Rancho Cucamonga, CA
My father passed away early in February, and because he’d lived such a long and amazing life, he’d outlived anyone in the local area who would have noticed an obituary in the newspaper.
So, I wrote this on Facebook. Nearly everyone who knows me, or my family, and is active in social media was able to see it. In many ways, Facebook has become the new “local newspaper” for things like this… and, because of the way your newsfeed works, these kinds of posts are actually seen by more folks than would normally see a published obit. Hundreds “liked” and responded to this post… so I’ve decided to keep it in the mix by publishing it here on the blog (where it will remain in the archives).
For everyone who sent condolences, thank you. I hope, however, that I have adequately explained just how much I appreciate that Pop was around for so long, with his mind intact and vibrant (despite his body slowly falling apart)… and that, at 95, I prefer to celebrate his long life rather than grieve over his passing. He was ready to go. We’d discussed it for years, he and I, and we were not afraid of the final moment.
Anyway, here’s the post. I’ve written tearful farewells to my mentor, Gary Halbert, and to Steve Jobs (who influenced so many of us) here on the blog, and Pop deserves to stand beside those men in the archives. I can only hope, when the time comes, someone takes the time to a little something for me…
I am the man I am today, because of the man who raised me. Pop’s life is one for the history books — born in the Industrial Age (and he mastered several difficult crafts), witnessed the birth of the Nuclear Age (while fighting the Hun in WWII), and actually grokked the snarling new Information Age even as a very old man. (We Skyped with each other weekly for years.)
He enjoyed his relatively quiet life — after surviving the Depression as a teen and the Battle of the Bulge (Hitler’s last surge) as a freaked-out 22-year-old infantryman, he was eager to limit the serious drama for awhile — and lived well as a happy working-class warrior… not counting the years he patiently endured the raucous and painfully awkward entry to adulthood of his youngest son (me).
Along the way, he never ceased doing the right thing, always. Even when it involved heavy sacrifice. He put his back into his work, and his heart into family life — his best friend was his brother-in-law, his favorite activities time with the relatives.
He never actually sat me down and said “do this, don’t do this”… which made the lessons difficult to decipher. But eventually, I realized it was the greatest way to impart real wisdom. Making me figure it out forced me to look outside myself, and compare how other’s behavior contrasted to what I saw in Pop. God knows I wouldn’t have listened to a lecture, anyway.
It’s god damned hard to live a life dedicated to being fair, to sharing the wealth, to actively support and fight for the success of other people. We all have a nasty little selfish sociopath hiding inside, and it takes effort to crush the little bugger.
But that’s how you become a bigger man. A better man. Someone who will help shoulder the burdens of life with you, in ways that help you grow.
One of the best tributes I’ve heard the past few days came from a pal of mine from the wild days of our youth. He reminded me how my parents made our house a sanctuary for everyone — nobody ever went hungry around Mom, and every kid (even the raw bastards-in-training) got a fair shake from the old man. So many of my friends had parents who refused to allow visitors, who loathed kids, who had little or no time for their own progeny… and our household showed a different way to do it. An inclusive, safe place where messes were tolerated (but cleaned up), mistakes were shrugged off as learning experiences, and the pleasures of company outweighed the occasional impositions of visitors.
It took me a loooooooong time to grow up. I had to bungle my way through my entire twenties and a few early years of my thirties before I had the epiphany that launched me into the biz world as a freelance copywriter.
And you don’t survive the kind of misadventures I went through on that path without some serious support from someone like Pop. He would have preferred I’d just pick a profession and get busy, but he held his tongue. He suspected I’d eventually get it together, and instinctively knew a little patience (no matter how much he had to grind his teeth) was going to pay off.
He and I talked and wrote to each other, faithfully, for decades. He taught me how to hit a short pitch shot (as well as an inside fastball), and I shared what I learned from Boomer culture about meditation, expanding your consciousness, and getting past hang-ups. He showed me how a man faces adversity, and I gave him a peek into entrepreneurship (which fascinated the hell out of him).
He worked hard, played hard, and never took his eye off the ball. His goal was to live a full life, and he did that. The last good day I had with him, when he was 95, we laughed until our bellies ached, and he beat me 4 out of 5 games at rummy. His body was falling apart, but his mind was as sharp as ever.
R.I.P., Pop. You’ll be missed terribly, but you continue to live in my heart, and my actions, every day.
Edwin Carlton, 1920-2016