Monday, September 6, 2010

Chapter 5: When Dad Started PC Systems

Here's the next installment of my memories of my dad. Enough of my readers keep reading these posts and keep asking for more, so I will continue writing. :-)
After only a year with my dad, I went back to California, finished high school, went to U.C. Santa Barbara and studied geology and physical geography, and then, on a whim, signed up for the U.S. Navy. My older brother, Jim, went into the Navy and it sounded like an interesting adventure. Life with my father receded, although we did write the occasional old-fashioned letter, his always filled with amusing stories and sarcastic humor.

The Navy sent me to Monterey to study Russian (what a fabulous year, studying with Russian émigrés in a beautiful place!). I married a delightful New Englander, Jonathan Hilyard, and we moved to Rota, Spain for our first tour of duty. Dad had no interest in coming for a visit. If a casino didn’t “comp” him, travel didn’t appeal to him.

It was the mid-1980s, and my dad abruptly left the lecture circuit, where he had promoted his investment advice and his book, A License to Steal.  He traded the world of stocks and bonds--and troubling SEC oversight and penalties for his ways of trading--to start a fledgling computer business.  An early computer enthusiast, my dad fancied himself a nerd and programmer extraordinaire. He got excited, saying, “Computers are where cars were when the Model T came out!”  He saw nothing but dollar signs and talked about making millions. He took his passion for computers to market as PC Systems. 

My brothers joined PC Systems, with Dad leading sales and marketing and my brothers handling customer service, building and repairing computers and networks with the utmost care.  My brothers' bonuses in the early days gave me a twinge of envy, but I was never really tempted to join the family business.  I'll never forget hearing that my dad sometimes ate his employees’ lunches, without asking them, just because he saw something in the refrigerator that he wanted. Impulse control was not one of his strong suits. He could also get incredibly snippy when he sensed disrespect (think: someone forgot something he wanted--anything, no matter how trivial--and he could make the most rude comments). These things, and the story of how he administered lie detector tests to all the store managers at one point, including my brothers and step-sister, made me cringe. Trust, like impulse control, was not my dad's thing.

With PC Systems taking off like a bottle rocket, my dad suddenly needed help. He placed a Help Wanted ad for a “secretary to organize three messy men.”  Teri Cherry (our own Teri Edgell today), was then an upbeat blond who called it like she saw it and wasn't so sure about this guy, my dad, who she thought was a bit weird. Teri ultimately took the job supporting my dad and brothers, and she became the “voice” of PC Systems—answering phones, greeting customers, sending out bills, and making people, including Dad, laugh. Teri, to this day, has incredibly fond memories of the old man, who also made her laugh, pretty much every day. 

When I was leaving the Navy in 1987, Dad offered me a job at PC Systems. I  was on my way back to the States, with no other job offers and no clue what would be next (I passed on the Navy's offer to send me to a remote post in Sinop, Turkey). Nevertheless, I wasn’t that interested in computers (an understatement if there ever was one) and declined. Dad  accepted my decision with a shrug and a quip about his offer being "too good for me" anyway. I didn’t tell him I thought we would might kill each other if we ever worked together. 

Writing letters to my dad soon was replaced by email. He found his medium when he discovered email and then the Internet. Asynchronous, no complaints about his smoking, and no requirements to make small talk when he was cranky. He loved to be online in a way he never liked to hang out. 


Anonymous said...

Thank you Cindy! Many of us really appreciate your continuing writing about your life with your dad. By the are also a great writer! :-)

Anonymous said...

Ohhhh,,,,I LOVE to read about your dad!!! Please, please keep it up. You are doing a GREAT job! It's like he's almost still with us! Miss him a lot! Thanks for taking the time.

Anonymous said...

I encourage you to continue writing about your dad. He's a colorful man for sure. Learning about him, helps me understand myself. Like you, I generally lean towards the serious side, yet I am learning that laughter, humor, etc is great "food" for our bioengineered chemical factories, we wear each day while going in circles around the SUN on the big blue "earth" ball.
Hugs..Pablo - Oregon