binary girl: the secret blog



when good people are your people

May 31st, 2016 at 12:20

My dad’s 74th birthday was this weekend, and that puts me in mind of a story about him.

My parents live on a small island in Marin called Belvedere, which is connected to the cute little S.F. Bay-side town of Tiburon. It’s a 20-min drive away from the freeway (assuming no long lights or heavy traffic) via one two-way street, and not an especially easy place to get to; it’s suburb-y enough that people don’t generally just end up there, they usually go there purposefully — to sight-see or visit family, or because they live there. The streets are very, very narrow, and mostly blind and winding, which somehow doesn’t deter the residents from flying through them as if it’s a speed trial (a behavior I find endlessly amusing because many of them are older than me by a generation and are the same who shake their heads in judgment of anyone lane-splitting on a motorcycle on the freeway). The houses on Belvedere are generally down steep, winding driveways, because many of them are inset into the side of a the island on cliffs that afford them stunning views of both the Golden Gate and Bay bridges, so you rarely see any signs of life on the streets themselves, other than the occasional daytime dog-walker or twilight strolling couple.

Enter: my dad, driving home from work.

My dad is 74. He’s never worked for another person his entire life (well, excepting his own dad), which I jokingly say is “because g-d help the person who tries to tell my dad what to do.” He’s responsible for the leather furniture speciality industry in the US; in college, he founded the first leather furniture business, working in lock-step with designers and manufacturers across the world to bring his vision to life. He’s responsible in great part for my being a software engineer, because as the incredibly technology-focused father of two girls, he and my mom gave us access to all sorts of technology, showing us how to take apart and repair mechanical devices of all types, and getting us a computer at a young age (via points on a credit card, awww yeah Apple IIe). My parents have never subscribed to a prescriptive mindset when it came to our gender, which I’ve learned means a great deal to diversifying this industry.

So, my dad, who still works nearly 7 days a week at 74 years old, is driving home through these crazy, winding streets when he comes across an older woman who is struggling with a variety of bags and paraphernalia in the road. People are driving by her, not stopping. If you don’t live near a major city, your knee-jerk reactions to seeing something like this may differ, but having worked a significant amount of time in San Francisco proper, I’ve seen people become numb to situations like this — there is an expectation that this person either knows what they’re doing and are making it happen (struggling to get home), that “someone else” will take care of it, or that the person is mentally ill or homeless and trying to help them will be of no avail. But my dad? He’s the guy who has worked a deal out with the person who lives in a tent on the property of his current store, instead of calling the cops on him to remove him. First, they became friends — like, real, long-conversations-find-out-your-personal-history type friends. Then, my dad asked him how he could support him, and learned that he liked living off the grid, that he did it by choice. So, my dad “hired” him — he watches the property in the off-hours in exchange for using the facilities, living there, using the electricity to power his computers, etc.

My dad sees this woman and instead of driving by her like so many others, he pulls over.

Dad: “Hi! Are you okay? Can I help you?”
Woman: “I’m just trying to get home…”
Dad: “Can I help and drive you? Where do you live?”

The woman gives an address, but he doesn’t recognize it, so he asks her if it’s on Belvedere, and she says yes, but seems confused. Further conversation and she gives another address, but this one is 24th St. in San Francisco — not nearly close enough to warrant her walking with her things through the windy streets. He asks her if he can help her by driving her down to the police station so they can get her squared away, and she thanks him and gets in the car.

On the way to the station, they have a pleasant conversation, and when they arrive, a police officer comes out to the car and they start chatting through the window open window. The police ask the woman if she’d like to get out of the car and come inside, but she seems reticent, so my dad offers that she can stay in the car and continue to talk if she’d like, which she appears to prefer. The paramedics come to check her to make sure she’s uninjured. She gives the police a number and while they at first don’t get an answer, eventually they connect with a man who indicates that this is his wife and that he’ll be by to get her (he hadn’t answered because he was canvassing the streets for her). The police keep telling my dad that he can leave, and leave her there, but my dad also offers that he can stay until her husband shows up, if she’s comfortable — which apparently she is.

Eventually the husband shows up and they reunite. She’s worried he’ll be angry with her, but the first thing the husband asks if she wants to go for ice cream. “Really? Yes, I would!” The woman has memory issues, and her husband was shocked that she had wandered so far, since she usually stays much closer to her house. He thanks my dad for caring enough to stop and see her home.

That’s my dad. He’s a guy who will stop people who possibly need help, who talks to strangers as if they are merely friends he doesn’t know yet. He’s a good person, and I hope to always strive to be as good. And the funniest part, to me, is that when I said to him that he’s a rare person, he doesn’t see it. He told me that this is just what people do for each other. Which, really, makes it even better!

6 Responses to “when good people are your people”

  1. Cynthia Phipps Says:

    I will second your beautifully written piece. You’re dad is an amazingly kind person (and your mom too). I love them both like family.

    I hope he had a great birthday!


    Cynthia P.

  2. steve lipman Says:

    Wowza that’s some story. So was the woman suffering from Alzheimer’s or some other sort of dementia?

    My cousin Dr. Art Rivin is suffering from end-stage Alzheimer’s. Totally not fair, he’s the nicest man in the world and so is his wife, my Aunt Fritzi.

    He’s written several pieces in the LA Times about his dementia from a physician’s perspective and what he knew was happening to him. It’s a beautiful piece really.

  3. alison Says:

    Alzheimer’s is just gut-wrenching. My grandmother suffered from it and … no words. I remember you sharing your cousin’s articles in 2012ish? I need to go re-read them.

  4. steve lipman Says:

    Here’s one article from about 4 years ago:

  5. steve lipman Says:

    And from about 6 years ago. This one really got to me…

  6. steve lipman Says:

    Oh, and good on your Dad. He sounds like a real mensch! 😁

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