David Dini Transcriptions
Headmaster David Dini Interview Transcriptions
What do you think made you the man you are today?
Well, I think about the person and man I am — obviously I'm the product of my surroundings like anyone else. I was blessed to have a great family, great parents, loving and supporting parents who are great role models and inspiration for me as a young person and as an adult. I've had the good fortune to know my parents throughout my adult life. I just lost my father earlier this year. But to maintain a close relationship with my parents has certainly been hugely important in my development as a person and as a man. And then I've been blessed to have my own family too. I've had a phenomenal wife who's been a great partner for now more than 25 years. We've been lucky to have four great kids, and then I've had incredible professional opportunities. I've had the chance to work with great people, great educators, great teachers, and to be around great kids throughout my adult life. All those experiences have I think in many ways shaped the person I've become. But I mean really it starts with family. And, you know, my faith is also important to me, and that's something that was in many ways inspired by my family. My father was a tremendously faithful person, and I had an enormous respect for my father. He had a huge impact on me as a person and both the way I've tried to live my life personally and professionally. I was fortunate in that my life's work in some ways, while I had a different path to some degree than my father's, I benefited in so many ways from the things that my father chose to do. And my mom too. But my father — he pursued a life that was initially in education and ultimately was responsible for providing guidance and counsel to lots of educational institutions, schools and colleges and universities, and ultimately other kinds of organizations as well — hospitals, museums, and things like that.
So he was a teacher at first?
He worked in administration. He was raising money and working in Alumni development for colleges. Before I was born, and then after I was born — he's from Boston, and he went to Boston University and then went to work in college development and worked at Harvard college and eventually came to Texas to work at Rice, and that's how my parents ended up in Houston which is where I grew up. My mom's from Fort Worth. And so, I grew up around that environment. I grew up around education and the nonprofit world. I mean, this is back in the 1960's, and I remember going to Rice basketball games and Rice football games and being around that kind of an environment and loving that, and thinking — even though I didn't really know what it meant. And then ultimately he left Rice and went off and started his own business basically helping organizations — again, schools, colleges, universities, eventually museums, hospitals — organize and raise money. Which was not really common at that time. When you see the development office at St. Mark's now, it's a big office with a lot of professional people. Those offices didn't exist 50 years ago. Even at big institutions, they were very very small. Even at a place like Rice it still very very small. And so, he helped professionalize that. He had come from a place like Harvard which already had very sophisticated efforts to raise money and organize alumni programs and things of that nature. So he brought that experience to Texas and eventually again worked with lots of other institutions. So, when I was a boy, I remember after he had left rice and he was working with other organizations, we would drive through the Texas medical center. And we'd drive by a hospital and he would say, "Oh you know, I worked on the project to help build that hospital." I didn't really understood what that meant at the time, but once I became an adult and certainly once I started to advance in my career and I started to see the impact that he'd had, and while he never sought it for his own personal satisfaction — he did it because he loved it and was really good at it — but he helped so many organizations over his lifetime, and I always felt that was really powerful because he touched the lives of so many people in really positive ways. I sort of fell into a career in education. It didn't happen out of a determined focused effort. It just sort of — I happened into my first job, which led me to my next job, which ultimately led me to St. Mark's. And so, the job I had before I came to St. Mark's was an interesting — and by the time I came here I had five or six years of experience working in schools, but it was only until after I was here that I started to realize how extraordinary of an opportunity it was. And of course, St. Mark's has obviously had a huge impact on my life, and the people here and the community here has contributing in many ways to helping me grow as a person and as a man, and certainly as a leader. And people like Mr. Holtberg who took a chance on hiring me 23 years ago, and I'm still very close to him. You know, he was a huge mentor to me as well. As have many other people that have been here — trustees, families, and boys. Many guys like you that I knew as students are now grown adults with families, and to have those relationships over time has been really terrific. But for me, it all goes back to family. I've been really really lucky to have a great family, and that's helped shaped the person that I've become.
You said you kind of stumbled into education, did you study at SMU for education though?
No. I thought I was going to be a lawyer, and I really didn't know. To be frank, I really didn't know what I wanted to do coming out of college or while I was in college. So when I was 18, I was in a really bad accident with my best friend and he ultimately died. And that was a really tragic — it happened a couple weeks after we graduated from high school. And that was a real life-changing event for me. Because it was a very traumatic experience. And that in many ways shaped my college experience — and in many ways bad. Ultimately, I learned so much from that experience that it changed me as a person in many many ways. You know, in high school I was a strong student and I was focused on school, and I kind of had a more determined sense of what I wanted to do. That accident happened, and it really shook me up. Not as a result of that, but I think (he's really struggling to find the right words. He leans forward in his chair, takes a really deep breath.) um — You know, my college experience was, and obviously this is off into the very very personal side (laughs), but um, I became greatly depressed during college. It was not the normal routine college experience for me at all.ting from college sort of in a period of uncertainty. I waited tables at a restaurant — it was actually I joined a fraternity, I eventually deactivated from that. Because it was just so like — I saw my friends that I knew, and a lot of guys from my high school, I went to the Jesuit High School in Houston and then came to SMU, their life kind of moved on. And my life didn't really move on. And my priorities started changing too. So I started seeing the world in a very different way. And so, ultimately college became a conduit I think as much as everything, rather than a place where I really was focusing on what was going to happen with the rest of my life. So I came out of college not knowing really what I wanted to do. I kind of defaulted and said, "well I'll go to law school and become a lawyer" because that seemed like something to do. But I was also, — my dad, I mentioned had grown up in Boston, so he grew up in a restaurant family. My grandparents had owned and run a restaurant for over 50 years in downtown Boston. And my grandfather was an Italian Immigrant. He came to the United States when he was just a teenager by himself on a boat through Ellis Island. And he and his brother ultimately worked on this restaurant, and he and my grandfather ended up owning it. And so I also was always very interested in the restaurant business — still am, actually. And I thought real seriously about moving to Boston to work in the restaurant because it was still around at that point. So I spent this time right after graduation, I don't know if you've ever been to Pappadeaux before? It's like a chain that started in Houston, they have like different — they have like Mexican food, they have cajun food which is Pappadeaux. Anyways, it's this very successful chain of restaurants that started in Houston. It started really small — they only had a handful. Now, they're all over outside of Texas even. In any event, so I worked at the original Pappadeaux and I waited tables there for 8 months or so. I was again trying to decide what I wanted to do. Because while I was thinking about law school, etc, my dad was like, "well you need to get a job (laughs) while you are thinking." And of course my dad had come up in a restaurant business, so he was like "go to work at a restaurant." Which is what I did. And that was an enormously A: enjoyable, and B: difficult, and C: an experience where I learned a great deal about life and dealing with people and service. And I think ultimately that experience, even though it was relatively short — again, it was only 8 or 10 months, I can't remember how long it was — that — You know, I saw my dad who was a very service-minded person, and he'd grown up in a service oriented family with my grandfather and grandmother, but particularly my grandfather, running a restaurant, and he was a very service-oriented leader. And so, my dad certainly very much instilled that in me from an early age and that you should really focus on serving other people, and that should be first and foremost in your mind at all times. And so, working in a restaurant, you really get that. You see that, really in living color. And so, that was a great experience, and from there again, I sort of fell into a job working at the United Way which is a fundraising organization that supports community organizations around the city — they basically just raise a bunch of money every year, and then they give away money to all the charitable organizations around the city, so it raised a lot of money. So like, I think United Way was raising $50 million a year when I was there in Houston. And then all that money gets given away to — in fact, the United Way of Dallas, one of our current parents is the head of the United Way here. Jennifer Samson. In any event, I worked there, and that led me to a school, actually the John Cooper school, you probably know the cooper school in the Woodlands. So, when I went to work there, it was a brand new school. It was literally two years old. So the campus was like one building, and now it's a full-blown campus with like 1200 students. So worked there for several years. I actually shared an office with John Cooper who the school is named after. He'd been the Headmaster at Kinkaid for 35 years. So he actually followed — he was the second head of the Kinkaid school. And, Kinkaid incidentally was founded the same year as St. Mark's — 1906. But he had followed Mrs. Kinkaid, who had been the head for the first 50 or so years, and then he was head for like 35 years. Anyways, so he was like 90 years old when I worked with him. And literally, we shared an office much smaller than this. And I'd pick him up at his house and we'd go to work, and we sat in an office together, and he'd been Ivy league educated and he'd worked in schools his whole life, and he was a very gentle, quiet, unassuming person. But we worked together, and I learned a great deal from him. That was a real inspiring time. We worked to kind of put in place some foundational elements and that was when the school was growing a grade per year. And, that led me to another school in Colorado where we were for about 2 and a half years, and eventually here at St. Mark's.
Was the boating incident the first time you had experienced something like that?
Yeah absolutely. I had lost at that point grandparents, but I had never experienced anything like that. I had known a couple of people that had been killed in car accidents in high school, but not anything like that. This was like — A: I was in the accident and B: it was my best friend, so it was really traumatic.
I guess also seeing it too?
Yeah, seeing it. It was something you just don't forget. I mean, it's just etched in your memory and you know, you learn to live with. But yeah, it changes you. Yeah, for sure.
Did you say your dad kind of helped you through that?
He did. Yeah it's interesting you say that. So, I'll give you an example of my dad. And my dad was really loving and supportive, but he could also really drive you. My first semester at SMU, I almost failed out. I mean, and I was a good student. So, not that school was easy for me, I always worked hard. But it was like I was in complete shutdown mode. My first year I wasn't working, I wasn't doing much of anything. It was almost sort of self-destructive. I wasn't abusing drugs or anything like that, but I had gained a bunch of weight, I was not studying, and my dad took me to lunch one day — I'll never forget it. He took me to lunch and we were in downtown Houston, and I was working that summer. I thought it was just an average lunch with dad, you know. And he sat me down and he said, "I know it's been a hard time for you, but what you are doing in school is unacceptable. You either get your act in gear, or you're out of school. I'm not going to allow you to continue to —" And I remember being aghast at the time. I was really upset at him, and I thought "how could you come down on me like that." And he was absolutely right. He challenged me in a time when I needed to be challenged because I was just self-loathing. And my parents were really — In fact I was talking to my mom the other day — so my friend, you may have heard me say this in chapel talks before, so he actually survived for 14 years before he finally passed away. And he went through dozens of surgeries, and he was in and out — I mean he was basically in hospitals in a rehabilitation center, and then finally his parents built like the equivalent of a hospital room in their house and they eventually moved him home. But he was essentially in a comatose kind of state. His body was physically able but he was not awake. And they were fortunate to be able to do that — they had the resources to do that. But so he was in the hospital for a year — over a year. And then they finally moved him to their house, and my mom used to go see him every week for years. She would go out and read to him every Wednesday afternoon for several hours. One of the things you'll learn in a situation like this is, you know, you have an accident and I can't speak to your life experience so maybe you've had something like this in your own life, but one of the things I certainly observed, is that people naturally move on and fade away. So for the family that's dealing with the difficulty, it's like — as time passes, the people who were there, aren't there anymore. And that's what it's like for me. I became disenfranchised from many of my friends that I had known before like in college and so forth, because I wanted them to stay connected to him, and they didn't. Which is understandable. As an adult, I understand that, but at the time I did not. Again, my mom used to see — and it's interesting — we are having breakfast on Wednesday morning with this family. I'm going to Houston tomorrow. And we've stayed very very close to that family. And my parents are very good friends with his mom and dad. And interestingly enough, since my dad passed away in May, they've been enormously supportive of my mom. Probably more than any other family which is really interesting. But again, my mom was there for years. She had gone every week and read to Robert when nobody else was coming. But she would go and she would talk to him, and I remember going with her many times, and people were really intimidated when they go to see him because it's hard. You know, he had been physically badly injured and he didn't look like the person that you had known before and you know, that's not easy to do. But he was so great with him. And I'll always A: be grateful and B: admire her for what she did. She would go and she would talk to the nurses and she'd talk to Robert and read to him and hold his hand — I mean that takes (laughs) a lot of courage and just goodness. And those kinds of things they just shape who you are. All the different aspects of that experience shaped me and my life in really significant ways that's really hard to overstate.
Was it a lot harder for you to go in and read compared to your mom?
It became so yeah. It's interesting you ask that. So, initially, I was with him every minute I could be with him. And for months, we didn't know whether or not he'd recover. I mean, again, he was so badly injured — he was in ICU for literally months and all these different surgeries — it wasn't until 6 months or a year, we had another one of our close friends from high school whose dad was a radiologist and they had had him look at his brain scans and everything and he sat me down one time and said, "you need to know that he's not going to get better." And that was hard to accept. You know, you didn't want to accept that. And time went on, yeah, it became harder and harder. He had a younger sister who was just a year younger than us and I was very close to her as well and had in fact dated her on and off for about a year which created some consternation between the two of us. That was her initiation by the way (laughing, huge guilty and defensive smile)! I'll never forget when she called and invited me to go to a formal in high school — oh my gosh he was so ticked. I got the cold shoulder like you wouldn't believe. "I can't believe you're going out with my little sister!" In any event, one time — I can't remember where I was. I had to have been in college and I was in Houston and she was there, and we went out to dinner. And we had a long talk. It must've been a year or two after the accident. And he was already at home, and he was already at their house. And I was talking to her a lot about it. And she said, "One of the things that I" — this is like way off the record but she said — "The way I look at him now" — Because she was really good with him, she could go in and talk to him and be with him — "I've separated the brother as I knew him and the person that's there now. The brother I had died already, and this person I treat differently." I had trouble doing that. And so as a result, it became harder and harder for me to go see him. Because you have to sort of — and that's why I admire his parents so much. I mean, they dealt with him right there in their own house for all those years. That was incredible. Even with nurses and everything, it was still just like, you basically build your life around it for all that time. And you have other children, which they did.
Did you grow up with him?
So we didn't become friends until High School. We became friends freshman year of high school. So, no, I did not grow up with him. We became friends at Jesuit and just for whatever reason had real affinity and became really really good friends through high school. And so yeah. I had not known him before because we had grown up in different areas of the city. So yeah. We had in some ways some similarities in our background. So his family is cuban. Cuban descent. And his grandparents had come from Cuba — his maternal grandparents had come from Cuba. We were both Catholic. So we'd had again some similar aspects to our background but different experiences too.
Why did you initially leave the John Cooper School?
I had an opportunity to work at this independent school in Denver. The cooper school was a great experience, but it was really a building experience. Again, it was really challenging because you are starting at ground zero. It's really entrepreneurial. And again, I would always laugh at people here in development because I worked on starting the first development office there, and of course it was just me. There was no staff. So it's like, somebody makes a contribution and you'd go to the copy machine you'd make a copy of the check, you'd take it to the business office to get deposited, you write the thank-you letter. You know, it's like you are doing every different aspects of the job. And communication and whatever was being done — which wasn't a lot, but it was a school that was growing. We had to raise — literally it was contingent upon our ability to raise money for the school to meet its growing demands. It'd be like, if you are there in grade seven and you need to go to grade 8 next year, we'll either we have a place for grade 8 or you don't have a place to go. It was really that kind of environment. Exciting. And George Mitchell who's the developer of the woodlands — he is now deceased — he was big in real estate and energy person in Houston and had a big impact on Houston and Galveston and a big developer. Anyways, he was behind the development of that school. So he donated all the land where it sat, and he donated much of the original funding. And so I had the opportunity to work with them — Him and his wife. And they were really fascinating people. Very philanthropic. But again, I felt like I had done what I had sought to do there. Not that I had had any idea going in what it was going to be like, but again the opportunity to go to Colorado was a more established school that had been around a much longer period of time. A guy that was a recruiter — actually that Mr. Holtberg knew who also went to Princeton, they were very close in age at Princeton — was doing a search to bring somebody to Colorado to help them run a campaign and I knew somebody that was affiliated with the school, so they flew me up there. I went up, visited. They offered me the job. And I was like 25. I was pretty young. Ms. Dini and I got married right around the time I got that job. So we got married in June and then I finished out my tenure at the Cooper school and we moved in January. So we'd been married like 6 months and we moved to Colorado. So yeah, I was 25 and Ms. Dini was 20 when we got married. So that's exactly right. So we moved to Colorado and were there for several years and that was a really foundational experience because it was a community like this, though much smaller. It'd been around a long time, it was in a neighborhood — smaller school K through 9, but a very good school. And met a lot of great people. People who I still keep in touch with. Lot of wonderful families, and then interestingly enough, a guy named (lake eldridge?) who had two daughters graduated from Hockaday and he's a search consultant. So he reached out to me through Mr. Holtberg for the job here at St. Mark's which was the original development job which I ended up coming for. He reached out to me. Originally we were in the middle of a campaign in Colorado so the timing wasn't right. So I said, "I'd love to, but it's just not the right time for me." Because I really felt it was important — always did and still do — feel it's important when you commit to something, to finish it and do it right. Well, they continued on their search here. It fell through. He ended up coming to me months later and said, "our search fell through, would you be interested in talking now?" So, I said sure. So he flew up to Colorado. We met in the Airport.
Met in the Airport?
We literally met in the airport (laughs). One of the — you know — American Airlines advantage clubs.
The Admirals Club?
Yeah the Admirals Club (laughs). And we hit it off. And he was like, "Well I think you need to come down and interview." Which I did, and loved it. In fact, the great hall was under construction. I'll never forget eating, and they called it the "Black Top Cafe" because it was literally on a black top out here. It was kind of back where there used to be a drive in the back of campus. They built a tent, and that one the lunch room for that school year. And part of the day, I sat with Mr. Holtberg and ate lunch in there. And, in any event, so Linc Eldridge — the search consultant who brought me here — we're still working. We've worked with him on and off — the head of lower school and head of middle school search that we've been doing this year. He's running those two searches for us. So I've stayed in close touch with him over more than 20 years.
You said Mr. Holtberg took a chance on you... how so?
Well I mean they had high expectations of the job when I came here. And I had some experience, and I had good experience, but I was relatively unproven. And I was very young. I was only like 27. And you think about — again It's a different time for sure, but the expectations of that role were that somebody was going to come in and really professionalize that operation and prepare the school to run a campaign which we did. We ran a campaign for '96 to 2001 that raised like $52 million. So there were going to be high expectations. And I think they had good instincts on my ability, but I wasn't really that proven. I had managed a campaign in Colorado that had been successful, but much smaller. Like $8 million. And again, there wasn't a long track record to look to. And I was also very young. And just the fact that they would hire me for that role at that age — I was lucky, because sometimes people are like, "Well you want somebody that's got a lot more experience and maybe coming from a bigger school." For whatever reason we hit it off and he was willing to hire me and we developed a great relationship over time. And I think we developed a real partnership which — I certainly wouldn't be sitting here and don't think I would've ever become a school head but for that chain of events happening. My coming here, and working with Mr. Holtberg. Just because I don't think my life's path would've taken me there.
Did that partnership between you and Mr. Holtberg affect how you do things today?
Sure. Sure. We have you know, very different — we are very different people and have different style. When it comes to fundamental principles and values, absolutely. No question. I learned so much from him about schools and school and school-life and just interacting on such a close basis everyday, you certainly learn a lot and you experience a lot and you see a lot. It's not so much in the practical doing. You know, doing this or doing that. Or organizational issues because I had a lot of organizational experience coming into the job and had managed a lot of people. I'd overseen things like budget and fundraising and facilities and all working with lots of people and that was not new for me. But in terms of guiding the school from a very principled view was something that has always important to the school and certainly was an important part of the leadership of Mr. Holtberg brought and something that was important in terms of the impact that he had on me. And again, I still talk to him plenty. It's never about the blocking and tackling of stuff. In fact, one of the great gifts that he left for me when he retired was — he didn't hand me like a binder like that and say "there's the playbook." In fact, he left it very — and I'm sure intentionally, though I've never asked him that — he was really very opaque about it. He didn't say, "Ok here are the things you need to do, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7." In fact, I was kind of pressing him for it (laughs). I was like "Ok what do I need to be?" And he didn't press anything. He left in many ways a very open playbook. And he's always been there, I always knew if I needed him I could call him and have on occasion called him and said "hey." But I think he knew enough to say, "you are going to find your own way, and you've got enough people around you to get there. I don't want to create a burden to feel like you have to go down a road that I went down." Which I think was really really good. And it's given — Especially given the close relationship that we had because we'd worked so closely together, but we do have very different styles so in many ways he and I complemented each other really really well. He did certain things well and I tried to complement what he did well. Whenever you break up that kind of dynamic, then you have to figure out how to — and in many ways, Mr. Ashton and I have tried to build that kind of partnership and have in many ways have. Because he's a great colleague and great partner. But inevitably, I'm a big believer in if you surround yourself with really talented and great people and listen to them. He had a big influence. Big influence for sure.
You still call him for questions?
No, I don't call him for questions. No. We just like talk. We just keep in touch more as friends than anything else. Not that we won't talk a little bit of shop, but it's more in general terms. I don't call him and go "what would you do with X, Y, and Z." It's none of that.
Just kind of small talk?
Yeah. We'll talk philosophical. We'll talk big picture kind of stuff. And just knowing he's been in the seat for such a long time, and having the long close friendship that we've had, to be able to talk to one another is really nice. And it's great for him to be able to stay engaged in the life of the school, and nice for me to be able to have a colleague like that that I can share with too in addition to Mr. Ashton and others here at the school.
What have you found is the most valuable aspect of your marriage?
Boy that's a great question. (pauses for a really long time...20 seconds) Well, um, I think. You know, for us, you know, we made a decision to have children very early in our marriage, and that's been a huge driving part of our life. She was pregnant with our first child — with our oldest daughter — nine months after we were married. So we had our first child within a year and a half of being married. And in another year, we'll have an empty nest. Our youngest will be leaving for college. So we've pretty much been parents are whole married life — and will be parents are whole married life. But I think for us it's been a commitment to one another, and knowing that we would stand behind the other person even when it was difficult to do. Inevitably, when you marry someone, you experience real difficulty in life. And the question is, what happens during that difficulty. Do you turn away from one another or do you turn toward one another? And we've certainly experienced that as a couple. I think at the end of the day for us, it's the strength of partnership we've had has been really really formative for us and had a big impact on both of us and I'm sure on our kids as well. And we saw that in both of our parents. My parents were married more than 55 years and Nancy's parents as well. She lost her father just over a year ago. I just lost my father this year. We certainly had great examples in our parents for sure. But, you know I think it's the ability to support your partner when it's not easy is something that's been critically important for us. It's one thing when everything's going beautifully, you know. You don't earn your way when things are really easy and simple, but it's when it's difficult and you are having to make real sacrifices or things are hard or painful for whatever reason, and you find a way to work through that. And again, we've certainly had that in our lives. Times when we could've gone very different routes and didn't and we found a way to work together at the end of the day. I'm certainly grateful for that. She's been my closest life partner.
After meeting her did you find that she had the same kind of influence that your dad had on you?
Yeah you know, it's interesting. Your spouse does have a big impact on you. And I think about — we've talked about this even as a couple — it's like, I think we probably both influenced one another in different ways because we are opposites in many ways. We have some similar qualities or characteristics, but we also have some very opposite — like if you were having this interview with her, it would've been one word answers. (laughs). Where as I'll sit and talk for hours. And so, we've learned how to positively impact one another. I look back and I know I've changed as a result of being married to her, and I think she has too hopefully for the better for both of us. And I think that's true. It's different than the relationship you have with a parent. Very very different. Different than a parent for example, my parents — I was fortunate to live and have my parents live long enough that I could know them in an adult context were you've had a chance to live long enough and experience life and to talk to them not just in a parent-child relationship but as — peer is not the right word, but as adult to adult. Which is really in many ways satisfying to have had that chance. We are lucky in that both Nancy's parents and my parents lived a long time. And my mom is still living, and her mom is still living. In fact, I'm going to go to Houston and get my mom tomorrow and dive her back to Dallas. That's how I'm going to see the (last name of robert "Iglesias's") on Wednesday. But yeah, it's different because when you commit to somebody in a life partnership — and that's what I think it is — in marriage, that's just a different bond. It's a different relationship. And so, it in many ways is good, but it can be challenging too (laughs). Like with parents too, but it's just in a very very different kind of way. I think your parents impact you in such a significant way growing up, and then in some ways, you know, I don't want to say the tables turn, but you know, as you become an adult and your parents get older, the relationship dynamic does change. Whereas, hopefully with your spouse with a partner, with time, you learn one another better and better and better and you learn how to adjust to one another and that strengthens your relationship hopefully. And I think that's been our case. You go through times where it's like really difficult and maybe you pull away from one another and then you get through that. But as time goes by, like, I know much more about Ms. Dini now than I did even five years ago. I can respond better to her, I can hopefully try to listen better at times, and know more about myself because of the way she responds to me. And you learn that through interacting with difficult situations with your kids, with yourselves, with your lives, professional experiences — I mean, it all gets woven into the mix.
You have four kids right?
Do you think you've learned to be a father to them through experience or do you think it's also a product of the influences we've talked about?
Probably a little bit of both. I'm certainly self-critical when it comes to being a parent. (long pause...10 sec). One of the things that's difficult as a parent is — you know, you constantly — in fact, father Arbogast said this in a chapel talk — I don't think it was in Upper School, I think it was middle or lower. He talked about somebody asking the question of their parents saying, "do you think I've measured up to your expectations." And the response of the parent was, "well, have I measured up to your expectations as a parent?" And there is that element which you don't necessarily think about when you're young. You probably don't think about your parents being like "Am I parenting you well enough?" But I certainly ask that of myself. Obviously my life's work is demanding. And there are times when it causes me to compromise. And there's certainly been a lot of that over my lifetime as a parent. When I was younger, I traveled a great deal working here, and I spent a lot of time away from family. Not compared to some people who have to travel even more, but there's always that give and take. My dad was always home pretty early, he was at every game, and he always managed to balance that really well. And I always admired that and I don't think I've done that as well as I would've liked. There are times when I feel like I've had to be present for work, and I've sacrificed more than I would've liked in terms of time for activities with the kids. That being said, I don't do other things. It's like work and family for me. There aren't a lot of other outside interests that I've pursued in my adult life precisely for that reason. Because I wanted my life to really revolve around kids. I mean, A: I love work which is a blessing, you know, when you really love what you do. Not that it's not work, but it's not so much like work I it's really more of a vocation. But you know, there's times when that life just demands that. And that's true with a lot of people. So you find yourself as a parent wishing you could be — again, I felt like my dad always had a great work-life balance and I've struggled to find that.
I guess it's also a different job too though.
It is yeah. When you're, especially now in this role, but when you are committed to an institution — committed to a place like this — it's not like you just sort of shut it down at 5 O'clock.
And we are here over break too so
Exactly. That's exactly right.
What do you think the most rewarding part of being a dad is?
It’s just seeing your kids find fulfillment and satisfaction in what they're doing. And feel good about who they are as people. You know? Finding their own joy and again, finding fulfillment and a sense of purpose in what they're doing. That's what you hope for, is that they will find their way in life and. I was just having this conversation actually with one of our kids last night. You don't know what course they are going to take, but you want it to be one that they're passionate about. Again, I feel lucky in that I had a different course than my dad, and my dad had a different course than his dad. I think if his dad would've had his way, he would've had my dad come in and run that restaurant. And maybe my dad would've had the same preference for me or my brother, but we did different things. But I think that ultimately brought him a lot of satisfaction and the same will be true for me. Whatever our kids — and our oldest daughter is a teacher, our second daughter is an artist, she's in art school. She's just about to finish college next year. Our two younger kids, it's still too early to say, but my hope is that they find satisfaction and fulfillment in doing something meaningful in life. And that they are happy and fulfilled in that.
When you lost your dad...
It was the day of graduation.
What was that like?
Mm. Yeah. It was really hard. We were in the chapel and I was with Philip and Akshay and they were rehearsing for their talks for Commencement. So it was like 3 in the afternoon — something like that. And it was after we had done the outside rehearsing so they could practice on a microphone. So I was just sitting out — I guess maybe J.T. was there, I don't even remember who else was in there. I was just sitting in the back of the chapel listening. I think Dr. Balog and J.T were both in there. And so I was sitting kind of out in the audience listening — chapel is empty. And you know. I turned around and saw Ms. Dini kind of like rushing in through the back of the chapel. And she said, “I need to talk to you.” I could tell something was really wrong. And I was alarmed obviously, but she pulled me into the back of the chapel and into that little room — you know the little room where the bathroom is off to the left? And she said “It's your dad. He's had a heart attack.” And my immediate thought was, "Well, he's had a heart attack and he's in the hospital." And this sort of again, goes back to the communication between my wife and me (laughs). And I’m sure she didn't want to say what had happened. And it was like, I had to kind of drag it out of her that he had died. So I'm like, "what happened" and she said "oh well, you know, this and they were walking." And I said — finally I realized by what she was saying that he didn't survive. And I just said, "Did he not make it?" And she said, "No." You know, it's just shocking. Obviously really really sad. I just sat there and cried. And just was devastated by it. But I was really in shock because my dad was really vibrant and healthy and he was perfectly fit, and so we immediately walked back to the house and sat out on the back porch. I didn't come by the office. Just went right over there. And then I guess Mr. Ashton came over not too much longer. Because — so, we hosted dinner for the graduation speaker and his family in the evening. So, the caterers and stuff were already at our house setting up, so I had to kind of decide — was I going to stay for graduation or not? So we were kind of sitting out there on the back porch and I was trying to figure out what to do. And my mom was in Houston. My parents had been living here during 2015, but my mom was in Houston and my brother just coincidentally was in California with his wife. And he has just one child. A nephew that my parents were very close to, he also was out of town. So it was like, there was no like immediate relative by her. So, we were on the phone talking to her and again, just trying to figure out what to do. Leave stay. Leave stay. And we ultimately finally got a hold of my nephew and he was coming back to be with her which is what happened. So, that was —
How hard was it to continue with that that night?
Yeah yeah, you know. (Deep breath). The hard part was just making the decision. Once the dinner — the dinner was really hard. So we had that dinner, and it was a family that I knew. Jbeau lewis was the speaker. I knew really well as a student and have stayed very close to. I know his family very well. His sister babysat our kids when she was little. In any event, they didn't know. Nobody knew except Mr. Ashton. And I really wanted it to be that way because I didn't want it to be — I didn't want people to know because it was graduation and I didn't want anybody — I don't want to be an issue with somebody. And I was afraid if I had left it would become an issue, you know, and I just didn't want that. I mean, it's graduation. You really want it to be special, and that only happens once. Plus, I really wanted to be here for graduation. I mean, selfishly, it will be the same for your class. It's like, you go through senior year together and you've known boys, and you want to be there and you want to be present. You want to participate in that. And so, once it was clear that my mom was going to be ok — I talked to her and I said, "I'll be down there later tonight." And so, yeah. Mr. Ashton was really helpful. I mean, enormously emotionally helpful. And he was up there obviously sitting adjacent to me, and he was the only one that knew. So it was just having him close by was a source of great support. And our oldest daughter who lives in St. Louis — she flew home during Commencement, and then right after it was over we drove to Houston to be with my mom. I mean, I tried to sort of as much as I could, you know, park it during Commencement because it was such an important event and tried not to let it distract me because I just wanted to focus on that. And then I knew once it was over, then I could sort of let my emotions go and go see my mom and be with her. And I ended up spending two weeks down there with her. I didn't come back for Middle school final assembly or anything else. I just really needed to be with my mom. And so, it was just, you know. It's one of those things that just happens. You never know when something is going to happen. And people were really thoughtful about it, and made kind of a big deal about the fact that I was here for graduation and not there, and it wasn't that way at all. That was part of the reason I didn't leave — because I didn't want it to be a big deal. I wanted it to be just graduation — and it was. And I was able to be with my mom later that night and it wouldn't have changed if I would've been with her a couple hours earlier. In any event.
What is it like to have to deal with losing a mentor?
Yeah, you know. I'll tell you what, Kobe. The best thing and the hardest thing about it was my dad and I had a really open relationship, and I'd been really candid with him. I told him everything. One of the things I learned about losing a friend at such an early age is to not take anything for granted. So, I try never to do that. And so, with my parents, I'd said at an early age — I’d told them this openly: “I want you to know how I feel about you, so if something happens and we don't have a chance to have this conversation intentionally, I don't want to leave anything to chance.” And so, my dad and I — my dad, he was Italian. He was very expressive and even more so than me. I mean like, he liked to kiss on the lips, you know (laughs). Even as adults. And I loved that about him. And so, we had many open conversations frequently. So as much as I hated to lose my dad, and I'd give anything to have him back — you know, what I needed to say to him and what he needed to say to me had been said. Yeah, I miss the time together terribly, and I'd love to have much much more. But there was a sense in him that I got from him that what he sought to do in his life he had done. Like, one of our kids was experiencing difficulty a couple years ago, and so my parents moved to Dallas and they spent a year up here, and I think that was a big part of the reason why — I know it was. And he just made it a priority to say, "I'm going to be there." That also facilitated a lot of great time that we'd not had before because we had not lived in the same city in my adult life. So, we had a lot of time together which was tremendous. You find yourself going, "Ok well I have something to live up to." A greater responsibility maybe is a way to think about it. Sad? Yes. Do I miss him terribly? Yes. Do I fret over it? No. I feel a great sense of responsibility and pride in who he was and the way he lived his life. And I feel a responsibility to live up to that example everyday — everyday.