Suddenly out of nowhere, dad looked at this guy and blurted out,

“You should have seen the OTHER guy!”

I had to really think for a minute or two what the heck he was even talking about. Then suddenly as I took my seat in the barbershop, it hit me.  I almost started crying I was laughing so hard.

His many sticky notes in the mail to Terry and I were also famous for these dry comments. Here’s one he wrote on an article he was sending me:

“Hey, its not all wine and roses over here! This can be a very tough life, especially if you’re in your late, late eighty’s. I messed up cutting these articles out of the paper but I’m sure you’ll get the drift.
Dad”

Another sticky on a rather lengthy New Yorker article he sent me about Apple and the upcoming iWatch:

“ Mike – I don’t want to over burden you with too much shop talk, but thought this might be of interest. It’s a little long and drawn, but does have its highlights, and it’s a good inside look into Apple’s modus operandi. In any event, you’re stuck with it!
P.S. For your appreciation of my sending it, you can give me an apple watch for father’s day.”

Ok, final one!
Another note on a copy of the Santa Monica High School alumni newsletter which included some photographs of his classmates:

“Mike: I have enclosed 2 xerox’s from the recent Viking news, which is a quarterly published for SMHS alumni. One is a recent picture of Charlie French, which I thought you would like to see. The other caught my eye because I knew everyone involved from my Malibu days. Dave Rochlen is the founder of Jams, and Peter Cole and Buzzy Trent were famous big wave riders (Buzzy looks like he had a couple of 20 footers break on him).”

And looking at the picture of Buzzy, I had to agree!

#2 — Sleep trumps diet

Dad sneaking in a nap just hours before the wedding bells ring!

Sneaking in a nap just hours before the wedding bells ring!

I believe a big key to the long and healthy life dad lived was his ability to sleep, anywhere at any time. He often took 2 naps a day, and never (that I can remember) had a hard time getting a full nights sleep. I even remember our wedding day, when I walked into the bedroom in Jack Schott’s house to get the Tuxedo on, and there was dad on the floor lying down for a nap. Of course, I think that is one area where he would agree that his lack of hearing was a real advantage!

I believe his sleep had a LOT to do with countering his daily nutritional habits, if you can call it that. Dad was a walking miracle based upon the food he was eating on a daily basis. He could have written the book on “how to live a long and healthy life while eating and drinking anything you want.”

I will always remember the trip we took back from Honolulu after being air Evac’d there for surgery to implant a stint in his main heart artery (early 90’s). After rescuing him from 2 days at Queens Medical Center (which believe me, was a story in itself!), we flew to Kona and were on our way home in the car when he requested that I pull into the Harbor House in Kealakehe Harbor (one of his favorite spots) for a giant schooner of draft beer and a large plate of french fries (which he proceeded to salt heavily and cover with catsup). I remember trying to tell him the doctor said not to lift anything over 10 pounds, and that the beer schooner was surely well over that! He looked at me like I was crazy, holding the giant glass mug with both hands shaking as he lifted it to his lips.

And of course, there was the infamous grocery list he gave Marisa for her trip to KTA one day:
Haagen-Dazs coffee ice cream, Ranch-style Doritos, Eye of the Hawk beer, Laughing Cow cheese, Frosted Flakes, Half n Half, and a Snickers bar.

On a thank you note he sent Terry, he outlined what would happen if money were no object in Kona:

“Terry, I want you to know that I had a big time blowing away your gift certificate at Drysdale’s:  1 beer, 3 Rob Roy’s, 1 Stinger on the rocks, and the Shrimp basket.
So thanks a lot. I hope I can repay you if you make it over in December.”

I’ll bet he slept good that night!

In fact, it really seems quite appropriate that he passed in his sleep after a Father’s Day meal of fish & chips and a Rob Roy (at the old Drysdale’s of course!).

#3 — Keep life simple

Dad's wardrobe for the week, hanging on his bathroom towel rack.

Dad’s wardrobe for the week, hanging on his bathroom towel rack

I think we ALL were extremely envious of the fact that dad lived about as simple a life as one could imagine. And for the past 27 or so years after moving to Kona, he probably should have won an environmental achievement award for having the lowest carbon footprint in the state of Hawaii.   I clearly remember the day I took him to the airport in L.A. for his move to Kona from Newport Beach at Park Newport. He had sold everything for the move, including his car. But when he put a single suitcase into the car I seriously thought he was kidding.

“Dad, where’s your stuff?! Did you ship it?”

And of course his response: “This is it Michael. I got rid of everything.”

And he stayed that way – never succumbing to a life of possessions and complexity. His place was a perfect example of that. A couple of $3.99 Wal-Mart Chairs around a $4.99 Wal-Mart table was about the only furniture he needed.   He didn’t seem to mind that when we came to visit we all had to stand around to talk with him. In fact, I think he liked the fact that you were never going to stay long if you didn’t have somewhere to sit. I tried to buy him a Lazy Boy chair more than once, just to get his feet up.
“If I want to lay down I’ll just go out to the pool”, he quickly shot back in response.

Good point.

Dad’s amazing ability to keep life simple and avoid the stress that often is attached to the things we accumulate truly was something to be admired.

Here’s a note he wrote us on the back of his race number for the Keahou 5K – effectively re-using the race number as a note card:

“Hi Gang: I picked up my race booty, which consisted of two T-shirts in addition to the race shirt (I may not leave much money, but I’ll leave a lot of T-shirts) a twelve dollar gift certificate at Drysdales (that’s 3 Rob Roy’s) and a medallion on a blue ribbon…. The weather has been great. Highs in lo 80’s; lo’s in high 60’s with afternoon clouds and no vog. The snow bunnies are real happy!”

And yes – he did leave us lots of T-shirts.

#4 – Exercise for life!

Still playing good tennis at 85 and beyond.

Still playing solid tennis well into his 80’s!

If there is one quality that most influenced me, it was dad’s example with consistent exercise throughout his entire life. This was probably one of the few areas where he did offer advice to Terry and I as we were growing up. Whether it was his tennis, surfing, skiing, or even jumping rope in the living room when we were growing up, dad believed exercise was a true fountain of youth. And he was pretty good living proof that it worked!

This hand-written note of his on the back of a re-used Christmas card pretty much says it all:

“Dear Marla and Mike: Thought I’d take just a second to wish you the best of everything for 1993 and to thank you again for the running shorts and socks. Trust me, you could not have done better. Wish I could send you a sample of this year’s eggnog. It is arguably one of my best blends yet.
Life here goes on! Following is my current schedule:

  • Monday: work 9-12:30. Tennis 3-5.
  • Tuesday: Bike to the village. Coffee at the Pub. Work out at the club and a run. Bike back to the pool.
  • Wednesday: Tennis 2-4.
  • Thursday: same as Tuesday
  • Friday: same as Monday
  • Saturday: same as Tuesday and Thursday
  • Sunday: rest it up at pool. Tennis 3-5.

Of course there are variations, but not many. I’m sure you get the idea!
Love, Jack”

#5 — Enjoy life

Never one to miss an ice cold beer after a round of tennis.

Never one to miss an ice cold beer after a round of tennis.

Following on that theme, I think everyone would agree that dad set the stage on how to enjoy life. It did not matter whether it was a classic Kona sunset, a cold mug of draft beer, or a well played football game on TV — he enjoyed it to the fullest, and let everyone around him know it. It was a very nice & healthy quality of his, and something that I already miss a great deal. There is definitely a part of it that has propelled me into the work/life balance coaching arena. Dad simply never let work distract him from enjoying life and kept a keen eye on those who did the same.

Here’s an insightful comment he made on Bob Simmons, a fellow Malibu surfing pioneer, in a note to me about a recent surf auction of a Simmons surfboard for $40,000:

“This is the same board I’m riding in the Malibu photo. I’m not sure how many of these Simmons made, but don’t think it could be more than 5 or so. I can only remember seeing one other that was owned by Jim Arness. Bob was anything but a grinder when it came to making boards and never let work interfere with his surfing. There seems to be a lot of money out there for old surf collectibles. I may be sitting on a fortune!”

Another quality I especially noticed later in dad’s life was that he was not a complainer and seemed to find pleasure and humor during the difficult times. Don’t get me wrong, he let you know if he didn’t like something or if something had not gone well, but he never dwelled on it – and seemed to just let the hard times pass, soon making light of it after. That was especially evident to me when we made those two trips back to Queens Medical Center in Honolulu for his bladder cancer surgery, while carrying a catheter bag with him along the way. He truly was amazing on those trips with how he kept his spirits up and maintained a sense of humor about it all. I could cite so many examples, but one that sticks out was a vivid memory I have of him enjoying a beer in the Kona airport after security had given him the complete shake-down in the TSA line.
He is taking a long draw of the beer, and saying:

“Ahhhhh, that’s a good one Michael.”

Of course, I was looking at him holding the catheter bag as he drank the beer in amazement, thinking, how could he possibly be enjoying a beer right now?!

#6 — It’s ok to be sentimental

West Hawaii Veterans Cemetery in Kona, Hawaii

West Hawaii Veterans Cemetery in Kona, Hawaii

We all know about dad’s goodbyes. Plain and simple, they were painful for those of us who were trying to leave! I dreaded it every trip over as he always fell apart and started to cry when I left. Interestingly, my last trip over was the worst of all. He really did act as if he knew he would not see me again, finally almost yelling at me to leave…

Its hard to say much more on this one – but I think the point for the grandkids is to not hold your emotions in – but to let it go. I wish I could be more like that.
Here are a couple notes he wrote me which show different aspects of his sentimentality:

Written on the “Corona del Mar and growing up” section which he edited for me on this blog:

“ Mike, this is pretty good. I must confess your re-capitulation of a trip to SanO brought tears to my eyes. I’ve out-grown my motion sickness, but it doesn’t look like I’ll ever [out] grow my sentimentality, which I for sure inherited from my father.”

A short note on a bank statement he sent me (and I know he felt exactly the same about Brennan and Hayley):

“Mike: this is not very legible, but if there is any questions I’m sure we can straighten them out on the phone. Also, I wanted to give you and Marla my sincere congratulations on the way you have raised your two kids. Believe me, they are the absolute tops.”

Here’s one Terry and I discovered after dad’s passing. He had taken a 3-week solo trip to Australia after his retirement from General Telephone in the mid 80’s, and the airlines lost his luggage on the flight over. We were surprised to find a fairly detailed daily journal he kept from that trip where he periodically lamented over the loss and its impact on his trip and on his emotions, until seemingly getting over it on his final week or so on the trip. The final entry in the journal was as follows:

“Checked with Quantis about my suitcase and no luck. Someone else is wearing my snappy clothes and it pisses me off to no end!

And finally, a birthday card he sent me shortly after college (early 1980’s) – but I don’t think this one was re-used:

“Hi Mike – They do roll around awfully fast don’t they. I hope you have or had a real good one! This is one birthday that always sneaks up on me. I am watching the U of U – San Jose St. basketball game from Utah and couldn’t help but have a flash-back to your graduation. You can be real proud of what you accomplished then, and what you have accomplished since. To put it mildly, you have done quite well; and I’m a very proud father.

[now, mind you — next sentence in this same note]

Utah seems to have one of their better teams and I cant look at Tarkanian without thinking of Woody [our tax accountant – who did in fact look like him!].

“Fresno State has a 26 to 11 lead and the Utah coach is having kittens!
Love, Grandpa Jack”

Good-bye dad.