Why Give a Damn:

As much as people are impressed by how much you know, they are more impressed by how much you care. Mark Albion’s blog series explores the impact that our relationship with our father has on how we build our business and life. Each post has a serial and commentary portion. While useful to read in succession, each portion is written to stand on its own.


The author of this post, Mark Albion, a conflicted achiever who climbed the ladder of success wrong by wrong, is the New York Times Best Selling author of seven books. He has ridden a horse across Afghanistan and been hugged by Mother Teresa and Ronald Reagan—not at the same time.

Seek first to understand,
then to be understood.
– Stephen R. Covey, from a prayer by St. Francis  Tweet This Quote

It was 50 years since we first met, and she was in shock and grief.

Dad began dating Marilyn in the summer of 1957. My parents had divorced in 1954, when I was three. Dad and I saw each other on Saturday; joining our twosome required my prior approval. Marilyn P. Nichols would pass with flying colors—a good sport in father-son activities, including my first love, baseball. She worked hard to be our shortstop, as the bruises on her shins attested.

They married in 1959, had three children, and through many rocky years, ended up devoted to each other in Dad’s final decade.

I thought about how Amanda’s memories were so different
from mine.

Getting my family to Marilyn’s in Florida was a challenge. Most frustrating was our inability to contact Amanda in Thailand, before she heard the news secondhand. We knew she’d be highly emotional, though she hadn’t seen my father much in recent years.

I reached her en route through Atlanta that Sunday. As it was Mother’s Day, Amanda had already called her grandma Leni, figuring Joy and I would be at my Mom’s home. Mom delivered the news to Amanda who became frantic, calling all known relatives.

After apologies, I told Amanda what I knew. She was upset not to be with the family and wanted time to reminisce. I listened hurriedly. Hearing her recount her relationship with my father, I thought how her memories were so different from mine. I wanted to correct her, reshape her memories to what really happened, but I was racing to catch my next flight and Joy had instructed me to “let her keep her memories, they’re hers not yours.” I hung up as quickly as allowed.

What matters in life is not what happens to you, but what you remember and how you remember it.
– Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Nobel Laureate in Literature

My brother John picked us up at the Fort Myers airport. Exhausted, we made our way over to my Dad’s—I mean, stepmother Marilyn’s house. We joked that the one way Dad could ensure that his four children would be with Marilyn on Mother’s Day was by dying.

From my perspective, the day went well. We talked, though not much to Marilyn. We saw six dolphins at the pier off the back of the deck Dad was so proud of. Thousands of square feet, it was the last one allowed in the area, and broke every building code! It had taken Dad years of legal maneuvers; he always loved a good fight.

For the group of 17 (nine grandchildren, eight adults), we ordered our usual Chinese food take-out dinner, about $200. Dad/Marilyn always picked up the check. But this time, as the infighting began—who had already paid for what, what it cost to get there—I the eldest simply paid the bill. I never got a thank you… from anyone.

The house felt… empty? We were scattered all over the main floor, and the kids were in the pool. With all its medical attachments, Dad’s chair sat empty nearby, on the edge of his bedroom overlooking pool and ocean. Marilyn made it clear that no one was to touch “your father’s things,” otherwise spending the afternoon quietly, in our midst but by herself.

Marilyn…spent the afternoon quietly, in our midst but by herself.

Dad had been cared for at home for over a decade—made possible by Marilyn and Janice catering to his every daily need. Having repaired a volatile relationship with our father, Janice’s nursing background helped in his last years. Her son, Max grew up living at his grandparents’ home—Dad and Marilyn enjoyed having their eldest grandson there.

Around eight that Sunday evening, the Rabbi came over for final preparations before Monday’s funeral. She didn’t know Dad well and wanted to learn more from his wife and four children. We spent three hours providing information and telling her our stories about Dad.

Who would do the talking? We all sat around the dining room table. Marilyn spoke a little, Jim and Janice were quiet, and John spoke for the “younger generation” (I’m 10-14 years older). But I spoke by far the most—feeling I knew Dad best and was the most articulate–even though our relationship, extremely close for twenty years, had drifted the past fifteen to minimal contact.

A theme emerged of two souls in one man—an outside toughness, yet an inner sensitivity that only came out behind closed doors. We laughed about Dad punishing 6-year-old Jim for saying a bad word.

A theme emerged of two souls in one man.

“I’m going to wash your mouth out with soap,” Dad promised in a menacing tone. Always the family comedian, Jim responded, “OK, Dad. But can you make sure to use Zest? I love the taste of Zest, Dad. Zest soap. Yum.” Dad kept the angry face as he walked gingerly away (supposedly to get the soap), into the kitchen where 16-year-old Mark was sitting. Dad broke out in a big grin from ear to ear. “Your brother’s quite a character,” he said with pride and glee. But my brother would not see that side, nor would I when punished.

I dominated the evening, proudly. No one complained. In a family of talkers, taking after our father, I was still the alpha male. Marilyn seemed fine with all of it, even relieved, I believed. I didn’t know; I didn’t ask. I just wanted to help the Rabbi and show everyone how well the son who lived 1500 miles away, who was born of another mother, knew Dad best.

Would I have spoken the same way, taken up the same amount of space at the table, if I’d known what I’d find in the box in the attic? Or what he’d say in his will? Tomorrow was the funeral, and there was no hint of the bomb that would come my way.

Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?
– Henry David Thoreau, philosopher  Tweet This Quote

About the author

Mark Albion

Mark Albion

Mark Albion left his business school professorship to answer his life question: "How can I be a Marxist and still own my own Jacuzzi?" He is now a serial entrepreneur, faculty founder of Net Impact, and author of a series of books exploring meaningful careers, impact entrepreneurship, and success.