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Daedalus was the mythical great architect and artificer of the classical world. Today, embedded intelligence is enabling the most profound changes in the way we create and use buildings since his day.

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Answering the call

I have been dreading and expecting this call. My mother said, “I hope you can be here. I hope your travels will put you on the west coast soon. I wish you could be here. Will you be out here any time soon?”

My father has been quite ill, and confused for some time. He has already lived 5 years longer than any male in his line, and almost ten years longer than his own father. I was born when he was 40, his seventh son. I wrote about him here on his 90th birthday. He has not been what he was for years. For an occasional moment, he could fix his mind on the here and now, and his attention was penetrating and forceful. The confusion would come back.

I visited him at Thanksgiving, avoiding the Christmas confusion of visitors. We talked then, and he asked what I was up to. Occasionally he would look straight at me assert “You are the one that went away to North Carolina and didn’t come back” Soon, we would start over again. Soon he would retreat to the supermarket romances that have been his refuge in recent years.

My father was always full of surprises and talents. He had experiences that it is hard to imagine today. In the 30’s, he would jump the train in Burlingame, riding to work at 4 at the meat packing plant before school. He sang in the chorus, as a spear carrier, in the San Francisco Opera. He had a band in high school, and through college, playing summers at the lodge in Yosemite. In the thirties, a date was a girl and a ferry ride across San Francisco Bay, a milkshake, and a return trip on the ferry,

He dropped out of Cal at 20 because he had found his girl, but not before founding the American Society of Industrial Engineers. Even at that age, he was not sent to war; he was declared essential to the war effort, and worked in shipyards speeding production, except when he was loaned to the mustang airplane factory always behind schedule.

I remember his stories setting up the production line for a system so secret that no one was allowed to know all the details. It was made in four parts of the factory, each component delivered sealed to the next for inclusion. Years after his retirement, he talked of his work with one of the computers I had only read of, and hadn’t known was ever on the West Coast. When the war was over, he took his dream job in the Midwest, signing on to make college rings in a small town.

The quiet life did not last. His wife moved him to San Diego, where she grew up, and he was one of the early accountants in California to opt for the new CPA designation. He grew his business by doing the books for every parish he could find, and by teaching at SDSC. He always lived in the country on weekends, moving his growing family through a series of cattle ranches in the back country. San Felipe. Rincon. Chores for the kids. Five years before I was born, the family moved full time to a ranch near Mt Palomar, and he became well known for the create application of tax law to real estate.

In the summer, family trips would always begin at the Starlight Opera, Broadway musicals under the open air, and then into the car and drive through the night, travelling through the desert when it was cool. I remember driving down Route 66, stopping at a nameless hotel, and the phone ringing after dinner. A client, with a critical problem, had called every hotel in Arizona to find him, and he talked until far after when I was sent to bed. During this time, he always had several children in college, and the rest in private school.

This was not enough to keep him busy. On Tuesday and Thursday nights, he would pick us up from school, after 5, feed us, and drive north, to sit in the parked car while he completed his PHD in Mathematics at one of the Pomona schools. He learned a language each year to travel abroad to Europe and to Asia. Later, he gave as many as 50 seminars a year, on taxes and real estate and finally estate planning. He had friends all over the country, some who would pay to see him again and again, whenever he was within several states. The man was tireless.

One summer, as a surly college student, I worked in his accounting firm, and travelled with him on seminars. Everywhere I was annoyed at how people liked and admired him. Later, whenever my kids troubled me, my mother would laugh and say I had the children I deserved. I wish I had taken better notes.

In his retirement, he opted to read every book mentioned as a classic, or mentioned as important by a classic. He read the Greek philosophers, and worked his way up chronologically through the first 600 years of Christian philosophers and theologians.

So in recent years, when he sat, and slept, and read supermarket romances, he was not the same man. I would explain enterprise responsive buildings, and dynamic energy markets. He would look at me intently, warn me not to do any business with utilities (they move too slow, and don’t understand risk and profit!), look longingly at his book, and ask me to start again.

Last week, he went downhill fast. The odd thing was that with each dip down, he seemed to bounce further up the next day. My brothers who visited him on the up days reported that he was working crossword puzzles again, and quickly. The next day the reports again would be dire...

Tonight, I was in the airport in Orlando, after the AHR conference and one day of the GridWise Architectural Council. I had technical writing to do on the plane, to further the development of the market oriented interfaces of smart energy. With a half hour before boarding, I called my Mother to chat, and to let her think of something else.

“I hope you can be here. I hope your travels will put you on the west coast soon. I wish you could be here. Will you be out here any time soon? The brothers are taking turns sleeping in his room each night. Will you be out here?”

So I write this flying west from Orlando, rather than north to Carolina, with a suitcase full of already dirty conference clothes. Strangely, the first phone call was to the kennel, telling them I would not pick up Rusty any time soon. Suddenly I have no schedule, but my life and time, like my father’s, are in God’s hands. A moment long anticipated, long expected, long resigned to, is still momentous when it comes.

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Reader Comments (4)

So sorry to hear of your father's declining health. While I've never met him, your posts make him sound so interesting I want to have. He done good. You are a good son.

January 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMichaela Barnes

I hope all the airline gods are lined up to get you to see your father soon. It seems like I just wrote the same story, but nowhere neara as eloquently as you have. Take care Toby.

January 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMj Miller

Profoundly moving Toby, thanks for sharing. What an amazing man. God's care to you, your dad and your family.

January 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRob McCormick

Blessings to you and your family T. Let me know if I can pick up any slack in NC while you're away.

February 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBrad Maiani

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