I Hope to God I don’t Repeat the Past

250px-Plaza_hotel

[Note: for privacy issues I’ve slightly rewritten the beginning of this post.]

My dad’s first marriage fell apart with him going crazy on the floor of his shit Bronx apartment. His brain fell apart. He threw things, he screamed. I’ve never once seen my dad raise my voice. But crazy can hit the human body like a tornado. Just like me, my dad’s first marriage didn’t work out (although for very different reasons).

Just like me, my dad’s first business didn’t work out. He went public with the business (a software business). At the IPO time he was worth $5 million on paper. He never sold any stock and eventually the stock fell to zero.

Our neighbor, Sandy Blatt, came over to our house on the day of the IPO. He said to me, “you know why I’m buying this stock? Because of this man.” And he pointed to my dad. The stock never once moved higher. Sandy never spoke to my dad again.

(The Plaza Hotel)

My dad rented out a floor of the Plaza hotel to throw a party. He had a white tuxedo. He had two bands playing. Gary Becker, his #2, came up to me and said, “your dad is a genius.” Much later Gary cheated on his wife, got remarried to another employee of the company, and then when the stock fell to zero never moved out of his sofa again until he died from depression.

I was too shy to talk to anyone at the party. I wanted people to like me, to know that my dad was throwing this party, my dad was a genius! But I sat outside in the lobby of the Plaza.

My dad joined something called the “Governor’s Club”. He paid $1000 a month so he could have lunch with the governor once a month. He wanted me to go once with him. But I had a paper route that bordered Christine Cardinal’s paper route and there was no way I was going to skip those eight seconds where Christine and I would meet in the middle and I would smile at her, trying to elicit a smile back, a small movement of her lips, maybe some tongue (haha), so the governor could wait. And so would Reagan ($2000 for that lunch).

Back to his first marriage and the day it fell apart. He started smashing things, he was crying, he threatened to kill himself.  He worked at the post office, he worked as an ice cream man, he was a failed classical composer, he was obsessed with chess. He had nothing going on and now this. Now his life was more than over. It was a big negative. I wasn’t there. But many years later he refused to tell me how bad it was.

So he went crazy crazy. The kind of crazy where police are called.

So the police come. Big guy. Bronx guy. Tough guy. “Seymour?” the policeman said, my dad lying on the floor: small, jewish, thick glasses, kinked-up hair, crying although I prefer the word “weeping” (something sadder. We cry for many things but we only weep when we’ve lost something once dear – a love, our sanity, our vision of the future we clung to). And, coincidence of coincidences in a city of six million people, the police guy was the exact bully from sixth grade who used to pick on my dad.

“Seymour is that you?”  And just then my dad had everything in the world to be embarrassed about. I’m sure he looked out the window, the light coming in. Can’t the light reverse direction? Carry you out, back into the sun. Save you from this wretched planet. The Bronx, with cheating wives, a dirty post office, a mafia ice cream route, decades of ghetto jews, decades to come of burnt out ghetto everything else. Back to Ra, who the ancient Egyptians said was father of us all? My sister, two years old, me not born for another 10 years in another ghetto borough.

Thirty years later my dad’s business fell apart. He would burst into tears walking around a supermarket. He’d go to my younger sister’s parent teacher conference and she would tell me later how embarrassing it was because he would start crying right in front of her teachers. How horrible it is to go broke in front of your children.

I went to visit and we’d play chess and he’d just say, “What’s wrong with me?” when his moves were weaker than normal (he was a strong master in his day) and those moves never got better. It kept going downhill until he would make left turns on eighth avenue (his parents lived on eighth avenue – for his entire life you can only make a right on eighth avenue but he would start to forget). “What’s wrong with you!” my mom would say.

Sometimes I’d get the call from him. “I’m missing,” he’d say. And I’d drive out to whatever mall he was at and he’d forget where his car was and what he had bought and where he was going and I would pick him up and take him to the hospital and the doctor would always make everyone feel better, “Don’t worry,” until of course, dad was dead and the doctor was right – no more worries.

When I was ten my dad had surgery on his eyes. He had to sleep and not open his eyes at all or he could go blind. I was told not to wake him. But I was ten. And I was playing with a tennis ball outside and it hit his window. He woke up. “James!” my mom yelled from the front door. My friend said, “good luck” and jumped on his bike and rode home.

(an eye with glaucoma)

I went in. My dad’s room was dark. I stood in the middle of the room. My mom limped over to me (she had polio as a girl). “Stand still,” she said to me but it took her time to reach me. My dad, bandages over his eyes, the room completely pitch black except for the glimpse of sunlight trying to peek through. I could barely see my mom standing right in front of me. “Hit him,” my dad said. So my mom did, across the face. More than once. But I deserved it. I was afraid he was going to go blind now because of me. I deserved it.

Years later, I went crazy. I was throwing things. Alcohol had been ingested. I was angry. What a horrible thing for children to see. The police were called. “What’s going on here?” “Nothing”. “Well, something is. Someone called us.” And I put up no fuss. Neighbor’s lights clicked on as I was led out to the back of the police car. No leg room. What do they care?

They took me to a small motel on the side of a random highway about ten miles away. “Don’t leave this room all night,” the police said, “or we’ll write this up and it will go on your record.” There it is, that “record” again. When can I play funky music on that record, white boy?

I was so tired anyway. The room was spinning from alcohol. I slept and for awhile it was like I was sleeping in the cyclone at the amusement park. And when I woke up I had no idea where I was. I walked outside. It was six in the morning. No cars were on the highway. Nuclear war had destroyed the entire world. And the radiation had finally mutated me beyond recognition.

Related Posts:

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How To Be the Luckiest Person Alive in Four Easy Steps

 

 

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  • http://twitter.com/kamalravikant Kamal Ravikant

    Oh, James, this one was real emotion, heartbreaking.  You sure can make your readers feel.

  • Drippy

    I think you could have written a great “rich dad, poor dad” book. Much better than the other guy.

  • Vamp Iresquid

    Some folk just think money is so important. Like George Soros, Robert Rubin, Lloyd Blankfiend. Seems James’s dad was one too.
    In fact, I think James’s focuses on money rather a lot.
    So, anyways, at least the economy is on the up!

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      I support two households, so to some extent yes. And I have a lot of experience with the different shades of money. But its definitely not the key to my happiness at this moment. Which is more focused around:

      http://www.jamesaltucher.com/2011/02/how-to-be-the-luckiest-guy-on-the-planet-in-4-easy-steps/

      • MsDreamy

        I don’t even know why you took the trouble to answer that wallpost :P

    • Benoit Ledouche

      I know, my land lord lets me pay my rent with hugs, and the grocery store up the street provides me with a bag of groceries just for reciting a lovely poem.  Why worry about money?

      • http://www.buttonsf.wordpress.com Buttons

        Exactly! Money’s not important, till you have a stack of bills looking at you with an empty checkbook laying on your desk… when you have children that pressure increases a thousand-fold becasue when you’re young and single it’s no big deal to leave a bad situation, sleep in your car, go a week without food until you had an income and an apartment (at least it wasn’t for me), but a child to the mix and things look VERY different. You’ll do things you SWORE you’d never do (“I would never stay in an abusive relationship” or “I would never do this or that for a living” and so on).

        Money doesn’t buy happiness, but it certainly does decrease the worries in life!

  • Estherheyman

    Vamp Iresquid: “Some folk just think money is so important. Like George Soros, Robert Rubin, Lloyd Blankfiend. Seems James’s dad was one too. In fact, I think James’s focuses on money rather a lot.”

    You could have thrown in Donald Trump, Warren Buffett, and Bill Gates, but they’re not Jewish so doing so would not have advanced your narrative. You are about as subtle as Hamas.

    Excellent essay, James. It is amazing how you are willing to share your investment ideas and your personal life knowing that the Internet liberates people to be the unrestrained assholes they only wish they could be in real life. You make brilliant stock picks and absorb abuse from omniscient paupers. You write movingly about your own life, and a harmonic convergence of malicious slobs respond with hostile, semiliterate critiques.

    You are currently the most interesting writer on the web, and I greatly admire your lack of literary inhibitions.

    But I wonder whether you are a masochist…

    • Reality_Bites

      Hmm, aren’t Gates and Buffet giving/leaving their wealth to a charitable foundation?
      Big difference between good and evil, open your eyes Esther, before it’s too late for you, you Americans are being literally bled dry by the banking elite. You are doomed. You will never want to touch another stock in your life when this thing hits rock bottom (2 or 3 years).
      Only then maybe will you realise James is a sell-side pumper, and you have been duped.
      And you will think of me (I guarantee) as hyperinflation leaves you with no food on your plate (stock up now).

  • Steven L Goff

    I dont trust myself with money (super wealthy money that is) in this world today. I would be an evil person…no doubt! I know my place/social plain in life….I was not meant to be rich and powerful for a reason.

  • MsDreamy

    A good & very touching read, it disturbed me though. I hope you’re Ok.

  • http://www.stockrake.com StockRake

    Awesome piece.

  • http://jlcollinsnh.wordpress.com jlcollinsnh

    Today my daughter and I went out to lunch and we got to talking about my father who died long before she was born.  She never knew him.  Neither did I.
     
    He was a product of the depression and WW II years and kept his own council.  My mother was a hand full and being married to her must have been a challenge. 
     
    He was a heavy cigarette smoker, typical of his generation, and spent 20 years slowly dying of emphysema.  If there is a worst way to die, other than being intentional tortured to death, I’m not aware of it.
     
    Each year sapped his vitality a bit more.  Each year his business got slowly crushed to death.  Each year we got poorer.
     
    He never dealt well to children.  I was an adult before we really had a relationship.  It was a great beginning but then he died.  I never once heard him complain about anything.
     
    At the end I was with him one evening in the hospital.  He was sitting on the edge of the bed barely able to breathe.  “I’m going to die,” he said.
     
    “No you’re not,” I said “don’t talk like that.”  So he didn’t.  I was 24, young and stupid.
     
    By morning he was dead.  In the end I was the one person he felt he could talk to about what was coming and I shut him down.
     
    I was raised Catholic with the concept of go-directly-to-hell Mortal Sin.  If I’ve ever committed one, this was it.

    • http://twitter.com/kamalravikant Kamal Ravikant

      Not a sin.  You did what you could at the time, being who you were.  It’s scary having to deal with what your father’s statement brings up, especially at 24.  Your response was normal.  The sin would be to continue holding it against yourself, to not let it go.  Your father wouldn’t want that.

      • http://jlcollinsnh.wordpress.com jlcollinsnh

        Thanks Kamal….

        I appriciate that and understand it.  You are right, he wouldn’t.

        Still, of all the bad things I’ve done, this is the one that most corrodes my heart.

        So much there could have been at that moment for him and for me. 

  • PatD

    WOW…My initial reaction…is …why are you airing (like my parents would say) Dirty laundry???
    Because…IMHO…this is a story about love and un-diagnosed mental illness…back-in-the-day…when there were no viable answers…manic behavior..depression…etc…were all ignored or treated with archaic methods…eg…when your fathers first wife confronted him w/the truth she was unequiped with any healthy skills to deal w/the reaction…..but it was a different time …still an industrial era …but on the cusp of something else….
    Wouldnt it be Great to blame our “failures’ on genetics?   too easy a way out…plus…no lessons learned in that theory…
    You Have Major Courage….and I guess there will be many perspectives on this post…
    Thankx as always
    for encouraging us to think ..search….and heal….

    • Benoit Ledouche

      Qu’est-ce qu’un morceau de shit agressive passive vous

  • Kurt

    Did she stop at 100?

    • http://economicdisconnect.blogspot.com/ GYSC

      “My girfriend sucked 27 XXX!”
      ‘In a row?”
      Clerks

  • Kane

    Nice articles James.

  • http://economicdisconnect.blogspot.com/ GYSC

    Wow!  As bad as I may have had some things go, this sounds really tough.  My dad died, so did my brother, and my best friend.  At least the cops were never called!

  • http://lifedefacto.com/ Nwokedi

    Interesting story.  However, I think I missed its main idea or moral.

  • Anonymous

    I hope you experience joys that make up for all the despair. You definitely know how to bleed when you write. Nice job, though for those of us with elderly parents this is particularly painful to read. Can you write something joyful now? Take the taste of death out of our mouths? Maybe about your girls…

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      Ha, there’s a lot of optimism on the blog also. I mix and match. Don’t worry.

  • Sundar

    This post is how I’ve felt for the last 6 months

  • Tom

    My dad’s (female) therapist told him to have an affair and/or leave my mom, but thankfully he didn’t.

    I can’t even wrap my mind around advising someone to have 100 affairs.  Someone who has a child.  Is this what they teach in Social Worker school?  (I’m hoping that a real psychologist would not tell their clients to do such horrible things.  I feel that they deserve to be in prison.)  That is flat-out evil, and therapists who tell their clients to destroy their families are scum.

    Your father is Job.

  • http://twitter.com/Volnado Volnado

    I am sorry you had to deal with all of this but I am glad to have read it. 

  • avdhoot limaye

    Wow James this was a very disturbing essay. I really admire your courage to be so open and honest. But I am wondering…so what was the lesson ? To me it felt like you just cut of the second part….(the optimistic ending) I want to read it all the way till the current date 

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      Sometimes the lesson is just simply: life could be tough. But keep moving on. Read the rest of the blog and there is plenty of optimism and ways to move forward.

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      Sometimes the lesson is just simply: life could be tough. But keep moving on. Read the rest of the blog and there is plenty of optimism and ways to move forward.

  • Jewel

    Bernie Madoff, as a very young child, watched as policemen came to arrest his father for his involvement in a financially fraudulent scheme.  What did that young child feel that drove him to repeat that experience later on in his life. But – after all – I like James’ writing that although “the temptation, and biology, is all too great to repeat, its life’s challenge to become better than that. To escape our biology.”
    Sending love – 

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      Even sadder, look what happened to Bernie’s son. Couldn’t achieve the critical speed to break free of his father’s gravitational pull. Now dead.

      • Anonymous

        Not to thump but history
        Scripture states “in loose terms” it takes 4 generations to totally straighten out the effects of one bad character inline. My guess is the negativity is so prevalent in a young persons mind that it’s a real challenge to escape one’s biology as you state.

        My guess is nowdays information is easier obtained and the upside of unscrewing one bad apple can be dramatically shortened

        Bernie Madoff will impact generations long after he is dead. No punishment from the state can atone for his actions to his family and investors.

        A website called http://www.divorcebusting.com talks a lot about therapists and your Dad’s experience is not unique but it’s sad.  

  • Anonymous

    That “therapist” sounds more like a Pimp sending out his women to clients. I bet they were paying him for this “service”.

  • http://www.facebook.com/manuel.j.cardoso Manuel João

    I feel sad after reading this post. Can’t imagine some idiot telling my gf to go and have sex with a bunch of different guys.

    wtf? Was she that stupid?

  • razorsedge

    WOW, sad,gripping. in some sence, many have been there, its almost dajavoo to some i think.

  • asplenia

    What you wrote about crying vs. weeping. Yes. 

  • http://www.dinosaurtrader.com dinosaurtrader

    Holy shit. I can’t really relate to this one, but holy shit.

    Is this your first time writing about all these things? I don’t know your history other than you’ve been a financial columnist (and the stuff you’ve shared here).

    Thanks,

    -DT

    • http://www.brookefarmer.com Brooke Farmer

      I can totally relate to this one. And yes. Holy shit. 

  • http://www.dinosaurtrader.com dinosaurtrader

    Scary quote. Wondering where/if I fit in somehow.

    -DT

  • earl

    “That miserable b****”  we have no money,  the power is off, mom picked up gov’t cheese, we never went on vacation.  dads paying child support for three kids.  dads yelling.  dads never home.  dad works in another town.  mom is depressed, mom adopts cats, mom becomes a hoarder.  dad makes $30K/year, but says he makes $90K.  dad roller skates competitively.  I skateboard.  half brother dies from Aids, other half brother has HIV now, for the last 20 years, I am calling him Magic now. 

    I heard more about my dads ex-wife as a kid than my dad said anything about my mom.  For the better part of 30 years I thought my dad was the biggest loser I ever met.  I usually did and still do the opposite of his advice.

    CES.  Blur.  Porn parties.  Back home, Monday morning red eye(why?).  Get home hug my kids I have not seen in 5 days.  “honey, can we go meet for coffee”  shes asks over and over again.  “why, because you want to divorce me?”  that was my last interaction as an intact family. 

    Critical Speed?  I had it, or so I thought.  I didnt accept it though, and fought everything and everyone, still fighting like a 16 yr old which slowed me down.  Its time to get faster now, spin off even further.

  • http://www.brookefarmer.com Brooke Farmer

    The guilt of a child. The guilt of a parent. I am not sure which is more powerful (although I’d lean toward the latter, that could be more a symptom of the proximity of my memories). 

    This post reads like a kick to the gut. How Amy Hempel of you. I always think her last lines feel a little bit like getting kicked. 

    This is a truly exceptional piece. I don’t want to call it a “post,” because I think that is almost derogatory in this case. 

  • Alexis M.

    I love this blog. I enjoy all of your blogs, but this one I love.
    “It was six in the morning. No cars were on the highway. Nuclear war had destroyed the entire world. And the radiation had finally mutated me beyond recognition.”
    This has to be the best conclusion to anything ever written. But when you are standing on that highway, the one with no cars, where do you go from there? How do you begin to rebuild after the nuclear war? I’ve read your blog “How to be the luckiest guy on the planet in 4 Easy Steps.” I’ve read it at least a dozen times. Those 4 easy steps aren’t so easy if you’re that Gary guy, the one who couldn’t get off his sofa. It feels like there is a step missing. There has to be a step between the sofa and those 4 easy steps. When ‘happiness’ seems about as plausible asSuperman or the Tooth Fairy, what is that first step? How do I keep from ending up like Gary?

  • Marketsurfer

    “Haha, you have no idea.” His brain fell apart. He threw things, he screamed. I’ve never once seen my dad raise my voice.”  

    My Dad raise MY voice—- Feudian slip, JA, or a typo??  Surf

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_XROPS65HWLWX6QB2JINKJ5LBI4 BrianSWFC

    A strong piece, James. I’m struck by the parallels between your dad’s success and failures and yours. He was a software startup guy (like you) who achieved great success (like you) and then lost it all (like you). But you came back and grabbed bigger successes for yourself, which your dad did not. Do you think that you learnt to bounce back, to persist and to drive yourself forward because your father did not, and you saw the resulting misery?
     
    On a side note, how did you transition from software to finance? Wall Street seems like an unforgiving world to make a career change into.

  • Anonymous

    You know why all your books failed in the past (putting the new one aside for now)?  Because you did not write like this.  I haven’t read them, but I am pretty that stock strategies never sounded like a guy baring his bloody soul like this.  You are a born writer, James, and book sales are a poor measure of what you can do.  This is the freshest stuff I’ve read since coming across Sedaris in the mid 90s.

  • Anonymous

    It’s amazing that when you talk to people you hear their amazing times as a kid, and their horrid times.  I don’t think anyone grew up like Leave it to Beaver, and no one has a time machine.  

    Still, I always wonder where you get the ability to keep trying, but it actually gathers momentum and works out.

  • Anonymous

    It’s amazing that when you talk to people you hear their amazing times as a kid, and their horrid times.  I don’t think anyone grew up like Leave it to Beaver, and no one has a time machine.  

    Still, I always wonder where you get the ability to keep trying, but it actually gathers momentum and works out.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Crystel-Lewinski/1330366056 Crystel Lewinski

    I love reading your posts.  They are very real and I look forward to that small bit of time everyday.  However, you’ve been very dark lately.

  • Anonymous

    That was a frakkin amazing article. Amazing.

  • Michael

    James, I am here reading your blog, jobless, feeling helpless and some part of me wants that Nuclear holocaust to happen, another part of me says I still have a part to play in society. Society made us who we are. Why do we fight back and keep striving to be better than where we are right now? Dad told me not to believe everything I read and to remain skeptical.  That is so hard to do. I am an optimist and can you imagine what a depressed optimist is going through? I am skeptical of those said events in your blog. It seemed like a f**ked up life, but who am I to judge others when my own is in such a shambles.

  • PatD

    I have no clue what you are saying…except for the word SH#T…if I have offended you benoit…it wasnt my intent….

  • Anonymous

    James,

    I agree with DavidSandrowitz. Been trying to explain to people why I love this blog so much. The next time I pitch it to someone, I’m going send them the link to this post. Just beautiful. 

  • Anonymous

    I haven’t been to this site before but I have no clue what this is. It’s weird and I won’t be coming back. Sorry mate. Bit strange.

  • lee

    great quote. aptly describes the human condition.

  • Anonymous

    Wow, you write good. ;) I don’t….

  • Tammy Hart Dyer

    Eloquent.  Raw. Real.  I can’t relate to  those who say this is “dark”. as if that is somehow wrong or in poor form.  It’s life and it is what it is.  Life is often stranger than what could imagine.  You’re style has created beauty in the dark and brought it down to level other souls can relate to.  And it’s always darkest before the dawn. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1272980067 Priscilla Benfield

    Very raw but not depressing at all. You have pulled yourself out of this dark place and didn’t allow it to swallow you whole.

  • http://rodolfogrimaldi.com Daniel Mihai Popescu

    I became addicted to your posts, :). It was nice you had friends to wish you good luck, when you hit the window with the tennis ball. I remember, I would take the blame even when others hit any window. Doesn’t matter now…

  • Ember Martin

    By far the best post I’ve read from you, James. Very powerful.

  • SpecosaurusRex

    My favorite part of your piece, so evocative, and something we’ve all probably felt but never worded quite this way:
    “Can’t the light reverse direction? Carry you out, back into the sun. Save you from this wretched planet. The Bronx, with cheating wives, a dirty post office, a mafia ice cream route, decades of ghetto jews, decades to come of burnt out ghetto everything else. Back to Ra, who the ancient Egyptians said was father of us all?”

  • zzen321

    Inspired piece of writing, especially this part:
    “And just then my dad had everything in the world to be embarrassed about. I’m sure he looked out the window, the light coming in. Can’t the light reverse direction? Carry you out, back into the sun. Save you from this wretched planet.”

  • Nick Altman

    Thank you so much for this post. I thought this it was extremely real and raw. It’s rare to find a successful person willing to speak so openly about their flaws and failures that make them human. The honesty that you put into your blog is amazing and shows how people can overcome the lows in life if they focus. This post was dark compared to many of your others, but it was also real. I appreciate the level of humanity you put into each post. I always look forward to reading your posts.

  • http://about.me/mikeschinkel MikeSchinkel

    I see why you rewrote the first part.

  • Jake

    James, I’m really jealous of your life’s experiences. I’m trying to write a novel and always wish I had more material to work with that I could draw on with some degree of authority from first hand experiences, rather than my uncooperative imagination. Of course, I’ve had some painful / traumatizing / god-awful experiences in my life like everyone else. The funny thing is, now I wish I had more of them when I was younger, that I had taken more chances and pursued more opportunities to experience something different (I once had a chance, while in college and short of money, to work as a gigolo in a foreign country. I chickened out, but now I think I’d be willing to pay to work as a gigolo just for the stories that could result from such an experience).

  • http://twitter.com/Meredithbead Meredith Laskow

    Five days ago, I read the original post and couldn’t even think of an adequate response.  Much of it was beyond my personal experience/comprehension.  The writing was brilliant and raw.  I felt your father’s pain, I felt your pain. I felt your need to reverse the light to a time before the pain took place, to fix what couldn’t be fixed and heal what you’re still trying to transcend.

    If the world is destroyed, can we start anew?  Will it be any different?  Will the pain be gone?  You speak of annihilation — but I hear the longing for transcendence. When you no longer have to fight so hard to keep the radiation from leaking out of — and back into — your wounds.

    Your pain bled through the words and touched my heart.  Just wanted you to know. 

  • http://twitter.com/Meredithbead Meredith Laskow

    I think this was back in the good old days when women who questioned their doctor (especially their shrink) were “cured” by lobotomy.

    And I could go all psych on you and say that the shrink was getting his vicarious thrills by sending women out to screw with ex-cons, the men whom he really wanted to be. The men who had (supposed) machismo and sexual prowess that he didn’t.

    Or I could just say that he was a schmuck.