The memory I recounted in my post Assembly, Part 1, about my Dad putting together a pocket watch for me is not a particularly strong one. In fact, it’s like an alternative recall that really doesn’t come readily to mind. For one thing, there’s not that much action in it, and certainly nothing approaching anything like real drama. Just a quiet moment in a temporary home, years ago, in the distant past.
I didn’t ask for a gift that morning and I had no idea one was coming my way. Like a faint shadow on old paint, it’s there to remind you if your eye happens to fall on it while you’re thinking about or doing something else.
For me, I have similar experiences sometimes while listening to music during long drives in my car. I hear the music, but I am focused on the road and other traffic. One of those melodies can suddenly appear front and center in my consciousness days later, and I am left with some chord structure or arrangement in endless mental repetition. The bad ones we call earworms, annoying feedback loops of muzak that would be better eaten by birds.
But the good ones turn out to be deeply meaningful rhythms and songs. The memory of that pocket watch is like one of those tunes that just floats up, and vibrates your awareness with some subtle resonance. You may not realize you have been so jolted for days afterwards. And so I’ve learned that listening without focus allows me to hear interesting things.
Our childhood memories of our parents are full of such latent images and feelings. If our lives are like houses building up from foundations, then our basement walls are covered with these kinds of archetypical sketches. They effectively form baselines against which everything is compared and measured, whether we are paying attention or not.
Our vignettes are therefore baked in our cakes.
Often they might be just too subtle for us to pay attention to, at least initially. We’re simply too busy with what’s happening right here, right now. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. After all, when you are speeding down that highway of life, you have to be in the moment and always be prepared to steer defensively or seize opportunities.
Not that there is anything wrong with that…
For example, I can’t remember thinking once about that pocket watch during my times at Olcott International during 1993 and 1994. My preoccupation then was with my occupation then, so to speak, which just so happened to feature the very same character of my foggy distant parable – my Dad Bernard Olcott.
At the time, I knew something was off; the dissonance I was feeling was too great. Out of professional prudence, I took to writing entries in a personal log about these events with a view to revisiting them sometime in the distant future.
But surely, in the back of my mind, was a lurking question: where exactly was the man who built that pocket watch for me? Twice, as it turns out, since his first effort was unsuccessful. The man who kept trying, on my behalf, until he got it right. On something I didn’t even know I was to receive but was to always treasure. The man who took me to the heights of the heliport.
So back to 1993-1994. These were the events washing up on my shore that I needed to step around like dead jellyfish:
THE LAST INCH: On January 11, 1993, Steve, Bob, Peggy, and I had decided that the computer network age had arrived. Up to that date, we were sharing a printer by way of a hardware box with a dial. All of our PCs were tethered to that switch. In order to print a document, we had to get up, turn the dial to our setting, and then run the print command from our individual PCs.
We had decided to get a network cable and router to which the printer would be permanently connected without a manual switch. Real future-world stuff. The most challenging part was to drill a few holes to run and then connect the cables. I remember Steve drilling the last hole near the router and he had less than an inch to go when Dad inexplicably stopped him.
“Wait for Dave Murphy,” he commanded. Steve and I looked at each other quizzically. That meant forever because Dave was the overworked handyman who almost never showed up when expected due to the constantly reoccurring death of his mother. The job had less than an inch to go! The drill thus confiscated, I took a nail and a hammer and punched out the remaining section to complete the task.
THE STRING ALONG: On March 2, 1993, Becky Crescent of Photonics Corporation, a major client, called up to ask when the Trade Mark data conversion job was expected to complete. I decided to research this in greater detail privately. The task had not even been started due to a never-ending contract dispute between Dad and Bob.
Furthermore there was no Plan B by way of an alternative conversion method or assignment of a programmer to do the job. Becky called the office once every month or two for the next 1½ years and was never given a satisfactory answer. Finally, in late 1994, Photonics gave its notice that they were leaving. Photonics was Bob’s customer and we paid annuities on behalf of hundreds of thousands of patent owners. But still. Gevalt!
FAKE NEWS: One of our best clients was Thermaline Oil. On June 8, 1993, Paul mentioned to me that Dave Beckman, Thermaline’s Patent Counsel had asked some specific questions about Trade Mark law. Inexplicably, Dad had ordered Paul to give Dave wantonly incorrect answers. Horrified, I asked Paul what he did. Paul smiled, and said he disregarded my Dad’s advice and gave Dave the correct info he asked for.
WE TOLD YOU SO: The next day, a huge argument broke out in the computer department. It was Dad vs. Yoshi, Steve, Peggy and Art, a programmer who hadn’t finished his work, quite probably because his assignment had changed every day. One of those tasks was to build a report feature despite the complete absence of supporting tools in the Clarion environment at the time. “Why didn’t you tell me it couldn’t be done?” Dad bellowed. “Mr. Olcott, we did tell you it couldn’t be done,” Yoshi argued back, standing his ground.
BILL ME: Sadly, the sight of Dad becoming agitated in the office was a frequent one. One day on May, 1994, after another episode, he went outside to drive somewhere and he ended up sideswiping my car. He was noticeably embarrassed afterwards when he came in to tell me that he had hit my car. “Bill me,” he asked me sheepishly.
At least he came in to tell me nicely. And he was good to his word with the reimbursement.
PATENT APPLICATIONS in China have payable annuities, unlike, for example, the United States (for some reason I’ll never know). This was the kind of stuff that Dad prided himself on knowing. Especially since “dumb bastards” didn’t. Inexplicably, on July 19, 1994, he got into a knock-down, drag-out with Steve, taking the odd position that they weren’t payable.
Everyone can be misunderstood from time to time. However, it was the virulence and vitriol in Dad’s argument that was truly disheartening to me.
E-MAIL WILL NEVER BE USED FOR BUSINESS: On August 4, 1994, I had this altercation with my Dad already featured in an earlier post. Even though he had no idea what e-mail was, he refused to listen to explanations from either Yoshi or me.
All client and personnel names have been changed.
Lamentable tales of archetypes superseded by age and rage. You were certainly caught in the cross-fire, my fellow post-Choatie. Not only in the cross-volleys between the bickering stubborn boss and business-owner and the rest of the office, but also in the painful cross-currents — of filial frustration and love — of seeing a hero outlive his heroism with that fallen idol being your father. A striking balance of the sad and sublime to plumb the depths of human nature. Many thanks.
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Hopefully, writing this blog has been very therapeutic for you. Did you ever note any pattern to your Dad’s agitated states?
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A small yes and a large no – to your comment about therapeutic benefit for me personally.
Obviously venting is a release of sorts. And I do get some comments where readers wanna know “how I really felt.”
But I am writing this blog with a view to engage the reader and get them to click the “Read More,” “Like,” and “Comment” buttons. I am persuaded that if I were to write a purely “therapeutic” story, I would have an audience of one — myself.
So there’s a lot more in my stories. There are places and historical contexts that I think many people can relate to. And then of course the personalities; I think everyone knows someone kinda like my Dad.
I do hope to provoke a discussion about mental health and how my Dad could have been helped in a much better way. Please refer to Patrick Kennedy’s book “A Common Struggle.”
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I do find your blogs to be informative in terms of historical contexts, places, etc. And, the photographs enhance the reader’s experience. (It is apparent when you were writing this story you were “in the flow.”) We cannot deny we are molded by our parents and our experiences; as you mention, this becomes our point of self-reference when interacting with others.
It is apparent your Dad suffered from some type of mental or mood disorder. Just curious, was he prone to bouts of mania or was his demeanor consistent? As I read briefly, Patrick Kennedy’s condition was exacerbated by substance abuse including alcohol and prescription meds. Was this at all the case with your Dad?
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His demeanor was consistently inconsistent. Meaning there was no pattern I could discern. Dad liked his Rye Whiskey but strictly after work. Good to see you looked at Patrick’s book!
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