Like a feather gently drifting on a body of water, steadily moving toward the shore and anticipating the monumental event when it finally makes contact with the rocks at the shallow end…
In a way that is the way today’s post has come to fruition. As a lead in I want to share this art related short and informative essay from a news feed I subscribe to. It is a 6 minute read, shorter if you are a practiced speed reader.
The essay resonated with me. It deals with the four stages of control that build creative insight, and the more I got into the essay the stronger my childhood and youth came into focus. No, this post is not a journey back to my early days, it is about my dad. If you have been following my blog for a while you know that I do not bring a lot of personal life stories into my professional life, however today is a different story.
My dad was born on November 28th, 1934 in Ruhpolding, Bavaria, by car about an hour southeast of Munich. He was the youngest of four brothers and the middle child of 7 (3 sisters followed), growing up in an idyllic setting during WWII (if that is possible!), and entering his teen years by the time the US Army liberated the region. Heinrich Karl Mayer was an athlete, a good-time guy with countless friends, and by the time he entered adulthood he looked and on many levels acted like THE rebel of the times, James Dean… At least that was what I was told and the few images I saw of my parents’ dating days I must concur with the description.
My dad was not an educated man. He was expected to join the family construction firm and he fought it all the way, finishing his schooling with a Grade 8 education (in those days, that was the norm for grammar school in Germany). His dream was to work with cars… but in the end he completed an apprenticeship as bricklayer. At 20 he met my mother and, following a whirl-wind courtship, they married shortly after he turned 21. (I came along exactly 11 months later). It is no secret that the marriage was a calculated move, my mother had moved into town in 1955 from the industrial region of Germany and she brought with her a good dowry. Together they started a business with a focus on road construction and later he built ski jumps and developed ski runs. He established himself quickly and by the time we three kids (I was the oldest) were born he formed a partnership with a longtime friend to develop a ski hill.
My parents were very post-war German… and what I mean with that is that they both had a certain drive and strong ambitious streak. Children growing up during the war years did not have a childhood, and after the Allied Forces began to introduce order and stability in Germany this generation was overlooked on so many levels. (I have been doing a lot of research on this subject lately, which has brought many personal light bulb moments…)
We were brought up with a lot of pressure to excel. Sports, school and even creative activities were a vehicle to showcase ones’ abilities. But back to the main character of this story: My Dad.
By the early 60’s we were leasing seasonal property at a lake in Austria where we parked our camper and spent every summer weekend and much of the summer holidays. Vivid memories keep coming back to me nearly daily. My dad (not a warm and fuzzy guy, not much interested in us kids at home) would play cards with us… and always win. Eventually I figured it out, he saw the reflection of our cards in the window behind us and always played to his advantage. Yes, he cheated! But I think we were just so happy to have him engage with us that we didn’t care much about winning or loosing. The good memories at the lake include water skiing and sailing and many social events with friends.
One most profound memory from the lake days has never left me. One Saturday afternoon my dad was engaged in a serious conversation with his friend and business partner (who had their camper on the lot next to us). They were debating the possibilities to expand the ski hill they had been building on for several years. A chairlift was the latest and greatest idea, but the chat went nowhere. My dad went down for his afternoon nap and after an hour emerged, paper and pen in hand and ready to draw out what he had dreamed about minutes earlier. Within a year the chairlift was a reality and marked our hometown as one of the most progressive ski areas of its time.
Reading the essay I mentioned earlier brought back this precise memory. In the last paragraph I described preparation, incubation, illumination and verification. Why am I sharing this story? I always knew I was strongly influenced by my father and his business drive. I fondly remember his painting an Easter egg for me at the breakfast table when I received my first ever paintbox as a gift. I treasured that egg for years! I also remember him helping me with drawing home work of the local church… I was so frustrated, so he gave me a hand which only resulted in having to repeat the homework the next day as everyone immediately recognized that an adult had a hand in the assignment (In my heart I knew I was cheating but I was going to test the teacher in Grade 3 – an important life lesson!).
I watched my dad during my formative years and have realized that he had a tremendous impact on me personally when it comes to creative problem solving and expression. He may have been a builder, a leader (he presided over each sports organization in my hometown at one time or another) an entrepreneur and “mover and shaker” of his time but what I most admire in him was his ability to bring new and often under-appreciated ideas to fruition.
My dad moved to B. C., Canada in March 1980. He continued to embark on new challenges and solved problems creatively in becoming an orchard farmer, building a construction firm from scratch, and introducing the versatility of concrete creations for towns and private back yards (not all at the same time). My dad was diagnosed with Parkinson’s at age 56 and lived for another 26 years. He passed away from Melanoma on March 22nd, 2017.
I am not sharing this story to receive sympathy. Please do not express sadness for me! Instead celebrate his creative problem solving skills and never ending far-reaching dreams. And the fact that he never stopped trying to transform the next great idea into reality. I am grateful for having had this influence on my life – I also hope that this family trait was passed on once more… From where I am watching, I believe I detect the creative thinking that is moving into the next generation in this family! Thanks for the opportunity to connect the dots between the online essay and my personal story.