Life Lessons

My father reads my blog.

Which represents a sea change in our relationship.

Because until April 28th, we had spoken only once this Millennium.

We parted ways on Christmas Eve, 1999. For most of the nine years we were estranged I thought of him as dead. Not wishing he were. Simply an emotional reality that arrived naturally. A matter-of-fact state of grace for a painful relationship.

My father was an ad giant. A cerebral thinker who defined global advertising. Among his vast portfolio are two of the world’s iconic pieces of global brand building.

When Sergio Zyman plotted the introduction of New Coke, my father told him that wasn’t his call. “You don’t own Coke,” he said. “The American people own Coke. They won’t let you change it.” Two months and several hundred million dollars later, the American consumer proved his point.

Assuming you know better than your customers is a lesson learned expensively. And often only once.

The trouble was that all my father's big picture, macro-marketing, advertising-for-the-ages achievements came with a large price tag. Paid by his family. It’s an old song. My mother, sister and I weren’t the first to be sacrificed at the alter of ambition. And we won’t be the last. But over time, everyone gets a bill.

What someone is prepared to sacrifice in order to succeed is the most personal of equations. And those for whom the choices made at the prime of their career came with a side of guilt, never find a payment plan that gets the balance to zero. A realization that always comes too late.

Because the consequence of any decision is hard to see in real time. And the urgency of today usually overwhelms the warnings of tomorrow.

But conscious decisions made within context stand the test of history. And come with fewer regrets. If any. Because though we can’t know the outcome, we can be satisfied with how consciously we made a choice. A difference my father would accept today. A late maturity in which he is not alone.

At eight years old, I knew my father was in trouble. He left for a month - his first significant absence - and we held each other and sobbed as the cab waited outside. It was the last time for forty years that he was present emotionally. His physical disappearance took a little longer.

Over the next ten years, the absurd become normal. We were used to him traveling all the time. We were used to him missing, well, everything. And when, in 1978, he made it home only for the day after Christmas - only meaning one, out of 365 - we accepted that as normal too.

Life is informed by perspective. And we often see what we want to see. A fact that makes life simpler in the short run, business riskier in the long run, and the end result anything other than that which we hope for.

As 1979 broke on the horizon, my father and my future lay elsewhere. And my past was about to seem a very long way away.