In June of 1967, I was living as a patient in a mental hospital in White Plains, New York. I had been a patient for almost a year but was now apparently sufficiently stable to be allowed to seek employment. I had been cleverly maneuvered into signing myself into the hospital by my father who was a brilliant but obsessive and highly judgmental attorney and quite skilled at getting what he wanted. He saw me at the time as becoming dangerously unstable. He was probably right. I was caught between needing his money to survive in college and the unrelenting pressure and judgment I experienced from him in our every encounter. And I was doing foolish things like stealing items from my fraternity house’s kitchen and generally behaving like an immature, confused and angry 19 year old kid. I finally decided that the only way out of the battle with Dad was to join the Army. I left college and returned home to let my folks know my decision. This was in 1966, not a great time to be joining the Army; but it seemed like a better choice than spiraling out of control with my father.
He told me he would not stand in my way if I would agree to an exam by a psychiatrist. That didn’t seem like such a big deal so I agreed. The next day, my mother drove me to meet a doctor in White Plains, 90 miles south of our home in Albany, New York. I wasn’t too quick on the uptake because it didn’t occur to me that the appointment had already been made with a doctor two hours away.
The doctor seemed to know a lot about me already. Within 15 minutes of meeting him he had decided that I needed to be hospitalized immediately and that there was a bed waiting for me at a hospital a couple miles away. I learned years later that the wait to get into that hospital was nine months. Dad had been setting this up for quite awhile.
So by the end of the day I was in a locked ward with lots of other men, but nobody especially dangerous. We played cards and went to occupational therapy every week and in general we just hung out being our own special version of crazy. But it wore me down and I started believing that I had been locked up not because of what I had done but because of what I was. The depression set in and became so severe that I would spend entire days curled up in the fetal position in my bed with only a breathing hole in the blanket.
After several months of telling myself how miserable I felt and how nobody cared about me… in general whining about the reality of my life, something snapped. I realized that if I didn’t do something, nobody was going to come and rescue me, so I got out of bed and re-engaged. That week my doctor told me, “Bob, you know the behavior we want to see from you. Just pretend. Do it long enough and we will let you go.” In a couple months, he said I could look for work outside the hospital.
After a week of digging ditches for Manpower, I stumbled on an employment agency that had two job openings: a bank teller for $85 per week and a computer operator for $75 per week. I thought about the choice for all of 10 seconds. I knew that with my relationship with money, if I took the job with the bank I would be in jail within a month. So I applied for the computer operator job and wound up starting my lifelong relationship with computers on June 6, 1967, just over a month before my 21st birthday. I also completely changed my relationship with money.
On my second day on the job my boss, Jack handed me two Honeywell Computer manuals and said, “Bob, as soon as you write your first program, I’ll give you a $10 per week raise.” I got the raise two weeks later. He told me then about the results of the test he had given me when I applied for the job. I had forgotten about that test entirely, but my score tied the highest score he had ever seen, so he decided that he would take a chance on the recovering nut case.
I took to computers with a passion. One night, Jack asked me to write a program to fix some data on our invoicing tapes. I sat down at the keypunch and wrote the program off the top of my head. After I fixed a couple of typos and bugs, the program ran like a champ.
I happened to be able to return to my old company on the 10th anniversary of my starting there. I had a wife and an infant son with me. We had lunch with Jack who told me that my old program was at the heart of their system. It had received a few face lifts over the years, but a simple one-off problem fixer had grown to become the heart of a whole new business process. Go figure!
When I had been working for Jack for about a year, Jack told me it was time for me to move on. He didn’t fire me. He fathered me. Jack recognized that I was already outgrowing the limits of my current job and he wanted to encourage me to continue my growth. He was a wonderful man to work for and I deeply appreciate his trust and generosity.
In the years after that first job, I worked with many different types of computers from IBM mainframes to DEC and Tandem minicomputers. I purchased two of the original IBM PC computers in 1981 and wrote and published the very first windowing system for the PC in 1983. It was called VSI (Virtual Screen Interface) and sold as “Lattice Windows.” It was fast and powerful, but it wasn’t graphic. It disappeared with the emergence of Microsoft Windows in the late 1980’s.
During that period, one of my VSI customers had moved to Microsoft and he recruited me to move from San Jose where it was warm and sunny to Redmond, Washington where it was dark and rainy. It was not an easy sell to my family, and it turned out not to be a great move for me, either. But it did yield one gift of immense value.
I was hired as a Director of the Core Consulting Team for what became Microsoft Consulting Services. My boss was a brilliant fellow who looked like a Woody Allen clone on a bad hair day. After about three months on the job, he realized that his team wasn’t clicking real well so he engaged a “team builder” who took the bunch of us off to a hotel in downtown Seattle for the weekend. We talked about trust and openness and authentic feelings and something inside me lit up. The whole world started to take on color. I realized in that moment that I had been seeing the world in the shades of black and white TV of my childhood, but in the present moment I was seeing the world in color instead.
The weekend ended, I went home and the colors started to fade. And I got pissed. I called the trainer who had led us and asked him how to get the colors back. He told me to start with looking at my codependency. I had no idea what he was talking about, but I found a codependency workshop at a church I had been attending and my wife and I took the workshop together.
On our way home I said to her, “I am going to change and this will have an impact on our relationship.”
“Do you mean you want out of our relationship?” she asked.
“No,” I replied. “I simply know that I must grow up and that our relationship is going to shift. You are going to have to make your own choices and we will have to work out how this impacts our relationship together.”
In that moment, I had realized that I cannot fix her and she cannot fix me. The future was cloudy, but my resolve to grow up was rock solid. That took place in 1991. It is September, 2016 as I write this and Donna and I will celebrate 42 years together in just two more days.
For the next ten years, we did all kinds of work on ourselves. We did workshops. We fought. We judged each other and we got stoned a lot. But when we fought, we fought to resolve, to heal. We never fought to hurt the other. Eventually, we learned that even though we are very different people, we can accept each other exactly as we are. Now I don’t mean to suggest that we don’t have some wishes about the other. She wishes I wasn’t such a water buffalo leaving water all over the kitchen; and I wish she gave better back rubs. But at the heart of our relationship, we love and respect each other and we connect as best we can across our differences. Donna has been my partner in developing the ConneXions Workshop. She reads everything I write and she tells me what doesn’t flow or work right for her. And I listen carefully to her feedback.
So what makes an old fart lime me who is probably still crazy after all these years competent to develop and teach a course on connections? I ask myself the same question. But virtually everyone I have talked with about the ConneXions Workshop gives me the same feedback: “This is needed!” There may be (and probably are) better workshops out there somewhere taught by people with lots of capital letters after their names, and I don’t have any degrees except those measurable with a thermometer. But what I do have is a passion for sharing what I have learned in the last 42 years with my partner, Donna, and what I have learned in The Mankind Project helping to initiate over 1,000 men into a more mature form of masculinity. Now the MKP training didn’t land on all of them as deeply as it has on me, and I am a bit of a slow learner; but most of the men I know in the Mankind Project recognize me now as being a good teacher and a strong facilitator.
I don’t know how many more years I have on this cycle and I have no idea how the ConneXions Workshop will be received. I feel fear, but the fear simply informs me that I get to choose how I respond to whatever happens. Today, I sent an email message to over 300 people inviting them to sign up. So far, nobody has. But everyone who has looked at my work has said it is very needed, so I will press on and do my part, trusting the Universe to guide me as it will.