My dad passed in 2009. Today he would be 100 — or 25 — as he would have liked it. He always delighted that he was born on a leap year thus when he turned 80 he would remind everyone that he was finally no longer a teenager. In some ways that characterized dad; always youthfully minded. Yesterday hanging with my son Mike in San Francisco after work we were remembering dad and Mike said “He was a good man.” And that he was. Dad had a calling to love others that started in the days of the depression when he entered the ministry. His father, Raymond, had to drop out of school in the second grade (yes at 8 years old) to work in the coal mines. Raymond worked to support his mother and family at such a young age because his father simply could not handle life in the mines and was an alcoholic. Dad’s response to this was to dedicate his life to loving and helping others and he became a minister at 16.
Dad’s approach to ministry was in stark contrast to the image we see today of many in the ministry. He followed what is written in the letter written by James the brother of Jesus who wrote: “Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world.” That he did consistently until he passed six months before his 90th birthday. His agitation and anger was for those who used religion as a weapon to control, manipulate and damn others. He had his faults of course, he was human, but all remember him as a man of meekness and love.
In me, he created in me a love for science and technology. He delighted in the fact that in his lifetime he got to witness the growth of air travel (he would go up in the most rickety of early airplanes), radio (he built crystal radios and became an amateur radio operator), and audio recording (he had a wire recorder, vinyl record recorder, magnetic tape recorder) to name a few. He was an avid reader of popular science magazines and his imagination was fueled by ideas that you could send sound over light beams. Because of his influence and our electronics workshop in the basement I became a novice amateur radio operator at 11 and qualified for my general license at 12. I spent endless hours building amateur radio gear and in 1959 was communicating with others all over the globe.
I went on to study Electrical Engineering as an undergraduate and then on to a Ph.D. in applied physics. My dad followed every step with the utmost delight. When I was doing some work with lasers with a fellow grad student he was delighted to find that you could actually send information and music over laser beams. When I went into a career in tech and entered the Silicon Valley world in 1982, he could not have been more excited. In the mid 90s, when I was CEO of one of the first ecommerce companies, I set him up with a computer and he would spend hours searching the internet (I sometimes spent a few days over holidays trying to clean his system of malware). He was always there to encourage me through the ups and downs of running tech companies.
Some of my earliest memories of dad and his relationships with others go back to my childhood. We lived in an apartment on top of the church in one of the tougher neighborhoods in town. There was an alley next to my bedroom window and a number of times my brother and I would watch fights, sometimes involving knives in the alley below. There was a bar at the end of the block to that fueled the confrontations. Dad did not let that stop him from showing love to all in that neighborhood. One memory was of a man named George Washington who would take me aside and tell me over and over what a good man my dad was. George did not attend the church at all. I remember the smell of alcohol and the sense of warmth and love towards my dad. (He also gave me a quarter which in 1955 would buy 5 scoops of ice cream). At four, I would sit on the porch of another neighbor, Andrew Jackson who was so kind and loving. My parents taught me to call him “Uncle” and show him respect. This was in the 50s and I was taught to love and respect others regardless of race or lifestyle.
In the 50s my dad got involved with a ministry in Jamaica. His unique point of difference at that time was to encourage them to do their own thing, not to be reporting into a US church denomination. To quote the Dean of Caribbean Wesleyan College (Walford Dyer) “Rev.Kehler was called in the Jamaican church, “the Apostle of love” for he never preached a sermon without quoting from the Gospel or Epistle of John. He preached love and lived it. I had the honor of spending many weekends at their home while studying in the USA and can testify to the statue of the man he was.” Many members of the Jamaican group were at my dad’s funeral. These were people that influenced my life growing up.
A couple of weeks ago, I was at a dinner for scientists, artists, founders and investors. There I met Jim Doty, author of “Into the Magic Shop” and head of the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford University. In his work, he has shown scientifically that living a life of love and compassion is far better for our bodies than being on our target weight, exercising or anything else. My dad would be very much in agreement with him not on his atheistic stance but on the reality that we should be agents of love and compassion.
In these times when so many who raise the banner of religion do so for their own power and position we need to be paying attention to examples like my dad.