You’re firing on all cylinders, going faster than you’ve ever gone. You’re jumping through the obstacles put in the way of your career like a parkour ninja possessed by the spirit of Player One. You’re coming up to the next gate of your career, you’ve got to focus to complete this boss battle and then something you thought long dead in your past comes up and your focus slips. You slip, bang your head, cut your hand, bang your knee and the monster of the past pounces on you. It brings all the fear and pain that took years to amass back in hours. You know that if you don’t get back on your feet and get through this quickly, it will cause that window of potential greatness to be missed. What do you do?
Yesterday morning, I got a call from my dad and it was exactly this. Earlier in the week I was informed I was doing 2 panels (by myself) at CalgaryExpo in April and several at When Worlds Collide in August, I was getting to the point of needing to put everything I had into getting media attention for my official book launch on April 25th at a big box store location, and I got the call. I went pretty quiet on Twitter, only hinting that there was something going on.
I’m sharing this because whenever I get called Lucky (with a truly capital L) I laugh. I work like a demon, I use every ounce of my mind that I’m able to and I push myself out of my comfort zone to learn and discover whatever I can to take me to the next level. I was lucky in university, I was lucky when I became a solution (software) architect a year after leaving university, I was lucky when I got to Microsoft and lucky in how my books have been received so far. Really? Funny, it looks a lot more to me like I’m willing to throw a thousand times to try to hook something once.
As I struggled through yesterday evening, I started writing this. I remembered what so many of my friends I’ve made online have said to me when I’ve posted about other elements of my life, how it’s helped them know someone else was dealing with these types of things, or it helped put a human face on a personality that sometimes seemed so big (I do have my own postal code).
So yesterday morning, I got a text that my dad needed to talk.
Leading up to university, my dad had told me that I could go to any school and he’d make sure the money was there. The day I was dropped off at the University of Waterloo we went for a little walk and he told me that I was going to need to find a way to pay for it. It wasn’t a particularly expensive university by Canadian standards, and globally for being at a top university, the one that Bill Gates was coming to first for his new crops of new grads, it was a steal. My shock was deep, my faith shaken.
My parents cannibalized their meager retirement savings to cover part of my first year. With student loans covering most of what I needed and me doing everything I could to meet the rest, things seemed somewhat stable. The Visa card’s total was going upwards, zeroing it became like ever increasingly more difficult levels in a video game. Then I got a call I didn’t expect, my dad asking me if my student loan had come in and wanting some of it. Once again, I got the anger at “how much can university really cost.” I gave some of what I didn’t have to give.
The separatist government of Quebec cut off my student loans claiming I could switch to an in-province university for the same program, which was FAR inferior and I said no. Instead, standing in a convenience store, staring at a Mars bar in rage because I couldn’t afford it, I did what would became something people associate with me, I found a way. I ended up finding a professor who had an ex-wife who had a financial planner who needed some software made and their office taken care of from an IT perspective. I pitched like a professional and got the job. There’s an entire story of challenge there, but it doesn’t matter. I survived and graduated and went to Silicon Valley.
The calls started to come more and more frequently as my career took off. The more I earned, the more calls I got. A couple of years later, as the dot com bubble was invisibly approached, my parents ended up going into bankruptcy. When I paid the lawyer’s fees and gave some money to cover brakes for the old van, I thought it was over. It wasn’t.
While I went through the dot com fall, I ended up securing myself a position at Microsoft for 60% of what I used to earn after about four months. I dusted myself off and got to work. The next few years were good to my parents as my dad built up a company’s Canadian operations from nothing to a few million in revenue but found himself out the door when he wouldn’t falsify documents. A few months later several of the top US executives went to jail.
He couldn’t find work but had this idea. He asked me for money and then some more, and I couldn’t just keep giving it to him. He needed to do something but wasn’t taking my advice. So I focused on the invention idea he had, and he created a startup that my wife and I funded.
When problems started to occur, I got sculpted speeches, I got facts that were left out until after the money was given. Whenever a prospect was so close to being locked in, but they were just short, we ultimately gave them money only to find out a week later that “Well, that prospect wasn’t solid, we knew that already though.” There were other problems, but I found it didn’t matter what shares I had or whatever, unless I had the actual files from their (him and his partner) computers, I couldn’t control or change a damn thing.
In hopes of stopping the financial bleeding, I forced an emergency shutdown of the company. The money problems didn’t stop there. With all the proceeds of my wife and my IT careers drained away, with our home equity line of credit reaching a dangerous point, I did a financial intervention with my parents. I brought a family friend and it was terrible but necessary and they hated me for it. Hated me for it for years. They cut off social relations with their only granddaughter who was about two years old for nearly a year. They growled at me and shot daggers until about a year or two ago.
I’d lost enough money to make a downpayment on a house in a great neighbourhood in Vancouver, nearly lost my marriage, and my reward was scorn. My wife and I had come dangerously close to some many different points of no return but we made it.
I wanted my daughter to have something I never did, grandparents in her life. So I smiled, I invited them, I didn’t apologize for one shred of what I had done. I never took the bait, I never got into the arguments for more than a minute before putting a lid back on it. I reconstructed things such that they were back in my daughter’s life, and inch by inch the hundreds of miles towards a good relationship was taken.
My dad ended up getting a job after a while with another company that wanted him to do for them, what he’d done for a previous one, and so he created a highly successful Canadian operation for them. Success brings jealousy, and a disgruntled IT worker and a man at the top whose board of directors was really liked my dad brought his career to a sudden and immediate close. He did what he does, what I do, and he created a company and got back on his feet.
He tried to get another job, but in his sixties, it was a no brainer knowing that he wasn’t going to get any calls back and he didn’t. Everyone wants you when you’re on top, and no one seems to have budget room when you’re not.
I warned him as the months flew by, as him and his partner pivoted their strategies and focused on things that, in my opinion, didn’t matter and were distractions. The money they had saved up would be gone in a flash and I made sure that my dad had a line in the sand. They would not go past… and then that month flew by.
A year ago this month, I told him it was over. They’d gone too far, they were coming up to the summer and we both know how dry the summer is when it comes to signing contracts. I knew things were getting desperate and put on the table them selling their house and moving in with us. It was a painful conversation, lots of tears on both sides, but I told him that I saw what had happened to him twice before and I didn’t want to see that happen again.
My dad told me about The Loan they got. They needed to have inventory because the problem was, obviously, that they couldn’t sell stuff to people because they didn’t have it on hand. I’d heard this before and I told him not to. I told him that this would just… it didn’t matter, they got the loan, bought the stock, and sold the equivalent of $1 worth of $15,000 worth of inventory.
In September, that conversation intensified. Around October I was having conversations with my mom separately from my dad, working both sides to try and get things resolved because though I live on the other side of the country, it’s like I can feel the stress radiating all the way to here.
At Christmas time we paid to have them come for two weeks. We didn’t have heaps of money laying around, but we wanted the opportunity for the kids to see them (they hadn’t seen my dad in a year, and we’d flown my mom down 9 months before) and to have an opportunity to really push the point of needing to take action.
In January, I learned that the amount borrowed, when everything was put together, was nearly $100k. The prospects on the horizon were just as mythical as they’d been for the past year, but my dad said he was finally working on “the conversation” with my mom.
Then yesterday I got a text asking if I had a minute to talk.
I’d been expecting a different conversation. I’d been expecting the one where I got told that they’d made a decision, that they were selling the house and were either moving in with us or were moving into a condo where they live now. Instead, my dad asked me for money.
When we’d had the financial intervention I had made it clear. I had said that I would not EVER give them money again. If they were hungry, I would buy them groceries. If they needed shelter, they could live in my home. But that I would not, EVER, give them money.
Here was my dad, now in his late sixties, sobbing on the phone with shame and everything having come apart. He’d avoided making the call to me for two weeks. He felt horrible.
I wanted to be the good son, and I kept catching my language. I listened and said I’d talk with my wife. I understood the amount he was asking for and why, and I pressed hard that they had to sell the house and no more screwing around. He couldn’t wait until June 1st for one of three things to happen, he had to take action now and if any of those things happened he needed to treat them like lottery winnings.
The seal on Pandora’s box was broken.
I chatted with my wife for a bit, and she didn’t like the idea but we’d talk later. She’s very rational, sometimes blind to emotions and politics and it’s part of why I love her. She balances parts of me, serves as the anchor to my hurricane.
The demons started to creep into my mind as the hours ticked by. I was reminded of my parents sending my brother and his wife on a sunny vacation with money I had just given them. I remembered bring told that the money I was about to give would let the company last 4 months only to discover that it went all to arrears and they were instantly out of money again. I remembered being stuck with the cost of paying Dell to severe the lease and fighting my dad’s old partner to get him to give me the computer back so that I could sell it for pennies on the dollar.
I called my dad back. This time my tone was much more forceful and I drilled the points regarding selling the house and other things. He understood clearly that the chances of him getting anything from me was dropping, and it had everything to do with the past.
My wife and I spoke in the evening and she didn’t agree with giving him even the first of the three pieces he’d asked for, and I was sitting on the fence facing yes. She understood my pain, and she knew the curse of my genius that I could clearly see where the roads likely lead from here and they were immensely painful for me.
I started writing an email to my dad, and the demons came out by the hordes. The intensity and emotion in the email, all now amplified by my abilities as a writer, would slice through him like he was paper. I rewrote it twice, trying to tame it but each time it got more and more intense. I stopped and started writing this blog to clear my head. I tweeted once or twice hinting at what was going on, and I left it.
In the morning, I phoned him. I told him how he’d sideswiped me at a moment where I needed to be one hundred percent focused, and he knew this. I told him how I had warned him and urged him to take action for more than a year, but he just kept playing that everything was fine. I told him how we didn’t have the money nor the ability to repay like we once had. I told him how he was putting my entire author career in jeopardy, but I was going to give him the first bit. I would borrow it, with the support of my wife, and give it to him. But there were terms.
The first was that I wouldn’t be blind like the past. He had one opportunity, right there and then, to tell me if he’d hit anyone else up for money, and I told him if there was anything not 100% clear to me, any piece of information left out, this would be our last conversation with him or my mom ever. He swallowed hard and revealed he’d borrowed some from my brother in November. Six angry words into why he hadn’t listened then, I just focused on the now.
The second thing I told him is that if the house wasn’t up for sale, if he hadn’t sold every shred of that inventory he’d foolishly bought for whatever he could get back to the manufacturer (and I laid into him on not having already done that), then we were done.
The third thing that I told him was that I loved him, but in a house that I could tell shook his soul. When he started to talk about the shame and what not, I said he didn’t have time to waste on that. I told him to heal later, to get the job done. To do what I’d been telling him for so long to do. I told him “Here is your oxygen, now get it done.”
It would have been easy to slam the door, to say no, but here’s my problem. I see things. As a software architect, one of the things that people were astounded at was how clearly I saw all the potential paths, and how I tried to sculpt the present towards the best possible outcomes. It’s not a secret that I’m very smart, and while I’ll use the term gifted every now and then, I very rarely use the word genius other than in very close company.
I know how my words go through people. I’ve “broken” a Baptist once, I’ve seen someone broken by a piece of fiction I wrote because my ability to connect with someone was so intense it derailed their sense of self, and I’ve seen someone close enough to the edge to do something stupid.
The thing that I did right, or I think I did right, was not drag out my decision. Not let the demons feed more than they did. I didn’t slam the door to make life easier for myself. I also tried to treat the person he is now differently than the person he’d been, and I’ve been so badly burned for making that decision before, not just with him, but I had to trust my gut.
So when you see me sharing a triumph or something, there’s stuff like this that happens to me too. This is why I don’t take for granted what’s happening and why I try my best to help those around me, even if I don’t know them well.
And that, my friends, is the longest damn blog post I’ve ever written. If you got here, sorry about consuming your week 🙂