I guess solutions to problems make themselves known in the strangest and the most unexpected of circumstances. Like flying mouses.
Take my Dad, for example (or Please!). He had made his greatest escape from his under-privileged origins as a Merchant Marine. Sailor that he was, though, he was not able to elude the imprisonment of old age infirmities. In later life, as my prison warden, I, too, was obligated to escape. I had no choice in the matter but to throw the chair through the office window and climb out.
To put it simply, he was killing me!
The PANOPLY OF SWAGGER series charted both my Dad’s incremental decline and my concomitant exits from Olcott International. In the initial installment, I recounted how Dad started neglecting his beautiful business in the slightest of ways. By shorting one of his top salesmen of his commission. Maybe it was a one-off? Ultimately, it wasn’t. The same thing happened with others, like Bob Gerhardt, in the harshest of ways.
In the second, I regaled my readers with the beginnings of a horned parade of spurious investment ideas beating a path to my Dad’s doorstep. It all started innocuously enough. A table game with Huntington Hartford. Oil drilling in Kansas. But it didn’t stop there. It accelerated whereby Dad got churned for a million by a stockbroker. He had the good sense to sue for his money back. But when he prevailed in court, he turned around and reinvested with the very same advisor!
Tail chasing eats up valuable time.
In the third part, I tried in vain to get my Dad’s eye back on the eight ball. Instead, I was reduced to pleading in his kangaroo court, where the appellate judge was either the cleaning lady or my drug-addicted colleague. By hook or by crook, I did everything I could to draw his attention to where it should have been.
But it was no use. Ever have days like that?
The reality was clear: I was not a shareholder and wasn’t likely to be one for the foreseeable future. Having no say in a business definitely reduces anyone’s potential for contributing meaningfully. Or even safeguarding the silverware!
Kind words of support from clients were superficially encouraging, like when the Chief Patent Counsel at GAF Corporation took to calling me the “dutiful son.” But, oddly, this just left me feeling even more powerless and awkward.
When Dad was later diagnosed with dementia in September 2006, everything made sense. However, back in the 1990s, the cause and the extent to which he was afflicted wasn’t clear at all. The nature of a creeping mental illness, like dementia, is obscure and discreet. It’s like an incrementally growing kudzu vine. At first, the extra cover is barely noticeable. Maybe you are charmed by the pretty flowers. But by the time you figure out that it’s suddenly “very shady” in your backyard, your trees are at risk for being starved of light and pulled down.
Once kudzu is overgrown, it’s very difficult to get rid of it. Vast swaths of the southern United States are buried by this invasive pest.
And dementia? No known cure. (Except possibly for goats — they love the stuff).
An out-of-the-box grazing solution, with antlers.
And then there were the really bad days, like the one recounted in REPRIEVE DENIED, where my personal well-being was in peril.
I had tried some standard, in-the-box, exit strategies. Nothing doing. I needed to be my own goat solution.
It’s one thing to have a parent suffering from such a debilitating illness. But yet again another to be completely dependent on the very same person, not only as parent, but also as landlord and boss. A compromised parent or landlord, I could deal with. But not all three! Three is equivalent to overgrown kudzu.
As explained in my recent post THE CALL (AKA FLYING MOUSE STORY), after placing an ad to hire myself out as tech talent in the failing New York Times, I got my first call. After setting up Harvey Burgermeister’s desktop (including the ill-fated attempted execution of his levitating mouse), a second call hit my cell phone. This time it was a medium sized business in the Graybar Building. A prominent executive recruiter needed a new PC and training for running mail merges in MS Word.
Then another call from a boutique investment firm on Madison Avenue. A panoply of calls ensued. Soon I was getting a third of my business by referrals!
Within two months, I had replicated my income from Olcott International (which wasn’t that extraordinary since the pay scales were Burger King low). My business was not only holding up, but increasing!
The moment had come when I was no longer dependent on Dad for my economic livelihood. Don’t get me wrong — I had tons of great memories of him while growing up: he would never cease being my Dad. But his role in my life as an erratic boss was unsupportable. For my sake, I needed him to find someone else for his whipping post.
But was I really ready? I had a short conversation with myself that kind of went like this:
- First, I reminded myself that I had started a new business only two months previously. I could be experiencing a fluke. Everything could dry up!
- Well, I rationalized, there is a risk in everything, isn’t there? Even being in a family business…
- Especially in a family business! I knew this all too well.
That settled it! The opportunity I had been looking for had arrived. It was time to sever my ties with Olcott International.
It wasn’t like I hadn’t done this before. In my story THE LIZARD, I gave notice to Dad that I was leaving to go get an MBA at Columbia Business School back in 1986.
So, ten years later, I asked Dad again for a moment in his office.
He sat back in his executive chair on the top floor. I believe it was the same chair he had had in the Pan Am building so many years before. “Yes?” he said expectantly. I mentally adjusted my goat-hat.
“Dad, you built this business.” True dat. He nodded his head in acknowledgement.
“You know everything about the patent annuity business.” Again, I wasn’t telling him anything he didn’t know already.
“You don’t need me here. You got this covered.” I waved my hand palm down as if I was passing on a deal from the croupier at the blackjack table in the Paradise Island casino.
I told him about my desire to do what he did – start a business. I explained what my business model was and how I found new clients. To my surprise, it was now a serious venture; I could support myself. I assured him that I would be available if and/or when needed.
I think he was proud of me in a certain way. He warmly wished me the best of luck.
Within a week, I walked out the door (and was not even hit by it).
My business flourished as I never went back to work as an employee for my Dad again during his lifetime. Relieved of the spiritual beatings, our relationship improved immeasurably.
And this time he did not replace me by placing a ‘Help Wanted’ ad in The Hudson Dispatch. He was happy to simply have Peggy and Bob take over my marketing activities and pocket the reduced salary expenses.
It was like I had paid him. My Dad, me, and all goats were fulfilled. At least for a little while.