What I Learned This Year 2011 #1: Jim Elkin
My father has Alzheimer’s Disease. It’s not a good disease. Not that any disease is good, but this is one disease that you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. It’s that bad. At the end, it doesn’t just strip away your memory and the very core of who you are...it takes away your dignity. I know that nothing is supposed to take away your dignity and every badly designed, overly earnest medical pamphlet tries to explain that...but this disease is just completely soul sucking. I’ve had a lot of people close to me die. Family, friends, an ex-girlfriend...I thought it made me a stronger person...but nothing really prepared me for this. Watching someone you care about slowly slip away...day by day...inch by inch. I always used to think about Woody Allen’s quote about death “I’m not afraid of death, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” In some way...that’s what Alzheimer's is about...there is a part of you that is not really there when it happens. Even if you want to be.
Before I wrote this, I reread what I wrote last year. I learned eight things last year. This year is different. I learned one thing. One important thing. This is the year that everything changed for me. I don’t look at the world the same way I used to. I took everything happening to my dad and I just threw myself into my work. I worked my ass off...took on new clients...bought more equipment...hired an amazing employee (who I’m grateful for finding every day) and spent more time with my beautiful wife and insanely attention seeking dogs. But, it was different this year. The time I spend with everyone now is different. I owe a lot of that to my dad. Not my dad now. Not this person who I fly 2,000 miles to see every month or so, hoping he’ll recognize me. That person is not always there...he’s slowly fading away. But, I owe a lot to the dad that I grew up with. The one person in my life who taught me a lesson that I’ll never forget.
My dad was an amazing businessman. He was really successful at a time when some weren’t as lucky. I remember growing up, my dad used to take the train from Philadelphia where we we lived into New York or Washington D.C. Sometimes he left at 4am and didn’t come back till 10 at night. But, wherever his travels took him he always came home. He always made a point of that. I used to always ask him business advice Saturday mornings over cereal. Even as a rebellious teenager (rebellious in this case meant a serious mullet), I still admired him. He used to always impart his wisdom one way or another...and sometimes repeatedly even if I didn’t ask. I remember when I graduated college and I asked him what advice he had for me going into the real world. He told me he learned one thing from all of his years in business. One thing that he lives by every day. He got really quiet and looked at me for a long time. “Be there,” he finally said. I never really knew what he meant...not really...not until this year. I just thought it was one of those things that people say...it seems kind of obvious and not really some ultimate key to the universe. Of course, “I’m there,” I thought to myself...where else would I be...in Cleveland?! But, maybe all it took for me to get it are just a couple decades of living my life in the wrong way. I was sitting in a plane this year flying back from the east coast and staring out the window 30,000 feet up. I watched the clouds go by over the wing. It was kind of nice in a way. Even though I was tired from all the flying back and forth. I thought about what my dad said to me. I thought about all of his advice throughout the years and that’s the one thing I never forgot. It just kept coming back to me, “Be there.” How often are we really paying attention to where we are...who we are with and what we are doing in the present moment? It’s totally fortune cookie zen and I know that it sounds quite glib...but it really does mean something. Something important.
I’ve spent so much time with so many people...clients, friends, family over the years...people who mean a lot to me...who I love deeply...and who I appreciated immensely...but somewhere along the way...I lost track of my dad’s advice. How many times have you had a conversation with someone you cared about and just completely spaced out. I’ve had more than my share. That’s the weird thing about being there...you have to mean it...believe it...live it...and remember that being there for someone isn’t just half way. It’s not just when it’s convenient for you...it’s all the time no matter what. It makes you a better friend, client, worker, confidant, husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend...etc. Don’t lose sight of who you are with and why you’re doing it. It’s affected everything I do since I realized it...I’m a better creative thinker because I’m not just thinking about a hundred things I have to do or what cool thing I want to do...I’m thinking about what the client wants, needs and their expectations for success...it becomes my only goal...one at a time. I’m there 100% because of my dad and that has made all the difference.
And as the father passed his story down to his son’s ears
Younger kid, younger every year, yeah
- Jay Z