21. Marathon Faith

“Be faithful, and leave the results to God.”
-Amish Proverb

In between surf sessions, I love to run.

The physical joy and mental relief that running has provided me over the years are immeasurable. When I look back at the peaks and valleys of my Silicon Valley tech career, the early morning runs in Rancho San Antonio and mid-day runs on the Baylands Trails were my saving grace. Lacing up for a run releases my mind from immediate concerns to the deep inner joy of pushing my physical limits while soaking in the fresh air, warm sun, and brilliance of nature, all rejuvenating me!

Running provides a sanctuary where my faith can be strengthened. I prefer to run the backcountry trails into the hills, stopping at the highest point of the run to meditate and pray. I feel closer to God up there, by myself, gazing down on the hustle and bustle of Silicon Valley below. It feeds my soul.

I caught the bug in the late 1970s when the running boom in the U.S. was hitting full stride. My first organized race was the Dana Point Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving Day (a 10K) in 1979. I will never forget that race. My roommate Brad Sarvak and I had the race leaders in view for the first few miles. We had no idea what we were doing. The Corona del Mar High School track coach, John Blair (1), led us on his mini motorcycle as the mile times were called out at a pace that made it clear that we were in deep trouble. And then it hit.

The last three miles are cemented in my memory as the most excruciating three miles of my running career. No matter how much I backed off, the pain increased. I didn’t throw up, but I sure wanted to. I remember Coach Blair asking me later why I didn’t run in high school. I don’t remember what I said, but it had to be something like, “Because it hurts.” I never had that problem with surfing.

Start of the Dana Point Turkey Trot circa 1979. Brad and I were at the front!

The Dana Point Turkey Trot became an annual tradition. As much as I labored in the effort, something kept pulling me back each year. Part of it was testing my endurance to find out how hard I could push the pace. I always felt high as a kite after the race for enduring the suffering. Another draw was the post-race party, which got pretty lively in the pre-celebration atmosphere of Thanksgiving (the draft beer helped!). Eating my fill of turkey and pumpkin pie later that day topped it all off.

I soon found myself running 10k races almost every weekend with my good friend, Ed Mantini. Ed was an Alberto Salazar look-alike, who seemed to run almost as fast. He challenged me each week to lower my time while introducing me to DMSO (2) as our go-to cure for virtually any running injury, which helped to keep our weekly mileage consistently high.

The Marathon
Before long, I signed up for my first marathon, the “Leatherneck Marathon,” at the El Toro Marine Base in Orange County. I distinctly remember hitting the 20-mile mark and thinking, Oh, this is what they meant bythe wall” . . . Those last three miles of that first Dana Point Turkey Trot came right back to me—times two!

Before long, I was addicted to carb-loading and the high-mileage training that the marathon required. I decided it was time to try and qualify for the renowned Boston Marathon, which required a fast marathon (sub-2:50) to get in (3). Anyone who has run Boston would agree that the excitement, energy, and goodwill surrounding that event are unmatched in marathon circles. Bill Rogers, who won Boston four times (1975, 1978-1980), said it well:

“…The marathon is the king of sports. And certainly, Boston is the king of marathons.”

Rogers wrote the book on “Marathoning” back then (4), while he was also winning the New York City Marathon four times in a row (1976-1979). His success propelled me, and his book became my training bible. I soon learned how to navigate the 26.2-mile beast and began chiseling down my finishing times to finally attain my goal. Thank you, Bill!


Meeting Bill Rodgers after the 1995 Boston Marathon was a dream come true!

The Pace
Looking back, I see distinct parallels between the marathon and my life here on earth. As I cross the twenty-mile mark for my final 10K in life, I can sense the challenges ahead. My pace is slowing, yet my focus on finishing strong is still there. These are the most important miles of my life. In marathoning jargon, my race has just begun!

If I went out too fast those first 20 miles, eventually, I would blow up. A successful marathon requires a steady pace that matches an intended (and realistic) finishing time. The goal is to keep within that pacing range for the entire 26.2 miles. That is much harder than it sounds by the time you reach mile 20.

At the 1994 California International Marathon (CIM) in Sacramento, I learned this pacing principle the hard way. The first 20 miles flew by, nearly 30 seconds per mile faster than my targeted pace. I decided I was having a good day. Ha. I stopped for a cup of water at mile 20 before the bridge leading to the finish at the state capitol, and that was it. I was done running. I walked all the way to mile 25 when a good friend, Paul Fick, kicked my butt (literally) to make sure I shuffled it in with him for the home stretch. I could not lift my feet above the ground. That wall seemed insurmountable! At one point, a guy called out to me from his porch as I hobbled by:

“Dude, you’ll need a new pair of shoes before you finish if you keep that up!”

I did not think that was funny. I was a physical wreck for several days after that race. The experience completely humbled me. I learned that the marathon requires a certain amount of caution and planning. To go out and run with your gut can lead to disaster.

This pacing principle carries over into life. Our life is not a sprint. Yet, most of us today will admit to going too fast much of the time. Even our kids realize this. Technology is stealing our margins and enabling us to do more than our bodies (and brains) were designed for. Like the marathon, if we don’t slow down, eventually, we will crash. I’ve seen it many times over in my tech career. It is not a pretty sight.

One version of this was told by former Google CIO Douglas C. Merrill in his book, “Getting Organized in the Google Era.” Douglas was in charge of taking Google public with their IPO in 2004, where he admitted to overworking and not taking care of his physical needs. He was too busy for that. Despite all the warning signs his body was giving him, it was not until the day Google rang the bell on Wall Street after their IPO that Douglas realized he had crashed. As he told the story in his book, he was getting into a cab on Wall Street with two female colleagues when they looked at him in horror, “as if my eyes were bleeding.” One of them immediately handed him her compact mirror, and he saw that the blood vessels in his eyes had burst and were, in fact, bleeding! In his words, “it was a miracle my brain did not burst.” He took an extended leave from Google after that.

As a life coach, I was trained to improve my clients’ capacity and set a pace they can maintain for the long-term view of their life. It is mostly about easing up on commitments to allow the body time to rest and recover. I found out myself how difficult that can be. Getting “downsized” was not exactly how I would have planned it, but I now look back and view that time as a gift from God. My pace may be slower, but I have confidence in the race plan to finish strong.

The Finish Line
The goal of the marathon is to finish, which requires a singular focus on the finish line. Nothing else matters. All the rewards of your training are waiting for you at mile 26.2. The euphoria of crossing that line is worth all the blood, sweat, and tears you put into getting there. I liken it to running as if you are a racehorse with blinders on. To look at or think about anything beyond the finish is simply a distraction that can cause you to lose concentration and potentially crash. Crossing the finish line turns the whole event into a joyful celebration. As my wife would assert with childbirth, in the end, the prize cancels out the extreme suffering you endured to get there. The victory parade begins, no matter how much you hurt.

I had never felt more joy and satisfaction at the end of a marathon than when my son Matthew and I embraced at the end of the 2016 St. George Marathon (his first!). The tears were flowing. It was a wondrous moment as we bear-hugged each other, drenched in the sweat and pain of our efforts. We savored the victory together. Marathons don’t get any better than that.

War Heroes at the 2016 St. George Marathon (“Finished!”)

War Heroes at the 2016 St. George Marathon (“Finished!”)

The Bible tells us that our finish line in heaven will be even better than that! What awaits us at the finish line of life will be beyond anything we can experience here on earth. My heart’s desire is to cross that finish line strong in this life and hear the words,

“Well done good and faithful servant!” (5)

That euphoria of crossing the finish line into heaven is something I can only wonder about. It will exceed what our minds can only imagine. (6) God has mapped out an eternal destination that defies logic as we understand it. Heaven has turned the tide in my life here on earth. My focus now is solely on that finish line banner. I want to spend every day I have left in preparation for the day when I can cross that line into heaven. I plan to be waxed up and ready to go surfing when my day finally comes.

Marathon Faith
You may be asking how I can be so sure of this. How can we know that we will go to heaven when we die? For me, it boils down to faith. Marathon Faith. Jesus paid the price for our salvation. By simply accepting the free gift of his death on the cross, it is a sure thing. It is that easy.

The Bible is very clear about heaven. There are hundreds of references to what it will be like. The book of Revelation paints a particularly stunning description at the end of the Bible when heaven and earth come together as one. (7) Heaven is as clear a finish line at the end of life as the 26.2-mile banner is to the marathoner. I have my horse blinders on and refuse to think about any other option. Heaven is the finish line that matters. I am planning to come in running strong. It’s getting closer every day. Don’t miss it (8).

As C.S. Lewis once said:

“Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.

————-Footnotes——–

  1. Coach John Blair, a Los Angeles Times Millennium Hall of Fame inductee, was a true innovator in the Corona del Mar High School (CdMHS) running community. Aside from coaching cross country and track at CdMHS for 18 years (1965-1982), Coach Blair pioneered ideas for road running events before 10K, and 5K road races came into being. He started the now famous Corona del Mar Scenic 5k (41 years and running), the “Around the Back Bay in May” race, and also launched the “Newport Beach Runners Association,” which helped inspire the Orange County running boom in the 1970s. He was always out in front on his motorcycle, ensuring the leaders did not miss a turn.
  2. Topically applied dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) was a miracle cure for nagging running injuries for Ed and me back in the 1980s. I still use it to this day and swear by its ability to cure an injury. I’ve had more than one miracle cure from it!
  3. After the 1979 Boston Marathon, officials lowered the qualifying time from 3:00 to 2:50 for men under 40 years of age.
    Source: Boston Marathon – The History of the World’s Premier Running Event, by Tom Derderian (Preface)
  4. Marathoning by Bill Rogers (published in 1982). Bill Rogers won the Boston Marathon four times (1975, 1978-1980) and the New York City Marathon four times (1976-1979).
  5. Matthew 25:23 (NIV):
     “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
  6. 1 Corinthians 2:9 (NIV)
    However, as it is written: “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived” — the things God has prepared for those who love him—
  7. Revelation 21:1-4 (NIV):
    Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
  8. If you are a bit skeptical, I understand! I am the first to admit that the Bible can be pretty difficult to understand. Especially parts of the Old Testament. I have compiled a short list of books that might help. Click on “contact Mike” on surfingforbalance.com

22. “A Lotta Shit . . . ”

“Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”
– Mark Twain

Like the marathon, life can have its challenges after you hit mile 20. That last stretch can hurt!

My 1970s vintage Infinity surfboard now requires a little extra resin and fiberglass between surf sessions. It still rides fine, but it does take a bit more nurturing to keep it afloat after all those years of surfing. My running career has followed a similar path.

It’s naptime for the dog when the ding repair kit comes out.

With all of the miles I have pounded out over the years running marathons, ultra-marathons, and triathlons, I have to confess that my body began to show some wear and tear once I hit my fifties. These days, I know how to doctor things up with a bit of resin and fiberglass (and DMSO) to keep going, but I’d be lying to say that those miles don’t hurt more than they used to. I’m a lot smarter about how to prepare, and I keep my focus on just getting to the starting line and letting the rest take care of itself. You know what they say . . . “If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”

In 2007 I ran a half marathon that was somewhat prophetic in this respect. Here’s the story exactly as it unfolded.

­­

On a seasonably crisp October Monterey morning, I was approaching mile 11 in the Big Sur Half Marathon when my view on life after fifty was jolted. Big Sur is a relatively fast half marathon for time (it does not have the hills, as its name might imply), and it is extremely well-organized for a race of its size (~5,000 runners).

I had run a hard first ten miles and was struggling to regain my focus for the final three, while ignoring the red flares my body was sending me to slow down. I had turned fifty earlier in the year and was intent on proving that I could still run a fast time. Ha!

Oblivious to the serene setting of sailboats moored in quiet coves as we ran along the bike trail in Pacific Grove, I pulled up to a tall and lanky runner who had been in my sights for a couple of miles. He was running hard, so I latched on to his side to keep pace and regain some composure for a strong finish. My time goal was in sight, and I figured this guy could help push me in. We had covered a half mile or so side-by-side when he suddenly blurted out to me:

“How old are you?”

Wait, what? I’m struggling for oxygen, and this guy asks me my age?
This was not a time to be conversing. We were both breathing hard and near the end of our ropes. If I had the grit to initiate anything (and I didn’t), I might have babbled out a one-way, “good job” or “hang tough.”

But, “How old are you?” just hit me wrong.

As we bumped shoulders coming off the bike trail onto the street at Cannery Row for a long stretch of open pavement, I glanced at him. He appeared to be sizing me up, maybe thinking I was a threat in his age division? Finally, I found it in myself to respond, mostly out of the angst of having to say anything at this point of the race:

“Fifty! How old are YOU?”

Fifty-nine, was his immediate reply as we both continued to push the pace on the open street. I was glimpsing the finish line banner less than a mile ahead and decided to put on a final kick to get in. As he slowly faded behind me, I was hit with what seemed like a cannon shot from behind:

“A lotta shit between fifty and fifty-nine!”.

Say what?

He spoke the words with such purpose and conviction that it rattled me. I found myself in a dither as I crossed the finish line, suddenly oblivious of the time I had worked so hard for. Why the heck did he have to say that, and what on earth did he mean?

I stumbled through the finishing chute with the masses of sweaty bodies looking like a lost soldier who had just been hit by mortar fire. As I claimed my platter of free food, none of which looked appealing, I scanned around to ask him what that was all about. He had vanished, and I never saw him again!

I mentioned it to my fellow soldiers at the finish line party, and we all laughed as we guzzled down our hard-earned post-race rewards while listening to the rock band powered by people riding exercise bicycles. Big Sur always has a fantastic finish-line party, and we were, of course, oblivious to the road which lay ahead.


Not a clue [yet] what this guy meant.

Fast-forward nine years to age fifty-nine, I knew exactly what he meant!­

“A lotta shit . . .” pretty well sums it up. Mine started with knee pain, and progressed from there to my back going out on the day before I had signed up to run an ultra marathon. I recovered from that to encounter rotator cuff surgery, which I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy. The list goes on.

That story has become legendary among my running friends as we kid each other about the various ailments we experience while pushing our bodies to untold extremes in various sporting escapades. The running joke (pun intended) when one of us is injured is to say:

“Well, you know, ‘A lotta shit!’”

20. “We Don’t Do Email …”

“Man sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then sacrifices his money to recuperate his health.” 
Dalai Lama

One of my greatest joys in leaving the tech industry was terminating my email account at Oracle. That was another leash I did not mind removing. As a marketing manager, I performed most of my job through email. I managed independent software vendors (ISVs) who ran their software on Oracle systems. These ISVs were all over the world, so emails were flying into my inbox 24 hours a day. I had the weekends to breathe, but as time zones go, Saturday mornings would see emails from Asia, and Sunday evenings, they started flying in from Europe. It was relentless and required constant attention to avoid getting in the hot seat with an important partner.

I love email and what it enables. But I hate it more than I love it. My brain was not made to operate in this way. Even without my tech job, I can’t seem to avoid using email. But I did find a way to keep myself from being enslaved to it. Working at Trader Joe’s (TJ’s) has made all the difference in the world. In my interview, I was told,

“We don’t do email at Trader Joe’s.”

Are you kidding me? How can a company survive in today’s information-driven economy without email?  A Freakonomics podcast titled “Should America Be Run By … Trader Joe’s?”(1) hinted that they are doing quite well without email, and much more, that grocery store chains accept as modus operandi. I believe TJ’s is on to something.

Most of us would agree that society would be better off slowing down and incorporating more rest. Much of the chaos and societal ills we see in the world today can be attributed to our being overloaded. Dr. Richard Swenson nailed it in his 2004 best-selling book about the space that once existed between ourselves and our limits, “Margin”(2). To take away that space is like reading a book without margins. You won’t get very far. That is what is happening today; we are exceeding our limits.

Email is a classic margin-eater. It not only devours our free time, but also creates a continuous 24/7 flow of information that can spew data like a fire hose on full force with nobody holding the nozzle.  A small amount may hit the target, but most is wasted water, causing grief and exhaustion for all involved. We all have experienced how email has transcended into our personal lives and at work. Even a vacation can create a backlog of emails that is enough to make you wish that you never left.  

Yet, we must acknowledge that email is a way of life today. There is no getting around it if you want to accomplish something that involves more than just yourself. Approximately 333 billion emails are sent every day. That’s 3.5 million emails per second!(3) Email is the preferred method of communication in almost all situations.  

An interesting (and humorous) read about how email has impacted the mainstream business world is Dan Lyons’ “Disrupted: My Misadventures in the Start-Up Bubble.” Dan describes how HubSpot, a Boston start-up, was positioning its product as a means of reducing email spam:

“Our spam is not spam. In fact it is the opposite of spam. It’s anti-spam. It’s a shield against spam – a spam condom.” 

Just under forty years ago, none of us were doing email at work. It had not been invented. Looking back now, it was wonderful. Email first found its way into my work environment in the mid-1980s as I launched my high technology career at ROLM Corporation. We worked hard at ROLM without email. Yet when I left the office to come home, I was truly done. My work stayed at the office.

Then IBM purchased ROLM in 1984 and we were introduced to IBM’s PROFS  (Professional Office System), which was IBM’s first email system. Most of us viewed PROFS as a joke. It simply relayed information from IBM corporate, which had minimal impact on my day-to-day duties. It was like reading Morse code intended for the navy when you were in the army.  I could go weeks at a time without checking my inbox and often made fun of those (mostly management) who seemed to spend an inordinate amount of their day doing it.

By the time I left Oracle 25 years later, about two-thirds of my day was spent navigating email. The volume was suffocating. Even in meetings, I was only half-listening as I browsed my “urgent” messages.  Like the Israelites crossing the desert in the Bible, email became a cloud that followed me home and on my vacations. Improvements to the cell phone networks soon delivered email exchanges to my phone. Holy cow, I could send emails while sitting on the KT22 chairlift at Squaw Valley surveying my next ski run down (“Hey Mark, is my tax return ready yet?”).

Transitioning to Trader Joe’s

Leaving Oracle and my email inbox behind was great, but Marla and I still needed to find health insurance for our family. COBRA(4) is expensive! As we explored options, I decided to go into our local Trader Joe’s to complete a job application. No appointment was necessary. The application was quick—it only asked for my high school education.
Ha. This should be fun!

Next thing I knew I was sitting on a milk crate in the back of the store. Amelia (the Captain of the store) asked me a question about when I was available to work.  Our discussion went something like this:

  • Amelia:
    “I think you’re a good fit for Trader Joe’s. When would you be available to work?”
  • Mike:
    “That is complicated for me. Could I send you an email on the days and times?”
  • Amelia:
    “We don’t do email at Trader Joe’s.”
  • Mike:
    “Excuse me?”
  • Amelia:
    “We don’t do email at Trader Joe’s.“
  • Mike [extending my hand to shake]:
    “When can I start?”

Those words were music to my ears. Without a thought, I decided to give it a try. I am coming up on my fifth year at the store and have loved every day of it. When I punch out at the end of my shift, I am content to know that I worked hard to get the job done and can go home satisfied (and tired). Whatever is left behind gets picked up by the next shift. I’m working harder and resting more than I have in a long time. On payday, a TJ’s Mate hand delivers my paycheck with a sincere thank you. It may be missing a digit or two from my tech days, but the culture at TJ’s has won me over. As a life coach, I now understand the value of smiling and laughing all day. This is what I envision work in heaven to be like!

Here are my top ten reasons I like working at TJ’s:

1. “We don’t do email…”
When I enter the store, I turn off my phone. No email. If we need to communicate, we go face-to-face or ring bells. It is refreshing. I have more margin.

2. We’re on a ship.
We’re all at sea on a ship in the South Pacific at TJ’s.  Our jobs are crystal clear to keep our boat on course. One Captain (button aloha shirt), a couple of Mates (different aloha shirts), and the rest of the Crew Members (“Crew Member” T-shirts) communicate by ringing bells that allow us to be “armed to the teeth” to react to our customers’ needs on a moment’s notice.

3. Variety is the spice of life.
Each shift is divided into eight blocks (for each hour). Each block designates a different job in the store for that hour. At the top of every hour, we all switch jobs. In one shift, I work many different jobs to keep the store stocked, organized, clean, and profitable.  It sounds simple (and it is), but it makes my day fly by hand-over-fist, and helps me learn the entire store operation. 
Brilliant!

4. Huddles.
Meetings (called “huddles”) are 5-minute stand-up gatherings in the back galley to communicate important news about keeping things “ship shape” in the store.  No muss, no fuss.  Quick and simple instructions with some good food and grog to sample, and then all hands back on deck to help wow our customers.

5. Fist bumps, handshakes, and hugs.
Every day I get fist bumps, handshakes, and hugs from my fellow crew members at TJ’s, even at the end of a shift when they leave. This surprised me at first. If I were to exhibit this behavior at Oracle, I might end up at the HR office. The first couple of shifts I experienced this, I thought these folks were leaving the company! It does wonders for morale.

6. Happy people. 
Employees at TJ’s are happy, which makes the customers happy. I am happy to work there. It’s “hunky-dory.”

7. Everyone plays.
When I started at TJ’s, I wondered why they hired me. Then I saw others they hired, and I wondered why they hired them! It took me a while to understand their strategy. It’s like AYSO (American Youth Soccer). Everyone plays at TJ’s. They employ people with special needs who work right alongside the rest of us. It gives those individuals a great sense of pride to be a part of the TJ’s crew, and the benefits to all, overall, are huge.

8. Millennials.
Many of my co-workers are my young adult children’s age. They are fun, energetic, and full of interesting insights on life. Most of them have other jobs or school or both. They are all “gung-ho” to make a future. They talk to me like I am one of them. At T’Js, I am.
It’s a kick.

9. Hard (physical) work.
Trader Joe’s business model is all about very high volume to attain very low prices. I soon discovered the considerable amount of physical labor involved in accomplishing that. Like the pyramids in Egypt, it all happens one block at a time. The physical effort to move all that product in the back door and out the front door every day is significant. I walk an average of 4 miles and lift an untold amount of weight every day in the store. I have never felt better. I’m getting paid to go to the gym.

10. Just be you. 
TJ’s tells you they hired you because of who you are, not who they want you to be. So, the word on deck is to “be yourself.”  For those who know me, that is dangerous! I wear shorts and my Hoka’s to work every day. And I love dressing up for the holidays.


Eat. Drink and be Scary at Trader Joe’s

————-Footnotes——–

  1. Podcast: “Should America Be Run by … Trader Joe’s?”
    Replay: https://freakonomics.com/podcast/should-america-be-run-by-trader-joes-ep-359-rebroadcast/
  2. Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives by Richard A. Swenson MD
  3. Source Earthweb: https://earthweb.com/how-many-emails-are-sent-per-day/
  4. “The Federal COBRA Act gives workers and their qualified dependents the right to continue paying for their workplace health insurance if that coverage would end due to a qualifying event.”
    source: https://www.cobrainsurance.com/what-is-cobra-insurance/

19. Surfing Without a Leash

“I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
-Bronnie Ware (1)

While the world’s first microprocessor (2) was catalyzing the personal computer revolution in Silicon Valley, the sport of surfing was forever changed by the invention of the surf leash. I was a sophomore in high school when I first saw a surf leash in action (at Swami’s Beach in Encinitas). I was stupefied! The idea of tying your foot to your surfboard with a rubber cord virtually eliminated any repercussions of wiping out on a wave and losing your board. It quickly became a de facto standard for surfers, which helped drive a significant transformation of the sport over the next decade. Most in the water today have never surfed without a leash.

Before the leash, surfing not only mandated good swimming and paddling skills, but also required a more cautious approach to the wave you were riding. If you fell and lost your board, the backlash could include a long swim in (after some cussing and swearing), paddling back out against incoming waves, and potentially an afternoon in your garage doing ding repair (if rocks or other surfboards got involved). Growing up surfing in the 60s included a lot of swimming, paddling, and ding repair. It was how we learned!

Pat O’Neill, son of acclaimed wetsuit inventor Jack O’Neill, is generally acknowledged for inventing the modern surf leash in 1971.(3) In those days, a lost board at Steamer Lane in Santa Cruz meant almost certain death on the rocks, so it is easy to understand his motivation. The surf leash is also how Jack O’Neill lost his left eye. The early versions were made from a coiled surgical cord that would shoot the board back like a bullet after a wipeout. Ouch! I imagine Jack shouldered his share of, “You’ll shoot your eye out” jokes with that one. (4)

An early version of the surf leash poked out Jack O’Neill’s eye!

The surf leash helped spawn an avant-garde generation of shortboard surfers fashioning a new style of surfing that required minimal foot movement on the board and maximum body language above the waist. Suddenly, the hot surfers were wiggling like a hula-hooper to slash and tear up and down the face of the wave on boards that were barely any taller than they were. There was no penalty for trying something beyond your ability, as you could immediately try it again. The result was a dramatic shift in what became possible on a wave.

Like Intel’s 4044 microprocessor, the surf leash had its skeptics. For those of us who had grown up surfing longboards without a leash in the 60s, this innovation to the sport was not all good news. For many who liked to freely walk up and down the board while riding a wave, strapping on the leash was analogous to attaching a chain and ball to your leg. Mobility on the board was limited, as there was a tendency to tangle with the cord if you did move.

The leash also negated the thrill of trying not to fall while riding a more challenging section of a wave. There were no serious consequences to falling, so why not try something crazy? Kicking out of a wave was a technically advanced skill before the leash (with longboards). With the leash, a swan dive was now just as effective in exiting a wave. I likened it to the safety net for the flying trapeze artists at the circus. The success of any given move did not look so formidable once you realized they weren’t going to die if they fell.

We quickly labeled it the “kook cord,” and agreed among our inner circle not to use it. Most troublesome was the increase in crowds that developed, as nobody had to swim in for their board if they fell. It brought out people at breaks who had no right to be surfing there. Getting outmatched by a wave and paying the price with a swim to shore and paddle back out was not only good tutoring, but also great for those in the lineup waiting for the next set. At a place like San Onofre, it could take thirty minutes for someone who had lost their board to reappear into the lineup.

My daughter Marisa navigating the rock dance with her leash at San Onofre.

However, it soon became apparent that I would lose quickly in the game of improving my surfing if I went without it. That caught my attention. Of course, I wanted to be the best surfer in the water, and there was no denying that the leash gave you more time to ride waves. As soon as I noticed someone pass me by with a new maneuver, I caved in and strapped the shackle onto my ankle.

When wave and crowd conditions allow, I still do sometimes paddle out without a leash. A sense of freedom and excitement immediately washes over me. It’s like removing the seat belt and rolling down the windows in my car on a bluebird day. Caution is in the air, but I feel free as a bird. Nostalgia sets in. This is how surfing was meant to be. There is an excitement of risk in trying to “hang five,” knowing I could lose contact with my board by falling. I can move up and down the board without hindrance or fear of getting tangled. My surfboard becomes a part of me that I hold onto at all costs. The stoke of a long ride without a leash takes on greater joy, lifting me to kick out with a howl. My soul is awakened in the triumph. It takes me back to my roots and reminds me how the ocean has been a part of my growing and learning as a human being. One day I will look back and realize that each fall and subsequent swim to shore was a part of God’s plan for my life.

Taking off the Leash in Life

After 25 years in several high-tech sales and marketing jobs in Silicon Valley (Chapter 12, New Beginnings), I took a year off to complete a rigorous training program with twenty other classmates to become a New Ventures West Integral Coach® (a life coach). At our graduation, we each had a moment to express what those twelve months meant to us. My summation of the twelve months was that it taught me how to surf without a leash. Unleashing from the security of my high-tech job (and paycheck) had provided me the freedom to live a life truer to myself as opposed to the life the world expected of me. I had discovered that riding the Silicon Valley Express train had me so wound up on a daily basis that I had lost track of who I was. I didn’t have time for that!

A big part of learning to be a life coach was learning how to be present. For me, that meant slowing down. A lot.

Amid my busyness, I saw my life passing me by. I was checking off all the boxes to earn a living, support my family, and care for my health. Yet, in that struggle, I had lost touch with who I was. The New Ventures West coaching program provided me the opportunity to paddle out without my leash. A new awareness began to wash over me. It was refreshing and new!

What I had experienced was clarified in a book I read, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing by Bronnie Ware. It is a memoir about Bronnie’s journey to self-discovery, which led her to care for the needs of the dying. Her life was transformed by that experience of tending to those who were in their final days on this earth. I admired Bronnie’s honesty about too many years doing unfulfilling work and how she was able to break that mold to live the life she felt she was called to. It is a simple retelling of how one can learn to listen carefully to our internal compass.

That twelve-month break from the Silicon Valley juggernaut allowed me to experience the liberation of who I was. It was not easy; I fell a lot and still do. Yet learning to enjoy the swim and gaining strength from the paddle back out sharpened my understanding of who I was inside. I learned to listen deeply to what God’s plan for my life is. It is a marvelous and life-changing experience that continues to evolve as I move forward today.

I enjoy trail running in the early morning and often run the same trail (Chamise) each week in Rancho San Antonio, an open space preserve near our house. It is a challenging climb and descent of over a thousand feet with beautiful vistas of Silicon Valley and the Santa Cruz mountains on top. On random days that I can never predict, this same sense of inner consciousness envelops me like a thick fog. Even though I am running, my body slows down to tap into my soul. It is magic. Some call it the runner’s high, but for me, it is different. I am completely removed from the run and not viewing my surroundings. It is a special connection between my body and nature. I come out from it secure in who I am and confident in God’s plan. I learn through it who I am. It brings me great peace. I look at my watch at the run’s completion and acknowledge the stats, but recognize that something much more important took place.

After graduating from New Ventures West, I left my high technology job behind and found a second career at Trader Joe’s.

More on that next!

————-Footnotes——–

  1. “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing” by Bronnie Ware
    Here is a quick recap of the “Top Five Regrets”:
  • I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  • I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
  • I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  • I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  • I wish that I had let myself be happier.

2. The world’s first microprocessor (a complete central processing unit on a single chip) was introduced by Intel in March of 1971 (Intel 4044). This eventually led to the development of the personal computer (PC).

3. According to former world champion surfer Corky Carroll’s article Humble beginnings of surf leash (Orange County Register, January 7, 2012).
https://www.ocregister.com/2012/01/07/humble-beginnings-of-surf-leash/

4. In the 1983 movie A Christmas Story, Ralphie’s request to get an official Red Ryder carbine-action two-hundred-shot air rifle for Christmas is countered by his mother (and Santa Claus) with, “You’ll shoot your eye out!”.

17. Heaven Can’t Wait

“Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”
-Mark Twain

When I first heard about Steve Jobs’ death, I was in the midst of my marketing gig at Oracle OpenWorld in San Francisco (October 5, 2011). It was our annual pilgrimage to shut down Howard Street, bring in the America’s Cup sailboats, and paint San Francisco Oracle red. We needed a couple of iPods for our booth giveaways, so I escaped the madness of the Moscone Center to walk a few blocks in the warm fall daylight to the Apple store near Union Square. I was navigating rush-hour in the city while enjoying the fresh air, when I was stopped cold at a fortress of candles on the sidewalk surrounding the store entrance. Steve Jobs had just died.

Employees and customers were wandering around like zombies, ruminating over the shocking news. It was as if the store needed to cease operations and digest the depth of it all. I even found myself in a state of denial. The suddenness of his passing hit hard. The iPhone 4s had been announced just a day earlier as swarms of techies were buzzing in like bees to honey for a taste of Apple’s latest innovation. And yet the incongruity was that the architect of it all had vanished. No one could quite grasp it.

Without question, Steve Jobs was one of the most remarkable leaders in the history of Silicon Valley. Suddenly, he was gone at the premature age of fifty-six. It was a sonic boom throughout the industry. Silicon Valley was experiencing a Loma Prieta aftershock like never before. We all had to rethink our world without Steve Jobs.

Walter Isaacson’s enthralling biography Steve Jobs was released just a few weeks later. For me, it was a page burner to delve into Isaacson’s account of his life. Jobs and I were born just a month apart, so I was more than curious to hear his story and better understand his genius. In the words of Isaacson, Jobs was the “ultimate icon of inventiveness and applied imagination.(1) He combined artistic creativity with technological innovation to upend the computer industry forever.

Steve Jobs was known to “think differently.” His inventions completely transformed computer design and the user interface. To place his impact into a surfing context would be to compare the influence Bob Simmons had on lightweight surfboard design in the 1940s.(2) Simmons was the first to introduce lightweight foam and fiberglass into surfboard design. Prior to that, everyone was riding 100-pound redwood planks. Nobody at that time could have predicted the shortboard revolution that followed as a result of Simmons’ ingenuity. Surfing was changed forever.

A person holding a phone

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Steve Jobs and the iPhone 11 Pro
(image by unsplash.com)

I was fascinated with how Steve Jobs’ career paralleled the explosive growth of Silicon Valley following the invention of the personal computer (PC). The story of his emergence from the Los Altos garage to co-founding Apple Computers was like reading a Stephen Ambrose war epic on how the battle of Silicon Valley was won. Even his high school days captivated me, including the pranks he orchestrated (I could relate!). Yet, for all those days I spent surfing in high school, Steve was fiddling with computers in his garage, preparing to change the world.

As I devoured Isaacson’s narrative, there was an element of Steve Jobs’ personality that made me uncomfortable and deeply stirred my concern for who he was at the core. At times, Jobs could be a sociopathic monster in his handling of people who seemed to get in the way of where he was trying to go. His unruly antics were well-documented. Some of the stories of him thrashing his people who did not deliver on his expectations were horrific. I think most would agree that he reached the top of the mountain, but it came at an agonizing price to many who worked alongside him. It was a fascinating character study.

Yet, his list of accomplishments were unequaled. A short list of new product introductions in thirty years at Apple speaks to his genius:

  • Apple I, 1976 (Apple II, 1977)
  • Macintosh, 1984
  • iMac, 1998
  • iPod, 2001
  • iTunes, 2003
  • iPhone, 2007
  • iPad, 2010

Despite all this, as I read Isaacson’s account, I could not help but wonder: Was it worth it? At what price did Steve Jobs attain this level of notoriety? How might God judge him? After reading the coming-of-age memoir of Lisa Brennan-Jobs (Small Fry), who was Steve Jobs’ first child, the legacy of his behavior began to show through. Although he was not always willing to admit that she was his daughter, her view of life with him provided insight into the anxieties of coming into the world as an inconvenience to her success-obsessed father. It was a provocative read for all of us to see the stardom Jobs achieved through the eyes of a child.

Steve Jobs did not appear concerned about God. The treasures in heaven did not appear to be on his radar. He experienced acclaim beyond what anyone could have imagined in his quest to deliver products that changed the world.

As Apple became the world’s first company to record a market capitalization of $1 trillion in 2018, much of the credit surely goes to Steve Jobs. According to our world’s definition of success, he did come out on top.

Yet, I would like to propose that there is another side to that coin. What if we evaluate a person’s life with a different standard? What if everything we do here in this life on planet earth has an eternal value? Would that change the way we all view our life today?

Jesus came to tell us that everything we do in this life really matters once we get to heaven.(3) As good as we know heaven will be, there is one significant point that is missing in that discussion: Heaven does not begin when you die—it begins right now. Today.  To put it in Silicon Valley vernacular, it is happening in real-time as you read this. Heaven can’t wait!

Everything We Do in This Life Matters

If your aim is to build a life of enduring significance, this is a momentous point. I lived most of my life without truly grasping it. Having a vision of my future in heaven has rearranged my priorities and clarified my sense of identity. Eternity is motivating me to take this life very seriously. There is a spiritual battle going on today in our world where eternal issues are at stake. The temptation of the evil one is to lure us into complacency to think that it does not matter how you live this life. That is a lie—don’t believe it. What happens in Las Vegas does not truly stay in Las Vegas!

Every day we live on this earth is impacting our life in heaven forever. 

According to research, we can spend up to 90,000 hours at work in our lifetime.(4) In Silicon Valley, that is a grossly conservative estimate based on a 40-hour work week (Ha!). Does it matter how we spend that time? The race I had been running was to do whatever it took in those 90,000 hours to maximize my income so I could hopefully cash out early and start enjoying life. The winners were the ones crossing that line first.

Jesus has a different take. He made it clear that there is a direct connection between what you do in those 90,000 hours and the life you spend in paradise.

 “For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done,” (Matthew 16:27, NIV, emphasis mine).

When we get to heaven, Jesus is telling us that we will be repaid according to how we have lived our life on earth. Even though we are in heaven, and our joy is complete, we will have rewards waiting for us when we arrive. This promise is not an isolated incident in the Bible. There are many examples of Jesus telling us that what we are doing here on earth really matters once we get to Heaven. It is a recurring theme in the New Testament:

  • “Yes, leap for joy! For you will have a great reward awaiting you in heaven,”
    (Luke 6:23,TLB, emphasis mine).
  • “If you want to be perfect, go and sell everything you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven,”
    (Matthew 19:21, TLB, emphasis mine).
  • “Be very glad! for a tremendous reward awaits you up in heaven,”
    (Matthew 5:12, TLB, emphasis mine).

Statements like “leap for joy” and “be very glad” are signs that this topic gets special attention from God. He is keeping track of us as we live our life here on earth. Eventually (when we cross over into heaven), He will reward us for how well we’ve done.

This is not about doing good works on earth in order to get to heaven. The Bible is explicit about that. Going to Heaven is strictly an act of faith—not an act of works. The apostle Paul makes this point quite powerfully throughout the book of Romans in the New Testament.(5) One of the more renowned verses in all of the Bible, which even shows up on the bottom of my In-N-Out vanilla shake cup, states this quite clearly:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life,” (John 3:16, NIV).

It is important to note that this is also not about winners and losers. We are already in heaven, for crying out loud. Everyone will be a winner! But Jesus is clear that there will be recompense waiting when we get there.

Several books have been written on this topic.  One of my favorites is Bruce Wilkinson’s A Life God Rewards, Why Everything You Do Today Matters Forever, which hits it head on. It’s a small book and a quick read.

Wilkinson explains that our beliefs (faith) are what unlock the door to our eternal life in heaven. If we believe that Jesus is who He said He is, we will get to heaven. That is what Wilkinson calls having faith. However, our behaviors are what unlock the door to rewards and determine how we will spend eternity. It is our behavior on earth that will impact the rewards we receive when we get to heaven. And by the way, that part lasts forever. I will admit that when I look at how fast my life here on earth has flown by, this forever part has garnered my attention!

So, what will these rewards in heaven be? What might they look like?

The Greek root of the word rewards is misthos, which translates to “wages.” Jesus appears to be telling us that we are going to get paid for our time here on earth, and that it will have unending value in heaven. It’s almost as if we have a savings account for our good behavior on earth that will pay out when we get to heaven. And Jesus is the one who will sign the check.

In spite of my studies in this area, I am far from speculating what those heavenly rewards could mean. Knowing what I do about Jesus, I feel pretty confident they will be specific to each person and well worth the effort. I like the view American Pastor John MacArthur, Jr. has on it:

“There will be varying degrees of reward in heaven. That shouldn’t surprise us: There are varying degrees of giftedness even here on earth.”

This is having an impact on me now. I am envisioning that a secluded surfing spot with warm water and perfect waves just might be a possibility in heaven. Why not?

As for the behavior God is looking for, Jesus was always on message. It boiled down to one word: love.(6) It seems so simple. It is what the world needs a lot more of today.

The Impact on Silicon Valley

These words rock the life we are living here in Silicon Valley. Jesus came to tell us there is something much greater awaiting in heaven. To put it in surfing terminology, we must learn to paddle against the incoming tide. When I am out at Steamer Lane on a big day the constant push of powerful swells coming toward shore requires constant paddling just to maintain my position in the lineup. Everything around me is going the other way.

In the final few paragraphs of Isaacson’s book (Chapter 42; Legacy: The Brightest Heaven of Invention), Steve Jobs reflected on his death,

“I’m about fifty-fifty on believing in God.  For most of my life, I’ve felt that there must be more to our existence than meets the eye.  But on the other hand, perhaps it’s like an on-off switch.  Click!  And you’re gone.  Maybe that’s why I never liked to put on-off switches on Apple devices.”

Our life truly is a mist that appears briefly, and then quickly fades.(7) I want heaven to be proud of the life I lived here on earth. There will be no penalties—we will be in heaven. Yet, the work each of us is doing in our life here on earth is helping to construct that mansion that God is building for us in heaven. Nothing is ever lost or wasted with God. Everything we do on earth will build on the everlasting life we spend in heaven. Every day really does matter.

In his book The Real Heaven, What the Bible Actually Says (8), Chip Ingram frames this point with a picture of a dot connected to a line:

Your entire life history on planet earth is represented by a dot, and your eternal life in heaven is represented by a continuous line that has no end. So, the question to ask yourself is whether you are living for the dot or for the line?

I would have to admit that I have lived the majority of my life for the dot. It’s a ton of work to paddle against those currents when the world around me is going the other way. I live a constant battle to stay aligned with the instruction Jesus gives us:

 “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?”
(Matthew 16:26, NIV)

Steve Jobs built an empire that left him on top of the mountain in Silicon Valley. It is hard to argue with the success he achieved. He maximized the dot. You might even think of the $5 billion Apple campus in Cupertino (AKA, “the spaceship”) as an iconic symbol of maximizing that dot. It is even visible from outer space!

Apple Park in Cupertino (2.8 million square feet of floor space and 1-mile in circumference)
(image by unsplash.com)

And yet, Jesus came into this world to redefine true greatness. In His kingdom, the least are seen as the greatest. The meek inherit the earth. The servant outshines the ruler. The first end up last and the last are first.(9) Jesus is telling us to focus on the line with no end. Those treasures will last for an eternity.

Heaven can’t wait. It is happening right now.

Playing Maximus in the movie “Gladiator,” Russell Crowe summed it up well:

“What you do in this life echoes through eternity.” 

—-Footnotes—-

  1. Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. Simon and Schuster: 2011.
  2. Bob Simmons was the “mad scientist” who pioneered lightweight surfboard design in the 1940s in southern California and is often credited as the father of the modern surfboard. As a Cal Tech graduate who worked as a mathematician at Douglas Aircraft, he radically changed surfboard design more than anyone else before or since him. As stated on the Surfing Heritage & Culture Center website, “Bob Simmons was the first person to consciously and purposefully apply hydrodynamic theory to create dynamic lift in surfboards; the first one to use fiberglass and resin to strengthen lighter weight boards; and the first one to actually define a surfboard and describe how it works.” Tragically, Simmons died while surfing Windansea Beach in Lo Jolla on a big day in 1954 at the age of thirty five.

    Dad (Jack B Mulkey) was a friend of Bob’s and often referred to him in his memories of surfing Malibu in the 1940s and 1950s. Dad is riding a 10’9″ Bob Simmons Plywood Foam surfboard (called a “Foam Sandwich”) on the cover of this book. That surfboard was a major breakthrough from the Redwood Planks they had been riding, which could weigh over 100 pounds.
    http://www.legendarysurfers.com/2016/11/bob-simmons-1919-1954.html
  3. Jesus came to tell us that everything we do in this life really matters once we get to heaven:
    1. “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven.” (Luke 6:23, NIV)
    2. “You will have a treasure in heaven,” (Matthew 19:21, NIV).
    3. “You will be blessed… for you shall be repaid at the resurrection,” (Luke 14:14, NIV).
    4. “Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven …” (Matthew 5:12, NIV).
  4. Gettysburg College study: One third of your life is spent at work
    https://www.gettysburg.edu/news/stories?id=79db7b34-630c-4f49-ad32-4ab9ea48e72b
  5. “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved,” (Romans 10:9, NIV).
  6. “…The Lord our God is the one and only God. And you must love him with all your heart and soul and mind and strength. The second is: ‘You must love others as much as yourself.’ No other commandments are greater than these,” (Mark 12:28-31, TLB).
  7. Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes,” (James 4:14, NIV).
  8. Ingram, Chip. The Real Heaven, What the Bible Actually Says. Baker Books: 2016.
  9. Luke 13:30; Mark 10:31; Matthew 27:64; Matthew 20:16 (all NIV)
  10. Christian Leaders on Eternal Rewards:
  • Charles R. Swindoll: “…He promises a reward. And we can be sure He will keep His promise.”
  • Jonathan Edwards: “There are many mansions in God’s house because heave is intended for various degrees of honor and blessedness.”
  • Charles H. Spurgeon: “Seek secrecy for your good deeds.”
  • Theodore H. Epp: “God is eager to reward us and does everything possible to help us lay up rewards.”
  • John MacArthur Jr.: “There will be varying degrees of reward in heaven. That shouldn’t surprise us: There are varying degrees of giftedness even here on earth.”
  • John Wesley: “God will reward everyone according to his works.”
  • R.C. Sproul: “If a person has been faithful in many things through many years, then he will be acknowledged by His Master, who will say to him, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant… there are at least twenty-five occasions where the New Testament clearly teaches that we will be granted rewards according to our works.”
  • Billy Graham: “… and the work we have done must stand the ultimate test; final exams come at the Judgment Seat of Christ when we receive our rewards.”
  • Martin Luther: “Therefore, he who does good works and guards himself against sin, God will reward.”

Photo credits on unsplash.com:

13. The 2X4

“Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”
-Proverbs 19:21

My faith and patience were acutely tested following my layoff from Oracle. I was putting in more hours in the job search than I had my job at Oracle, only to be consistently told I did not make the team. This resulted in many questions that seemed to hang in the air and go nowhere. Of course, my age was at the top of the list. A cloud of doubt was setting in. It was like a long lull off the end of the jetty in CdM that never seemed to end. I refused to paddle in. Surely one last set was coming. But the sun was going down and I was getting cold.

In the midst of it all, I reflected on a meeting I had with a close friend, Roger Williams,[i] who was always so positive and confident in how God is at work in our trials. Roger was the President and CEO of the Mount Hermon Christian Conference Center in the Santa Cruz Mountains. He walked through life here on earth with the exhilaration of his salvation as if he were walking on the precipice of heaven. He truly glowed as a living example of how the Scriptures can guide and transform you. Nothing speaks louder to me than a life like Roger’s that has been transformed by what God offers.

Roger Williams

I had met with Roger in October of 2013 while he was in the midst of an arduous struggle with cancer. He continued teaching and providing visionary leadership at Mount Hermon during his battle. Despite it all, he agreed to meet with me in his majestic office amidst the giant Redwoods at Mount Hermon to address specific questions I had regarding my future. I sensed that God was calling me to a ministry around a balanced life in Silicon Valley and knew Roger could help guide me. Although it was a challenging time for him with his declining health, we spent over two and-a-half hours that evening. Roger spoke with intensity and delight that I can’t quite do justice with words. It was as if our meeting had been ordained by God.

My direct question to him was,

“Roger, how had you known that it was God calling when you gave up your successful business career and beautiful home to go into ministry?”

Roger did not hesitate; his response was crystal clear. He told me that God had quite simply hit him over the head with a 2×4 when his calling arrived. It was obvious. There was no mistaking it. “You will know for sure when it happens to you,” he told me.

And after hearing the specifics of his story around his calling to serve, I had to agree. A 2×4 had hit him! I left that meeting with a great sense of relief and drove over the summit on Highway 17, thankful for such lucid advice from such a dear friend.

My 2X4

Suddenly, Roger’s wisdom rang out to me; there was no mistaking the 2×4. The cloud of doubt was lifting; it was all suddenly quite clear. I began to see that I had been hit multiple times!

My layoff from Oracle hit me with the power of a steel 2×4. It shook my foundation. But was that God? In pursuing the job search and taking classes from the outplacement firm, I sensed that my heart was not fully in the work I was seeking. The fear of unemployment was driving me. The bills were still coming in and I needed to work!

Then two more 2×4s descended onto my head that finally rang my bell. God was calling.

The first was a job opportunity I pursued at a data storage company in downtown Mountain View, PureStorage. The stars had finally aligned, and I felt like this was the job for me. I had twelve interviews and two presentations to their executive staff over a couple of months. It had been all-consuming and appeared to be a perfect fit. From everything I could see, they liked me. They targeted the Oracle database customers as a new opportunity and needed a seasoned marketing professional to navigate Oracle’s myriad of product teams, organizations, and technology. I could even walk to the office from home.

In the end, I had to call them to find out they had hired someone else. That was a Muhammad Ali shot straight to the forehead. I was on my back.

Feeling quite dazed and discouraged, a good friend set me up to meet with a senior executive from a venture capital company on Sand Hill Road who worked with Silicon Valley start-ups. Surely, he could set me straight on how to land a marketing job in this valley. We met outdoors at Philz Coffee in Palo Alto, and I will never forget the first words out of his mouth (beyond the niceties):

“You’ll never get hired in this valley.”

I gurgled my sip of coffee, almost getting it down the wrong pipe.

“Uhum. Excuse me?”

He had not even looked at the manila folder I had handed him with all my good deeds. I was utterly flabbergasted and did not know what to say. My sales pitch was gone. The wind had gone out of my sails. No waves were coming. The sun had set. I might as well paddle in.

His next sentence provided clarity, but still hung in the air like the Hindenburg poised to explode into flames:

“The average age of a CEO [start-up] in this valley is just over 30 years, and they are not going to hire you.”

That was the only time I did not finish my Philz coffee. I had plenty of adrenaline running through my veins already. And the buzz lasted for days. That 2×4 settled it. Roger was right; there was no question.

Hanging 11

With a serious dose of faith that the bills would get paid and much patience that I could wait twelve months to start, I enrolled in a 1-year training program to become a professional life coach (a New Ventures West Integral Coach). This set a path for me to transition my career from high-tech marketing to helping others navigate work/life balance challenges in Silicon Valley. It was a job made in heaven for me to go on a mission of self-discovery for my future. I was stoked!

New Ventures West (NVW) had the most advanced training curriculum available, with a seasoned faculty known for their wisdom and experience. I needed the best to effectively lead people in a discussion about balancing priorities in Silicon Valley. It felt right. I was sure God was directing me.

That year was a fantastic transformation of my self-identity as I looked deep inside to find my passage forward. I was coached in the class (by instructors and fellow students) to understand the experience my clients would have. That meant learning to slow down and listen with my heart about what was going on inside. It was quite uncomfortable for someone who had been riding the express train in Silicon Valley for twenty-five years. My world had been all about going faster, not slower. But I could feel it was right. I was finally on a path I could follow with my heart. It was life-changing stuff. To put it in surfing terms (as one of my classmates described it), I was learning to “Hang 11!”


Epilog on Roger Williams

  1. [i] Roger went to his heavenly home on September 14, 2014, succumbing to cancer that he called “his insidious dance partner.”  His passing came just a few days after his 21st anniversary at Mount Hermon. Praise God for the gift I was given that day to be with Roger and drink from the deep well of wisdom he offered.

    Our family would spend a week each year with Roger and his team at the Mount Hermon family camp at Lake Tahoe. Most memorable of those trips were the summer evenings we spent singing worship music and taking communion on the shore’s edge of Lake Tahoe. Watching the sunset paint brilliant colors onto the surrounding lake and mountains, our family sang praises to God for the beauty of his creation. The love and joy Roger always showed us left an indelible impression on me. 

    While I was very sad to lose Roger as a friend and mentor here on earth, I feel closer to him than ever and rejoice in the thought of joining him in heaven. Roger was one of the first people to get me excited about heaven. He spoke of it as if he had been there. I can still hear his voice calling out to us on the shore’s edge as the sun was painting its portrait:

    “Folks, we can count on God’s promise that heaven will far surpass this beauty we see now.

    If you think the colors are good now – wait till you see them in heaven.

    If you think the sunsets are good now – wait till you see them in heaven.

    If you think this is a beautiful place to live now – wait until you see it REDEEMED in heaven!”

    Roger Williams (1947-2014)
Lakeside dance party at the Mount Hermon family camp at Lake Tahoe (Circa 2002)

Roger’s family posthumously published a book by him that he had been working on before his passing. The book showed up on our kitchen counter one night when I had arrived home late after the family had gone to bed. I had not known about it and was stunned! I could only wonder that Roger had ensured its delivery to comfort me. That very night I had been teaching a group of young adults at our church on the topic of “Heaven” and had been questioning myself the entire drive home as to my qualifications to do so. The title of the book is:

 Hearing From Heaven: A Memoir of God At Work At Mount Hermon
by Roger Williams

12. New Beginnings

“Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter”.
–Mark Twain

As much as I had been anticipating it, I was seriously wounded when the words finally came. After 25 years of continuous employment in Silicon Valley, the layoff bullet I had been dodging for so many years finally caught me in January of 2017. The official explanation was “corporate downsizing.” The ensuing farewell email went out that day with the title, “new beginnings.” (1)

New beginnings, for sure!

I had been through the corporate downsizing exercise more times than I wanted to count. Once the dot com bubble burst in 2000, layoffs at Sun Microsystems had become a drumbeat that never seemed to end. (2) I am reminded of a Gary Larson The Far Side comic where one deer says to the other (who has a bulls-eye on his chest):

Bummer of a birthmark, Hal!”

Every six months, we were paraded in front of management for a closed-door session to see whose turn it was to pack their boxes and leave. It was as if we were lined up for a firing squad and didn’t know whose gun had the bullet. The layoff meetings had become so commonplace that one manager actually read me the official “You’re fired” script in a closed-door session, only to pause, and then tell me he was kidding!

What!?

At least I knew how it was going to feel when I finally did get the gun with the bullet. Thinking it over after, I was sorry I hadn’t fallen to the floor and feigned a heart attack!

All hoodwinking aside, it was my turn to hear the official news from my boss. I waited for the pause, but he was not kidding. Leaving the meeting left me feeling as if I had a bold “L” tattooed across my forehead (“Loser” or “Laid off,” take your pick). As the official script read, it had nothing to do with my performance, age, or even my regular use of the corporate gym. I had finally woken up in the wrong job with the wrong product at the wrong time. I shuddered at the thought of not having a job to go to tomorrow. It was another “green flash” moment. The world stopped turning as I walked down the hall back to my office.

At 62 years of age, it was time to go job hunting. I decided to write about it as a means of coping with the ordeal. According to the outplacement firm Oracle Corporation provided to ease my transition, this was good therapy. (3)

Hired at Sun Microsystems: April 1, 1999
Laid off at Oracle Corporation: January 19, 2017

The goodbyes of that final day were memorable and many. I usually started my day in the cafeteria, where Mary, Julia, and several other faithful servers had become an important part of my work routine. Although there are no free meals at Oracle, I would miss those folks.

I dropped in on those few on my team who were left behind to defend the fort. There were lots of hugs and a few tears. Ricarda stopped by my office with her cheery “Buenos Dias!” to empty my trash as I was packing my final box. Knowing my limited Spanish, she understood immediately when I motioned the cutthroat sign to her. I handed her one of my plants, and she showed great compassion.

My good friend Steve Sarvate and I snuck out to our private court for a final round of tennis on the Oracle clock. He lost his entire team in the layoff (including his manager), but somehow survived. (4) As I bid farewell to the Club Oracle recreation center staff, I was reminded how my officemates could not understand how I found time to go to the gym each day. I would reply that I could not understand how they could not! It made an incredible difference in my productivity and attitude at work.

Tennis partners on the Oracle clock

As I was walking out to the parking lot with my boxes, the looks I got from those left behind brought back fresh memories of the times I had been in their shoes. The sense of guilt over why you dodged the bullet was disconcerting. My work did not disappear; they would soon be bearing the burden of picking up the pieces.

It was an emotionally draining day. Despite trying to be present amid the farewells, I could not help but wonder about my future. A Silicon Valley marketing job would not be easy to land if you were unemployed at my age, no matter how good you were. I’d been told I should try a little Grecian Formula on my hair and maybe a pair of cool-looking eyeglasses.

OK.

The drive home was a bit more upbeat. Windows rolled down with the sunroof open, there was a feeling of release creeping in on me. The breakup with Larry Ellison was not something I would lose sleep over. I was sensing that this could be good. Maybe even great!

The family and I decided to head straight to the theater for an early showing of the Disney movie Moana, which turned out to be the perfect anecdote to the day. It opened with a short film called Inner Workings, which immediately spoke to me. It followed Paul’s internal organs (brain, heart, lungs, stomach, etc.), a man living in 1980s California, as he awakened on a typical day of work with dozens of other employees sitting at desks entering data into their computers.

They were moving in monotonous unison while his brain took notice of the dreary routine of his life and came to realize that this cycle would eventually lead to his death as a sad, miserable, lonely man. No surprise that Paul looked to be my age. Ha! It was as if God was suddenly waking my internal organs into a new life, I was stepping off the Silicon Valley treadmill for the first time in years. It was refreshing. Best of all, I could now paddle out at Steamer Lane mid-day during the week.

Yeehaw!

Life carried on, even though my job had stopped. In so many ways, nothing changed (including the bills!). For 25 years, I had gone to work. I was lost with nowhere to go. It was clear that I needed a plan. Having my calendar wide open was not the good thing it used to be. I quickly realized the importance of keeping myself busy to stay in a healthy state of mind. Surely, I could land on my feet. All those years of fighting the good battle in the valley of infinite silicon did teach me a thing or two. Work/life balance had been my creed, but I also knew how to handle combat. I was not afraid of digging into a fox hole for a frontline battle to find work.

There were days of melancholy. I lacked purpose and realized my job had been how I measured my value. It was humbling. I wanted to make some changes there. Like Paul in the movie Inner Workings, my perspective had changed, and I was afraid of what might lay ahead. It was as if I had been on an express train for 25 years blowing by all of the stops with complete focus on the destination. Suddenly the train had stopped, and I got off. It was unfamiliar territory for me.

The good news was that I had sufficient daily margin to enjoy a rich time of prayer and meditation, every day. I sensed that God had plans for my passion around work/life balance; it was exciting to think about what might unfold. I knew this time away from the daily routine of work was a gift and I wanted to use it wisely. I studied John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success for encouragement. At the very pinnacle were the two words I committed to stand by:
– Faith (Through prayer.)
– Patience (Good things take time.)

As I faithfully waited on God, I recited a prayer each morning by Saint Ignagius Loyola. (5) Its simplicity and purpose was just what I needed to start each day:

“Lord Jesus Christ.
All that I have and cherish, you have given me.

I surrender it all to be guided by your will.
Your grace and your love are enough for me.
Give me these Lord Jesus, and I ask for nothing more.
Amen.”


Footnotes:

  1. Email sent to my co-workers at Oracle on January 19, 2017 (3:51 pm):

    Subject: new beginnings

    I will be leaving Sun/Oracle effective today — time for new beginnings!
    It has been my very great pleasure to work with you all.
    THANK YOU — especially to Vijay Tatkar, who has been my inspirational & loyal leader these past few years.
    I look forward to staying in touch with you going forward.


    Mike Mulkey

  2. When Oracle Corporation purchased Sun in 2009 (for $7.4 Billion), it was another scramble to justify your existence to the new CEO, Larry Ellison. We were all on the chopping block. I was an Alliance Manager for a strategic partnership Sun had with Intel Corporation at the time. The first meeting with the then-President of Oracle Safra Catz did not go well. She began the meeting by dropping the strategic partnership agreement between Sun and Intel on the table and asking, “What is this shit?”

  3. One of my inspirations to write this book was author William Finnegan, who wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning Barbarian Days at about my same age. Barbarian Days was his story of a life-long obsession with surfing after a long career as a well-known author of international journalism. In his words, “I was reluctant to come out of the closet as a surfer because of how I would be perceived as a writer.” Barbarian Days is a remarkable collection of surf stories from his escapades of traveling worldwide from the 1960s up to the present day. What makes his book so remarkable is that it is very well written. Finnegan debunks that myth that surfers are not good writers with a detailed analysis of every surf spot he sees (including San Onofre) in a way that makes it attractive to even a non-surfing audience. Thus, the Pulitzer Prize. Of course, he’s now my hero.

  4. Steve Sarvate lasted another two years at Oracle before getting laid off himself. He sold his home in Sunnyvale and moved to an apartment in San Francisco. Once the pandemic hit, we had a couple of zoom calls to check in on each other. He passed away of a heart attack in 2021 on a tennis court in the city while waiting for a game. Steve read all of my blogs on surfingforbalance.com, and I rest in the comfort that he knew (and often debated with me) the truth of Jesus Christ.

  5. Saint Ignatius Loyola was a sixteenth-century Spanish Catholic priest who founded the religious order of The Society of Jesus (The Jesuits).

11. Lessons for The Grandchildren

“Mike, it all boils down to preparation, details and work, work, work . . . Everything the man says makes so much sense that I can’t believe so few coaches have followed his philosophy. I suspect because it involves too much work.”

–Kona Jack, reflecting on Coach John Wooden’s “Pyramid of Success”

Surfing Malibu circa 1949 on a Simmons Foam Sandwich
(photo by Doc Ball)

If there ever were a perfect sunset, Dad (A.K.A. “Kona Jack”) surely would have seen it over his 27 years at the Keauhou Kona Surf and Racquet Club on the big island of Hawaii. It was a nightly ritual for him to collect with neighbors on the shore’s edge to stare down the sun as it dipped into the royal blue Pacific Ocean. As the glazed orange ball reached its final glimmer, all eyes were peeled for a “green flash” at the horizon’s edge as a final tribute to the day. With the curtain closing and the skies darkening above, Dad would always have a conclusive comment to abruptly move everyone out of their reverie so he could go about his evening:

“Ah, another day in paradise!”

Dad passed on the night of a full “Strawberry moon” in 2016 on Father’s Day (1). I was on my bicycle en route to work at Oracle when the call from my sister Terry came in. In a flash, the world stopped turning. It was monumental. Life would never be the same. I had known it was coming, but could not fathom the feelings that surfaced.

Dad was a man’s man, and I lucked out by being his boy. Life with Dad just happened. We didn’t talk things out. We mostly just hung out doing things guys do together, primarily around sports and exercise. He taught me most of what I know about surfing, skiing, and tennis. I don’t mean that he instructed me; that definitely was not Dad. He was about being together and doing whatever it was we were doing; not much needed to be said. Later in life, I realized what I had learned from him. I wouldn’t trade that time for anything. He taught me how to truly relax and enjoy life. That was my most valuable lesson from him.

I am looking forward to heaven. That is also a nice way of saying that I look forward to dying; that’s OK with me. My faith is firm in the truth of a glorious life in heaven awaiting us for eternity. Keep reading; we will soon be surfing in heaven!

The Bible is crystal clear on the joy and peace that await those who place their faith in Jesus. I don’t know if that includes Dad. I communicated to him how simple it would be to accept Jesus into his heart. On my last visit with him in Kona I was able to share my Christian faith. We watched a video together to get him thinking about heaven. He did not say much, but appeared receptive to what I was saying. It rests in God’s hands.

I often dream about being reunited with Dad in the prime of his life in heaven. It would be a wonderous homecoming. I imagine, of course, he is going to say,

“Michael, let’s go surfing!”.

Until then, I hope that I can have as much of an influence on people as Dad did on his friends and family. Somehow, Dad seemed to rub off on everyone, including people he would seemingly completely ignore. Everyone who knew Dad would agree that he left a mark that won’t soon be forgotten.

Following are a few of the areas from Dad’s legacy that his grandchildren should take note of. I like to think of it as passing the baton to Marisa, Matthew, Brennan, and Hayley. These are all quite simple—not anything that would surprise those who knew Dad. But the combination of them together is what sets Dad apart. He lived each one of them to the fullest.

“Six lessons for the grandchildren,” from Kona Jack:

1 – Keep your sense of humor.

This may be the single most important of all!

Dad was hysterical with his many dry and humorous comments that always seemed to come when you least expected it. He had a fantastic wit and was not afraid to use it on anyone. Most importantly, it didn’t wane at all as he launched into some challenging times in his eighties. Dad was a walking comedy act that I appreciate now more than ever.

On my last trip to Kona (before he passed), I had come to assist him after he took a severe spill walking down the hill from the KTA market with a full bag of groceries (in his flip-flops!). He was quite bandaged up head to toe and not moving too well when I arrived. His first comment to me was:

“I’ve lost my swagger, Michael.”

I couldn’t have said it any better.

His first request was to drive into town for a haircut at his regular barber. I had been there many times. As we approached the barbershop, Dad shuffled slowly in as a customer held the door open and patiently waited for him to get by. The guy was looking at him and his bandages with obvious curiosity and sympathy (along with everyone else) when suddenly, out of nowhere, Dad looked up at him and blurted out,

“You should see the OTHER guy!”

The man holding the door was pausing to process what the heck Dad was talking about when it hit me as I was taking a seat. I was laughing so hard that I almost started to cry. Dad just shuffled up to the barber chair and sat down as if nothing had happened. The barber knew him well and took it in stride as he began dressing him for his haircut.

Dad was not a letter writer, but he was famous for his sticky notes on stuff he would send you in the mail. Often, they were written on a card or piece of paper that he would reuse. Here’s one he wrote on an article he sent me:

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


Another sticky note 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.”

This one was written 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.

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

A key to Dad’s long and physically active life was his ability to sleep anywhere at any time. He regularly took two naps a day and never (that I remember) had a hard time getting a full night’s sleep. I will never forget one incident on the day Marla and I got married. I came into the bedroom to get the tuxedo on and found him flat on his back, taking a nap. I thought he was kidding at first, but with his hearing aids out, I could hardly wake him up!

Dad’s sleep habits also seemed to counterbalance his daily nutritional habits, which were not healthy by any standard. He should have written a book on how to live a long and healthy life while eating and drinking anything you want.

My favorite story was the trip we took back to Kona from Queens Medical Center in Honolulu after surgery to install a stent in one artery. The surgeon had ordered him on a low-fat, low-sodium diet and told him not to lift anything over ten pounds for two weeks. He repeated the last one three times! We were driving back to Dad’s place from the Kona airport when he had me stop at one of his favorite restaurants along the way (“Michael, pull over here!”). I was not surprised when he ordered a giant schooner of draft beer and a large plate of french fries. Of course, he salted the fries heavily and covered them with ketchup.

Picking my words carefully, when I mentioned that the schooner probably weighed over ten pounds (deciding to ignore the rest), he looked at me like I had gone mad. I will never forget that gaze as he held the giant glass mug with both hands visibly shaking as he lifted it to his lips. It was as if I had threatened to turn off his air!

And, of course, there was Dad’s infamous grocery list. Here’s one 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, Snickers bar.

On a thank you note he sent Terry, he outlined what would likely happen to him 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.”


Surely, he slept better than ever that night!

3 — Keep life simple.

Dad’s bathroom towel rack was draped with one pair of swim trunks for each day of the week

Everyone who knew Dad was envious of how he had simplified his life. He had boiled his world down to the bare essentials. He should have won an environmental achievement award for having the lowest carbon footprint in the state of Hawaii. We all have a lot to learn from him in this area.

On the day I took dad to Los Angeles airport for his move to Kona from Newport Beach (Park Newport apartments), I came to the shocking realization that he was serious about simplifying. He told me he had sold everything for the move, including his car. When he got into my car with a single (small!) suitcase for his flight and nothing else, it hit me.

Huh?

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

His quick reply:

“This is it, Michael. I got rid of everything.”

And he stayed that way. Dad never succumbed to a life of possessions and complexity. Including never again owning a car. His unit #29 at the Keauhou Surf & Racquet Club was a perfect example of that. A couple of $3.99 plastic Wal-Mart chairs around a $4.99 plastic Wal-Mart table was the only furniture he needed. He didn’t seem to mind that we all had to stand around to talk with him when we visited. I think he liked that you would never stay long if you didn’t have somewhere to sit. I tried to buy him a Lazy Boy chair several times to help him get his feet up.

“If I want to lay down, I’ll just go out to the pool!” he quickly shot back.

Good point.

Dad’s fantastic ability to keep life simple and avoid the stress attached to the things we accumulate was genuinely something to be admired. Here’s another note he wrote us on the back of his race number for the Keahou 5K run, effectively reusing the race number as a notecard:

“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 solid tennis well into his eighties!

One quality that most influenced me was Dad’s example with consistent exercise throughout his entire life. This was one of the few areas where he did offer advice as we were growing up. Dad believed exercise was a true fountain of youth, whether it was his tennis, surfing, skiing, or even jumping rope in the living room. And he was living proof that it worked!

This note on the back of a reused Christmas card says it all:

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.

Everyone who knew Dad agreed that he set the stage for enjoying life. Whether it was a brilliant Kona sunset, cold beer, or a well-played football game on TV, he enjoyed it to the fullest and let everyone around him know. It was a fun quality of his that I miss a great deal. Dad never let work distract him from taking pleasure in life and kept a keen eye on those who did the same. No question that a part of this has propelled me into the work/life balance coaching arena.

Here’s an insightful comment he made about 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!”

Dad was not a complainer. Later in life, when the speed bumps (as he called them) started showing up, he would still find pleasure in the midst of it. Don’t get me wrong; he let you know if he didn’t like something or if something had not gone well. He never dwelled on it and soon was making light of it after.

When we made a trip back to Queens Medical Center in Honolulu for his bladder cancer surgery, he had to carry a catheter bag with him along the way. I could not believe how he kept his spirits up and maintained a sense of humor about it all. I was cringing at the sight of him carrying the catheter bag when we came to airport security and he (of course!) got pulled aside for the complete shakedown treatment by the TSA agents. He kept looking at me with an “are you kidding me” look on his face as they patted him down.

“I need a beer Michael,” was his first comment as he rejoined me. I’ll never forget that beer. He took a long draw from the cold, wet mug, and belted out:

“Ahhhhh, that’s a good one, Michael.”

I was looking at him and wondering how he possibly could be enjoying a beer right now? Yet he savored it as if it was going to be his last!

6 — It’s OK to be sentimental.

West Hawaii Veterans Cemetery in Kona, Hawaii

The family all knew about Dad’s goodbyes. They were painful for those of us who were trying to leave from a visit with him. I dreaded it every trip, as he always fell apart and started to cry when it was time to say goodbye. My last trip over was the worst of all. It was as if he knew he would not see me again, finally just telling me to leave.

The point I think he would make for the grandkids is not to hold your emotions in, but to let them out. I wish I could be more like that. Here are a couple more of his sticky notes as evidence.

This one is regarding a blog I had written about my San Onofre experience with him growing up:

“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 outgrow my sentimentality, which I for sure inherited from my father.”

In the mid-80s, Dad had taken a three-week solo trip to Australia in which the airline (Quantis) lost his luggage on the flight over. We were surprised to find a detailed daily journal he kept from that trip where he periodically lamented over the loss and its impact on his emotions. His final entry in the journal:

“Checked with Qantas 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 (not reused) he sent me shortly after college (early ‘80s):

“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.

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”


Footnotes:

  1. All told, dad’s life was a bit of a fairy tale. The “strawberry moon” on the day of his passing is the nickname for June’s full moon, which coincides with the summer solstice. According to AccuWeather.com, the last time these two phenomena coincided was back in 1967, and it won’t happen again until 2062. I would venture to guess that it has been even longer since it fell on Father’s Day.

    Dad passed away just four months shy of his 90th birthday. He had just spent Father’s Day with his daughter Terry, and her husband, Bob Hankenson. They went out for his favorite meal of fish and chips and his favorite cocktail, a Rob Roy served “up with a twist.” To top it off, sitting on the table in his dining room was the day’s crossword puzzle in the Honolulu Advertiser with every box filled in!