Another year has sped by and I’m a little bit older, although I won’t tell you when exactly my birthday is or how old I will be. It does seem like it was only yesterday that I turned … well, like I said, I won’t tell you … but it’s enough to send me scurrying to consult oracle bones and actuary tables to try and puzzle out how many years I may have left to enjoy in this crazy wonderful life.
After all, as the great comedian and philosopher of life Groucho Marx once observed: “if you live long enough, you die.”
No, my demise is not imminent (knock on wood) but it’s true that birthdays aren’t nearly as much fun as they used to be, although they sure beat hell out of the alternative.
That’s as good an excuse as any to do a little musing about stuff in general. And since my birthday is coming up, I can write about anything I want to.
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about transformation, and not necessarily concerning data and middleware. Transformation has been one of the key themes of my life.
I never planned to become a programmer, never considered it as a career. At some point in my thirties, after studying archeology and anthropology in university and kicking around for several years as a half-hearted wannabe journalist, I was astonished to discover that I had an aptitude for logic.
So I slowly transformed myself from a hard-partying pointy-headed intellectual into a geeky computer dude, which is a pretty interesting story in itself.
This facility for logic was even more surprising to my father, a practical, blunt-spoken businessman who often opined that for me thinking was wholly centered in a part of my anatomy that was far removed from my brain.
In his own way, my dad was an intelligent and colorful man, like a character in a Damon Runyon story. About politicians — all politicians — he used to say: “If you got your hands on the honey pot, you’re gonna dip your fingers in.”
He was not what you would call an intellectual and he had difficulty understanding why I chose to study archeology and anthropology.
“Why don’t you study law?” he would ask with some bewilderment. “Become a politician. Get your hands on that honey pot.”
It all made sense to me, of course. I was fascinated by the borders between things, the areas of overlap where transformations occurred, particularly the evolution of the state with its complex social hierarchies and economic specialization: the slow transformation of small neolithic subsistence farming villages into complex bronze age urban civilizations.
Is that cool or what? I couldn’t get enough of it. And I couldn’t explain it to my father, who was only interested in one kind of transformation: costs to profits resulting in transforming the labor and investment he put into his business to wealth.
“I wanna be the richest Greek in the cemetery,” he would explain during his fruitless but heroic attempts to instruct me in the realities of life as he saw it.
But his focus on the practical realities of his business and the environment he created at home allowed me to explore my interests in all directions. This was mostly unintentional but he did have the simple faith in the importance of education that’s often found in immigrant families. He was a high school drop-out and his father, my grandfather, couldn’t read or write and had to sign his name with an “X”. Both saw education as the key to a better, more richly experienced life.
So my dad made sure we had complete sets of Brittanica, Brittanica Junior, World Book, and any other encyclopedia he ran into from a salesmen or even a supermarket’s shelves, and then promptly forgot about them. He never opened one in his life, at least as far as I could see.
But they got a lot of use from all four of his children. I still remember looking at old pictures of New York City and reading articles about Africa and dinosaurs and World War II, all of which are now hopelessly out of date. Browsing through the encyclopedia led to a fascination with a wide variety of topics from Norse mythology to skyscraper construction, astronomy, battleships, and the lives of baseball players, to touch on only a few.
These fascinations in turn led to visits to the library, then books bought for the pure pleasure of reading, and then … our souls were lost. We became unrepentant free thinkers ready to never take an assumption at face value.
So Maybe Not the Richest …
My dad never achieved his ambition. Many Greeks in the cemetery are much richer than he, at least financially. But what good does it do them? The gifts of the gods are rarely bestowed without something else being taken away and in the end, somebody else fights over their wealth.
So in a real sense, my dad achieved his ambition, even beyond the success of many of the wealthiest inhabitants of his necropolis. In spite of his natural instincts, he successfully raised four children, all of whom graduated from university in disciplines that had little or no practical use in the real world as he saw it. Not one of us became a doctor or a lawyer or a politician or spent our lives chasing after the almighty dollar.
And while he may have held a lot of conventional and predictable opinions, that were always expressed in the most colorful, concrete, and humorous language, he loved us for our free thinking and for our questioning of basic assumptions. It made him proud to know that we were nobody’s patsies.
His other source of wealth was the many friendships that he had in widely scattered places around the world. At the last great party that he hosted on this earth, hundreds of people came to celebrate his life, his laughter, and his family.
It’s been more years than I care to remember since my dad set off on that final journey. But it still seems like it was only yesterday that I last saw him in that cramped office behind the store, hunched over his calculator, counting piles of cash separated into different denominations, stock piled up in cardboard boxes on the shelves around him, receipts spilling out all over his desk.
No matter what I studied, there was always a job waiting for me in his store. I was a lucky young man. The hard work and effort that he put into his business and his life allowed me to grow, to study, to experiment and to learn; to take opportunity as it came and run with it; to transform myself through my own hard work and effort; and to follow numerous careers: from student to journalist and writer, electronic publisher, database developer, SAP consultant, and B2B integration specialist.
Wherever he is now, probably nursing a glass of scotch while engaged in a gabfest with his buddies or even with a beautiful woman — he had an eye for the ladies — I know he’s at peace and enjoying the fascinating spectacle of the lives being lived by those he created, nurtured, and loved.
And so with this birthday, another turning point comes for me. I need to break from posting to this blog to take care of some family business. But I’ll be back … Soon … And we’ll continue our conversation. This is a good opportunity to thank all my readers for your patience and especially for taking the time to read what I’ve been writing.