The photo of my dad (Martin Ebon) is from 1964. That is a significant year, because it’s the year he launched into a full-time, freelance writing career. He had written a couple of books, earlier, when he was in his early 30’s, but 1964 was the big year.
Daddy’s work rhythm didn’t change much, at least on the surface. He sublet an office a couple of blocks from Grand Central Station (NYC) and commuted there, by train. Riding the Penn Central allowed him to read the New York Times, to start his day. Having an office in central Manhattan, put him near major publishers, back when messenger service, not email, ruled the day.
He would return to our home, in Riverdale, about 6pm each evening. With my mom and I, he would enjoy dinner and Walter Cronkite for the evening news. Then, he usually became engrossed in more reading, or attack the typewriter for more writing.
From that point, in 1964, it would be less than six years til I headed out for college, in Arizona. Post-college, I would move to San Francisco, and in 2003, to Las Vegas. That 6-year span was the crucible for the context of Daddy’s work habits.
What I observed
- Depending on how one viewed it, Daddy was either hyper-focused or manic. An honest view would be that he was manic. Once he landed a book deal or other assignment, he would zero in on that work, to the exclusion of all else.
- Daddy was a ‘mad clipper’. Every Sunday, he would riffle through the 7-day accumulation newspapers and magazines, clipping articles, relevant for existing writing projects and for ‘future projects’ files. His various ‘future projects’ files would, often, become the basis of another book.
- He was incredibly knowledgable in his areas of expertise: Primarily world affairs and parapsychology.
- He had been a world traveler, even before I came along in 1952, and those experiences helped give him a global view of business and politics. He would listen to the BBC on shortwave radio, every night.
- Daddy has no hobbies that I could discern, outside of reading mystery novels.
My retrospective of these years
- Daddy’s writing career was quite successful. While never authoring a best seller, he authored dozens of books, translated into many languages.
- He required uninterrupted isolation to write and edit.
- This isolation translated into being anti-social. My mom would run interference for him, blocking out even the slightest intrusion into his sequestration.
I appreciated his career success and drive, but also felt that Daddy’s world was pretty narrow. I remember a phone conversation with him, in my latter San Francisco years, where I quoted John Madden. For me, Madden was mainstream. Successful Oakland Raiders football coach. Then top-level football commentator and video game mogul. And, TV pitchman for ACE Hardware, Outback Steakhouse, Verizon Wireless, Rent-A-Center, Miller Lite, Sirius Satellite Radio and Tinactin. My dad’s response: “Who is John Madden?”
I became hysterical with laughter (to the point of angering him). His lack of awareness of such a mainstream celebrity hit my funny-bone as an example of his narrow world view.
A narrow world view is a trait symptomatic of many high-performing professionals. You want the greatest surgeon performing their magic on you, but they may not be able to name the vice president of the United States.
Born in 1917, my dad lived through an incredible technological and communications revolution, until his passing in 2006. Radio, television, commercial air flight, space travel, nationwide highway system, miniaturization, computers, and the internet. I take credit for introducing him to a couple of generations of Macintosh computers and the internet.
You must understand, he couldn’t hook up a simple stereo, so mastering a computer seemed like a daunting task to him. I explained that it would change his writing, but it would streamline his editing by light years. Happily, I can report, that he wrote his last few projects on a Mac.
Slowly, he became comfortable with word processing, email, and then, searching the internet. Essentially, I explained, that via search tools and websites, it was as though he could look into every world library and resources from his computer. His eyes lit up. Whenever he found information-of-value through the internet, he was genuinely amazed.
This morning, I was struck by the headline: iPad Magazine brings New York Public Library’s Archive to life. Daddy would have liked this one. By now, I would have had him using an iPad for most of his reading. He would have resisted, at first, but would have found the iPad irresistible, ultimately.
Near the end of his life, he found the world around him, too complicated. Things were moving faster than he could keep up. At the time, I didn’t know what to make of that outburst.
Now, it’s clear to me that information, fueled by technology and communications advancements, have absolutely inundated us. People cannot possibly be competent, or even conversant, in everything. It is necessary to make choices on what we do, and what we master. Achieving balance is a fleeting thing.
Daddy would be overwhelmed by the rapid transition from paper books to eBooks. It’s a whole new mindset for authors and publishers.
My life lessons
- The world is moving fast. Do your best to keep up or you will get run over.
- Know a little about many things. If you can’t carry on a conversation or ask good questions, it’s a problem.
- Take some time for oneself, away from work. Having grown up with a workaholic-father, this is still a tough one for me.
- Focus and limited isolation are good, in measured doses. Anti-social isolation… not so much.
- Learning and self-improvement never stops. Reminiscing is fine, but living life only occurs in the present tense.
- One can love a parent and be realistic about their strengths and weaknesses. Ultimately, they are the person, parent and human being that they are, just as we are. Great at some things, good at others, and weak in spots. They’re human.
Son of Martin Ebon