Father’s Day 2011

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in skmurphy

“When my father died it was like a whole library had burned down. ”
Laurie Anderson “World Without End”

My father passed away almost four years ago now and there isn’t a week that goes by that I don’t wish I could still give him a phone call.  I moved away from St. Louis to go to college in California, at first I would return home every summer  and at Christmas, then just for the holidays and then more sporadically. But we would talk once or twice a week on the phone until he died. When my son was born and I was in the middle of leaving Cisco and starting a business I developed a much better appreciation for what it had meant for him to juggle a law practice as a trial attorney and raising a family, two very demanding undertakings.

“Death ends a life, but it does not end a relationship, which struggles on in the survivor’s mind toward some resolution which it may never find.”
Robert Anderson

He used the relative autonomy his law practice afforded him to spend time with my brother and I when he could. He would make all of the parent teacher conferences and review what he had learned with us afterward. He was very easy to satisfy in this regard, as long as “we had done our best” then he was content.

He would be gone for days at a time taking depositions or taking part in a trial. We would talk on the phone when he was away from home so even though he was not always around he was available. He would always take the time to review any essays that I had written, and I learned early to plan for several revisions starting from an outline to get rid of all of the red pencil marks he would leave as he read the latest draft.  My sons benefit from my active involvement in their writing as a result. I was a technical writing tutor for a couple of quarters at Stanford as well and collaborative writing and editing is a big part of our practice today.

“Courage is the capacity to conduct oneself with restraint in times of prosperity and with courage and tenacity when things do not go well.”
James V. Forrestal

He and his law partner would bill for legal work at the conclusion of a trial so my allowance would come sometimes several weeks at once and a few in advance and I learned that I had to budget against the somewhat unpredictable arrival of new funds.  This taught me to be able to carry money in my wallet without spending it and to plan for purchases when I knew I had enough of a cushion to get back until the next allowance day. This has proven to be very useful training for managing the cash flow in my own businesses.

He would often spend a half hour or hour on the phone at night when he was preparing to go to trial, negotiating with the other side, working with other attorneys to prepare their arguments, learning about developments. I learned a lot about how to discover unspoken issues and navigate multi-party negotiations just from listening to his side of the conversation.

His negotiations were either with plaintiff’s attorneys he would be facing again or with judges that he would be appearing before again, and I think I unconsciously picked up his attitude that “there will be no secrets after the negotiation is concluded and you may face these same counter-parties again so be careful of the tactics you adopt”  in my approach to deal making.

I never saw him in trial. My brother traveled with him once to Memphis for two days and said that sitting in the court room had been the most boring experience of his life, nothing like Perry Mason. If my limited experience with jury duty is any guide he is probably right. I did read some of the depositions he took on a few cases, both from direct witnesses and expert witnesses and it was very educational to talk it over with him and see how he synthesized a set of hypotheses for what had really happened. It gave me an appreciation both for how to ask people the right question and to listen carefully both to what was said and what wasn’t said.

“Each person’s only hope for improving his lot rests on his recognizing the true nature of his basic personality, surrendering to it, and becoming who he is.”
Sheldon Kopp

He would remark more frequently as I reached college age that “the law is a fine profession.” I have often wondered at my decision to become an software engineer and from time to time I have regretted not going into a profession where my love of spirited discussion (which to many may appear to be an argument) would have been more of an asset. But I am often able to channel some of my suspicious and disputatious nature into advice on likely competitor moves and how to counter them so it’s not completely wasted.

“Is there someone you know,
you’re loving them so,
but taking them all for granted.
You may lose them one day,
someone takes them away,
and they don’t hear the words you long to say
I would give anything I own,
Give up me life, my heart, my home.
I would give everything I own
Just to have you back again”
David Gates “Everything I Own

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