I’ve typically never done much to celebrate Father’s Day, as I’ve unfortunately never been very close with my own. However, going into my first Father’s Day as a newly married man with a Father-in-Law that I get along with quite well, I thought it might be a good time for me to turn a new leaf. To try and look at the day differently, and transform it into opportunity to give thanks to, not only my father, but some of the other male role models I’ve had the good fortune of meeting in my life. Because, I can say without a doubt in my mind, that without them, there is no way I would be where I am today.
Please note, this is a personal post as the site publisher, and while a few video game titles may make cameo appearances below, this has next to nothing to do with video games.
Charles “Chic” Lahr
There are moments in life when you encounter an individual who is larger than life itself. Charles “Chic” Lahr was definitely one of those people. He was portly, talkative, often funny, sometimes insulting, and always extremely opinionated. His unpredictable personality was a mix of teddy bear and Drill Sergeant, and it complimented the handsome Marine portrait of him in his 20s that proudly hung above one of the presses in his shop.
Chic inherited his shop, Lahr’s Printery, from his father who ran it before him, and he ran it like a well oiled machine, both literally and figuratively. See, Lahr’s Printery was far from Kinko’s. It had just one computer, with the rest of the space being filled with machines that looked like cast iron Transformers from the 1920s.
Perched behind a desk littered with papers and adorned with nothing more than a simple typewriter and a phone, Chic would receive and make calls seemingly all day long. His team was spearheaded by a man named Fred Francisco, that I got to know very well myself over the years. Chic hired Fred when he was just a teenager out of high school, and seeing the two interact on a daily basis in that print shop made it clear to me early on in life that your boss can be your friend.
Lahr’s Printery sat on the opposite side of the same block as my parent’s bakery, and I would often leave there mid day to entertain my dreams of becoming a graphic designer. Fred and Chic would run the shop, turning customer requests into printed products, and I’d mess around on the one computer they had out back whenever I had the chance, trying desperately to teach myself Corel Draw.
When he wasn’t yelling at me to put things back and not break anything, Chic would come up with a project for me to do. They were usually things like “create a logo” or “design a business card”, but I’ll never forget the time he asked me to put on this ugly janitor looking uniform and handed me a leaf blower. He said “go outside and blow the leaves up into nice little piles and rake them into bags.” Me and Chic didn’t always see eye to eye, but I respected him and knew that being exposed to his openly critical nature would help me in the long run.
Many people like Mickey Mouse, but Chic had a love affair with everything Disney, and he wasn’t ashamed to let you know about it. When I got offered my first full time job as a designer for a start up company in Boston, Chic hunted me down before I left Wilkes-Barre to give me a small gift. He handed me a congratulatory Mickey Mouse figurine with his thumb held high, and when he placed it in my hand he made sure to let me know that he was proud of me.
Mr. Lahr passed away at the age of 65 from Cancer in 2002 after putting up a valiant fight with the disease. While he may no longer be with us, the lessons I learned from him remain with me every day.
Whenever I have a rough day at work (and I’ve had plenty), I look at the figurine he gave me, and it puts everything back into perspective.
The other half that made Lahr’s Printery whole. When I was a kid, Fred was the older brother I never had. We would leave the print shop and ride around delivering orders, talking about video games we both had on our Nintendo 64. He would tell me how far he had gotten in Mario, and I would try to match his progress in the game. If ever I had a design I drew up that I wanted to have printed at the shop, Fred would find the time to sneak it in without his boss finding out so I could get it done without having to pay money I simply didn’t have at that age.
When I started designing my own map levels in Quake, hiding weapons behind walk-through walls only I knew of, it was Fred that always agreed to join in, even though he knew he didn’t stand a chance playing in a territory I created. He allowed me to kick his butt on these occasions, and oddly enough a small thing like that helped instill confidence in a kid that was much in need.
Fred and I still communicate from time to time via the telephone, but I can only imagine that his free time is no where near what it used to be, considering Fred is now a grandfather with seven (yes, I said seven) grandsons. The best part is that I know some day they will all sit down with Fred “Pappy” Francisco at various ages, and take turns whooping his butt in the video game of their choice.
As a teenager, I knew that I didn’t want to spend my entire life working in my family’s bakery, packaging pita bread all day. I wanted to see how hard it would be to get a job drawing things for a living. So, at the age of 15, I picked up my grandmother’s phone book and thumbed my way to the graphic designer listings — that is where I found John O’Connell.
I called him up and essentially said that I would like a job drawing stuff. He could have just said “yeah, sure whatever kid” but he didn’t. He made time in his schedule to entertain the hopes and dreams of a Wilkes-Barre, PA kid who wanted to be something more.
I went down to his shop, he promptly handed me a picture of some guy I never saw before in my life, and without hesitation said “can you draw him?” See, what I didn’t know at the time was that John ran a caricature studio. In addition to all the other illustration and design work he did, John cranked out a ton of personalized caricatures for his customers. I gave it my best shot and while it was probably pretty darn bad, he hired me anyway. My professional career as a crayon pusher had begun!
It may not have been much to look at from the outside, but the tan colored brick building with a yellow and purple sign on the front that read “Toon’s Cartoon and Design Studio” is where I spent many days with John O’Connell drawing caricatures, learning about life, and seeing first hand the amount of hard work and determination it took to make a living as an artist with a family to support. Some days John would take over the tunes on the radio and blare Christian music …. as a teenager who was used to listening to Metallica, that part was not always so fun.
Thank you John, for making time for a kid you didn’t know who found you in the yellow pages.
I attended James M. Coughlin High School in Wilkes-Barre PA, where my outgoing personality often trumped my desire to study. Most of the knowledge I’ve absorbed in life has been first hand, and done so by asking questions about things I had a genuine interest in. In other words, I was never one for reading books written by people I never met about things I couldn’t relate to.
My high school education and overall ability to focus on my studies went from bad to worse when my mother became ill. I became even more reckless and defiant. With no real supervision at home I was free to do whatever I wanted, and if I didn’t want to go to school, I wasn’t going. As a result, I failed my junior year. It wasn’t even close. From what I remember, my cumulative GPA ended up being a 1.0 that year.
There were countless individuals I considered friends that were at a loss for words when they saw me in the hallways the following year, and many of them decided it might be easier to just walk right by. Some stopped and said hello, but things weren’t the same for me. As silly as it seems to say this now, I had my heart set on dropping out of school, and if it wasn’t for my shop teacher, Mr. Steve Stahl, I probably would have went through it, and lived to regret it. Instead, the former Navy Sailor and Rugby player turned teacher, took me aside one day and, in a very firm yet friendly fashion, threatened to kick my ass if I dropped out of school. I could see the anger in his eyes, and I knew that at least some part of him wasn’t kidding. Maybe he knew how I felt from a personal experience of his own? Maybe he knew I just needed someone to step up and tell me that they cared, and that they weren’t going to allow me to just walk away with no consequences. So, I stuck it out, repeated my junior year, and graduated a year later with a new class of friends I wouldn’t have otherwise gotten to know as well.
While I don’t look back too fondly on this period of my life, I know that it made me a stronger person. It taught me that every action you take has a consequence. Life won’t always go the way you want it to, no matter how much planning you do, and in the end, none of us make it to where we want to be without the help, and sometimes threat of bodily harm, from others.
After getting my feet wet in my first start up dot company in 1999, my soon to be new boss, Alex Gramling, took a big chance on young guy with way more ideas then he had experience, when he hired me as his Creative Director in 2000.
As GetConnected’s Creative Director, I was responsible for handling many aspects of the initial and ongoing online and offline creative workload. But adjusting to the change in responsibility from designer to manager was a challenge to say the least, and it wasn’t a picnic for my new boss either. We often butted heads, and I can recall many closed door meetings that ended with him almost certainly wishing he had access to a time machine. In the end though, I learned a lot from Alex, even though I fought him almost every step of the way.
When push came to shove, he always had my back, and there isn’t much more you can ask from a mentor, a boss, and a friend.
When I first moved to Boston, I experienced many landlords. One even used my tiny studio apartment in Waltham to cheat on his wife with another woman because he knew I was working many late nights at the dot com start up down the street, meaning he would have the place to himself. When I finally caught him, I knew it was time to move the hell out.
When my financial situation improved, I ended up moving to Wellsley Hills and meeting a man by the name of Joseph Melikian. He owned a brick building complex by the name of the Berkley, and he became my landlord and friend over the next six to seven years I spent in his units.
As an Armenian immigrant, Joseph came to this country after already having established himself in his own. He stated off as an eye doctor and eventually moved into the real estate business. My many conversations with him in his office after work or on a lazy Sunday were a constant reminder of just how much information you can absorb if you surround yourself with intelligent individuals. Mr. Melikian was self made. He started with nothing, and everything he had in life, he worked for.
And for all the money he had at the time I met him, all the business and residential properties he owned, the man chose to drive around in a 15 year old Buick. However, his modesty and approach to representing himself, was in no way a representation of how he treated others. His wife and daughter were always provided for, and if they wanted to drive a Mercedes or BMW, that was just fine by him. He was confident and secure in himself, and it had nothing to do with his wealth. He taught me many things, but the one thing that has always stuck with me, is the importance he put on confidence.
Joseph knew my family situation and knew about the lack of a father figure in my life. He never pulled his punches with me. If I was veering off course with my job or my personal life, he would always let me know. He wasn’t shy about it either. I can recall times when I would walk into his office and he would tell me that I looked like I was putting on a few pounds. The best part is that he would always start off by saying “Chady, don’t be upset, but…”
When I lost my job, and it happened quite often as the dot com bubble began to burst, Joe never kicked me out on the street. He always worked with me and allowed me to remain his tenant in a high priced area that many could not afford to live in. He helped me get back on my feet several times, and without his help I’m not sure how I would have been able to keep pursuing my career in the New England area.
When a three year long relationship I had been in was coming to an end, Joe took me aside and shared some information with me that he thought I should know. He said, “Chady, when a man and a woman walk, they should walk side by side, but when you walked with her, she was always in front. I did not like that.” As strange as it may sound, the sheer fact that he was keeping an eye on me and open enough to share that with me made me feel better about the split. Years later, when I started dating my wife, I had a similar conversation with Joe, only much more positive. He said, “Chady, I would not trade this one’s left shoe for that other girl.” I knew I had finally found a keeper.
Yes, Joeseph Melikian was my landlord, but he was also much more then that. He was a watchful and caring grandfather figure, and for that he never accepted a penny.
Last but not least, my father. I wish I had more to say about him when it comes to day to day fatherly stuff, but I simply don’t. The fact of the matter is, outside of a handful of impressions that I do for family and friends upon request, there isn’t much that I know about the man who provided a roof over my head up until I was 18. We never went hungry, we never had to worry about clothes or shelter, but when it came to having a father that was a friend, he just didn’t fit the bill.
While he never attended any of my sporting events, took an interest in my computer work, or seemed to care about my passion for art and illustration, he worked very hard, every day of his life to make sure that we had what we needed. He provided, and maybe that is just a reflection of the strict Arabic culture he was raised in. As a kid, my dad was born in a small village in Lebanon. He came to the United States after graduating college overseas and began working as a partner in his father’s business, baking, packaging, selling, and shipping pita bread. It wasn’t glamorous work, but it was family owned, and it allowed them to become US citizens.
As my brother, my sister, and myself grew older, we started to become aware of the fact that our parent’s relationship wasn’t working out. I moved to Boston after one year of university, at the age of 20, in 1999. My parent’s got divorced shortly there after, and I’ve only spoken to my father a handful of times since. He did not attend my or my brother’s wedding, despite being invited to both.
I tried several times over the years to put the past behind us and have the father and son relationship I always wanted, but it’s quite possible that difference in culture and mindset will simply never allow that to become a possibility.
Recently, my father called me to see how I was doing. It’s the first time I can honestly recall him doing so without some sort of ulterior motive. We spoke, but sadly after a childhood filled with absent parenting, and an additional decade spent hundreds of miles away with little to no contact, we just didn’t have much to say. He asked me to come down to Florida to visit him and his new wife. Was this some way of him trying to apologize for not coming to my wedding? I’m not sure. What I am sure of however, is that beneath the tough exterior that my father showed for many years, lies a man that is capable of showing emotion, despite his best efforts to keep it bottled inside.
On one occasion, while I was home from college, he and I were heading home after visiting one of his friends. I initiated a conversation with him about a friend he and I both shared, a truck driver that delivered flour to our family’s bakery.
The man lived in Buffalo NY, and during my time in NY attending university, I traveled by train to Buffalo to see a girl I was dating. He allowed me to stay at his place and we became friends after a few days of socializing. Months later, he was on a boat in the ocean. One simple dive into the water paralyzed him for life from the neck down due to contact with a sand dune. As I began to talk to my father about an article I read in the paper that discussed what happened to our friend, his current state, and how he had began to take up painting, using only his mouth to hold the brush, I turned to my father and saw him crying. It was brief, but I realized then that there was more to him then he let on to others.
I don’t know what the future holds for my father and I, but despite our past, I am willing at the very least, to wish him well on this day. Happy Father’s Day.