Who here thinks about how their life will end? I know I do. I remember thinking “is this how I die?” during a flying lesson, where my instructor got me into a spin to teach me how to recover. I have never imagined my dad dying. He has always been a larger than life figure, someone who could never die. When I saw him die, somehow the rest of the world became more real.
The day Dad died, I couldn’t really do anything except be numb. As the days passed, I discovered a feeling I had never encountered before: A longing to keep him alive by remembering things about him. This sounds pretty simple and logical. In reality, there is nothing logical about it.
I wanted to make this talk really visual, with photos of him as the focus, and I’d just tell stories about him based on those photos. As I thought about what to say about Dad, I started looking through photos, and realizing that I didn’t have many photos of him from recent times. Most of the photos of him I could find were from before I was born. Then I realized that the frustration I had felt for the last two months, trying to remember Dad, was because I didn’t know him for most of his life. I was a part of his life from the time he was about 30 years old. I really started to know him when he was about 40. So much of his life was spent doing work that he was passionate about, a field of study which requires deep knowledge, that I didn’t really know that much about that part of his life.
What I did know about him was that he was always interested in helping me and Megan learn about the things we were interested in. One of the things many of you have probably heard him say is that “Knowledge is like cow manure, it doesn’t do any good unless you spread it around.” He would go out of his way to find interesting things to bring home for us when we were in elementary school. He’d stop by Dick Blick and get foam core, rulers, exacto knives and cutting surfaces for Megan to use to make buildings. He’d go to university surplus and bring home an old DEC teletype terminal (the kind where there isn’t a video screen, there’s a printer that the computer types words on to, and you type words into it, all printed on the piece of chain-fed paper). He’d take me down to the basement of the university computer center, where his buddy Al was a technician in the computer support area. I remember being amazed at the huge computers whirring away behind glass walls, their tape drives spinning back and forth, lights blinking. Al had a brand new NeXT computer, a 1 foot black cube that I was fascinated by. I remember when Dad did the first iteration of what would end up becoming the art and life in africa web site. This was in about 1988, and the technology available involved taking photographs of different views of every piece of art in the Stanley collection, transporting them to 3M headquarters in Minneapolis, where they were scanned using a flying spot scanner on to individual frames of a Laserdisc which could be indexed by a computer. You’d type the piece of art you were looking for into a computer program, and it would control the Laserdisc player to bring up the art on a TV screen, and you could slide a slider around on the computer to rotate the art. Eventually, this became the art and life in africa CD-ROM program, and finally the web site. I learned about how computers work from these kinds of experiences that he made possible.
When I was in high school, Dad made a deal with me – he’d double any money that I saved up from a summer job, and we’d use it to buy me a computer. I spent all summer working at Hardee’s on the Coralville strip, and saved up about $800. $1600 was just enough to buy a brand new Macintosh and color monitor at the computer center.
I don’t have any photos of my Dad from this time – about the closest I have are a couple of pictures of him and my mom at Grand Teton National Park in 2003. I have fading memories of a very important part of my life, that really only he and I shared. Now he’s not here, and that part of me has lost the only other person who remembered some of those things.
I miss Dad’s laugh. I miss calling him on a Sunday and him saying “hi, buddy” to me, and us talking about his web site, model airplanes, the garden, or other things happening in his life. But there are things I will always remember – swimming in an ice cold lake, out to an island, with him in Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario. Packing what felt like tons of food and supplies over portages in the Boundary Waters. Sitting in our tent, reading in the evening. He was reading about Captain James Cook, I was reading about Captain James Kirk.
I’ve come to realize that it’s not important that I know or remember everything about Dad’s life, because one of the things that happens when you die, is that your life’s work – including the work of raising your kids and being a partner to your spouse – dissolves into the world. You lose any semblance of control over your own destiny and the destinies of the people you care about. In return, what you were is dissolved into the fabric of everything those people do, and the impacts they have on others. I know that Dad’s granddaughter, Sylvia, will get to do some really fun and interesting stuff, at least partly because Megan will remember how fun it was to go camping in the southwest with Mom and Dad, and how important it was that her intellectual interests were known and cared about by them from a very young age.
I’m grateful that Dad’s memory will continue on through everyone in this room, and through the thousands of students whose lives he changed imperceptibly, who will remember his stories about art and life.
If I can live to have a fraction of the kind of positive effect my dad had on the world, it will be a good life. If I can die surrounded by love, like he did, it will have been worth living.