10 Things I Learned From Big Daddy, my Grandfather: Phil of Ottawa


My grandfather Philip J. Pocock passed away last weekend and today my family gathered for the funeral in Ottawa. Phil was known to all the grandkids as Big Daddy, a name I coined (as the eldest grandson) at the age of two. He was a powerhouse of a man and a major force in my life, so on the occasion of his passing here's ten things I learned from Big Daddy:

Number 1. The world is a vast and interesting place, meant to be explored, and best experienced with an open mind. Look to be surprised and delighted, and often you will be.

Number 2. Ideas matter, and should be constantly tested. Be on the lookout for ideas that are better than the ones you have now. Be curious. Better ideas make for a better world.

Number 3. Surround yourself with the best people you can find. People multiply the joy and color and texture of being alive. If you come across someone you’d like to meet, call them up and ask them to lunch. Some of my best friendships started this way.

Number 4. You can learn a lot about someone by looking them in the eyes. Big Daddy had a penetrating gaze that fed him information about the world and the people in it. As a young adult grandson I found his gaze intimidating at times, but meeting it and holding it taught me strength and to believe in myself.

Number 5. Don’t waste time dealing with fools. Go around them, don’t let them slow you down.  

Number 6. Work hard and get stuff done. Even though he worked for the government for much of his life, to Big Daddy “bureaucrat” was a dirty word. He believed that government employees needed to be some of the smartest among us, tasked with using their energy and creativity to solve the greatest problem of all: how to apply science, technology, art and design to create tomorrows that are better than today. He understood that creating a better future involves taking risks and making hard decisions, and he valued people brave enough to do so. He railed against complacent, ineffective and inefficient bureaucracies as a major hurdle to progress.

Number 7. Don’t take anything too seriously. Big Daddy taught me that seriousness is a disease to be overcome and overly serious people were the butt of many of his jokes as he pantomimed their seriousness, brow furrowed, before breaking into laughter.

Number 8. On the other side or seriousness, Big Daddy taught me that silliness and laughter are extremely valuable, they are a doorway to creativity. Humor is a tool. It can help you go new places with people. To miss out on the humor that permeates everything is to miss out on life.

Number 9. Be yourself and have fun while you can. Big Daddy was self-expressed in a way that inspired me as a young man. He told me stories about MIT, lectured me about architecture and economic development, danced when music started to play, and wasn't afraid to be silly.  He spoke his mind and pursued his interests.

Number 10. Underneath humor and laughter, and people and ideas, and music and art, there is an underlying sweetness to life. Connect with this sweetness often. Feel it, dance with it and fall in love with it. Then radiate it back out into the world in whatever way feels the most productive, creative or useful. Do what it is you want to do, express yourself, have fun, and don’t take yourself too seriously. Dance with life until the music stops.

Thanks Big Daddy for teaching me all this and for the powerful creative impulse you passed on to my mom, my amazing aunts and uncles, and me and all the grand kids. We’ll take it from here. We love you.