Arthur Stanley Katz
October 8, 1937 – December 27, 2011
A few days ago I lost my father to Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 74. He was diagnosed just 2 years ago, and very quickly started to disappear in front of our eyes. My father taught me many things in my lifetime; how to sail, waterski, fly fish. He taught me how to play poker and backgammon. He showed me how to take good photographs and we even built a darkroom together to develop our own film. He taught me that if I was honest with him, he’d always have my back.
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He joined me on Boy Scout overnights, scout camp and became an honorary warrior in the tribe of Mic-O-Say. We shared a lifelong love of the drums and jazz music. He taught me about the business world and how to take care of clients. He came up with the business plan for my company on a napkin at dinner. He was also directly responsible for starting my career in computers.
It was Hanukkah 1979 and I really wanted an Atari video game system. I was getting quite bored with the old video game system, Pong. He decided that it would be better for me, and “build more character” if we got a home computer instead of a game system. I was disappointed (for some reason) but went to ComputerLand with him to purchase it. We looked at the Apple II+ system and it was way out of our price range. We started to walk out, and the owner called my dad aside. “Special”, he said. “Today only” and handed him a folded up piece of paper with a price on it. I never found out what the magic price was, but the next thing I knew we were opening up the back of the station wagon and loading in some huge boxes. We brought home an Apple II+, booted up the startup disk and installed the one game that came with the computer, Space Quarks. Actually, I installed the game while my dad attempted to read the manual. I got seriously bitten by the computer bug that night. We learned every thing there was to know about that computer. Over the next few years we really bonded over the technology, and discussed at length where we each saw the computer industry going. (Turns out he was mostly right…)
In 1983 my father was doing some consulting work with a company called Personal Computer Center in Ranch Mart Shopping Center. He decided to ask the owner if there were any openings at the store. Summer was coming up, and he wanted me to get a job so I didnt just sit around the house all day playing adventure games on the Apple and writing little AppleSoft basic programs to create my D&D characters.
The job that was available was Janitor. So he came home and told me that he got me a job at a computer store…as the janitor. Then he smiled the Art smile. My dad loved things that “built character”, especially in me. I took the job, and it became very clear early on that I knew much more about computers than I did about toilets (still true today). Turns out I knew more about computers than the sales people, so after about a year I was offered a job as a Sales Consultant. It was at Personal Computer Center that I met the people that later started MacSource, a Macintosh computer specialty store where I worked as a support technician and met a cute little sales girl named Vicki Singer who has been my wife for over 19 years. It’s strange to think how that path may not have existed if we got the Atari.
If you think of a person’s personality as a series of water faucets all flowing in different colors, Alzheimer’s starts to turn those faucets off, slowly, one by one. I could see my father change with the disease, as his faucets began to turn off.
He became unable to operate a computer or cellphone. He would have “empty spaces” as we called them, in conversations. He would begin to tell a story, and end up losing the point and ending the story in silence. This was one of the most difficult parts of his disease for me, as my father and I used to spend hours talking about computers, marketing, business, gadgets, fishing, everything. If you brought up the fact that his stories were trailing off he would get angry and deny that it was happening. During a fishing trip with me a few years ago, he finally admitted that it was happening, but not very often, and there was nothing to worry about. So I didn’t push, and just tried to keep the conversation going as best as I could. We cooked dinner in our cabin, drank some beer that I made, and had a toast to catching fish.
My dad really seemed to change after he was hospitalized a few years ago. This was before his Alzheimer’s diagnosis. They pumped some sort of disgusting dark fluid out of him that was the result of some blockage in his system. When he came out of this procedure, he was never really the same. The family would come to visit him in the hospital, but he would think we were all there for a meeting. Whenever we would all be there, he made us sit down and answer questions much like the focus groups he used to run for years. It was upsetting but also…hilarious. He wanted someone to take notes or schedule follow up meetings, and would get very upset if we reminded him why we were really there. After he got home, his personality seemed different, and he really started to lose the ability to operate his computer or phone. He would go days without checking his email. Voicemails would stack up. He would print out entire webpages or articles (in color) and drive them over to my house, rather than just email me the link. Of course, he did love driving…
On top of all this, my dad was in the process of writing a book on branding. His opus. He had been working all his life in marketing, consulting and advertising and knew quite a lot about the branding process. My dad saw a correlation between emotions that brands elicit, and how buyers react to those emotions. He used the term “emotives”.
He started to write this book before the disease really took hold, and it kept him busy even after he had trouble editing or researching information. As the disease progressed, he started to really struggle with the book. He would spend days and days editing something that had already been edited. He would meet with The University of Kansas who was very interested in turning the book into a course, but he was unable to actually do the work. Our conversations changed from talking about many different things, to talking only about the book; who I should send it to, who I should get help from, who we should meet with, what we should change or add. If I ever brought up the disease or his symptoms, he would get very angry and tell me that it’s not a problem. During this time, we would see him as often as possible, talk about the book, go to lunch, but mostly leave him to work on this project that he was so invested in. Soon it became very apparent to everyone but my dad, that this book and/or course was not going to happen. The book was a mess, edited to death, confusing and unclear. Plus, the information was dated and irrelevant in today’s marketplace. We continued to support his “working” on it, by helping whenever we could. His weekly visits to KU in Lawrence (about a 30 minute highway drive from KC) were worrying the family to death, as he would be driving alone to and from these meetings without a cell phone. After every meeting he would tell me that it went well, that things were happening and that the project was moving forward. I finally went behind his back and talked to one of the people in Lawrence that he would meet with. He told me that my father would show up at his office unannounced, and that he would spend the “meeting” shuffling papers around of websites he had printed, letters he had sent, spam email about marketing leads, etc. The people at KU were very nice and let him do his thing, but the course was not going to happen and they just didn’t know how to tell him, because they liked him so much. The thought of him driving to Lawrence every week alone was a huge source of stress for me. I began to lose weight and sleep, and couldn’t stop thinking about what would happen to my dad if he got lost or forgot which side of the road to drive on. We knew we had to take the car away, but he said if he couldn’t drive we “might as well kill him”.
The problem eventually took care of itself, thankfully without anyone getting hurt. Dad was supposed to deliver dinner to a friend one night and Salli hadn’t heard from him in hours. He never had his cellphone on him, or couldn’t figure out how to use it when he did bring it. Finally a family friend called me and said that a daycare way out south had called them after going through his wallet for identification. He didn’t know who he was or why he was there. We drove out to the daycare to find my dad sitting happily by the front desk, eating a cookie and talking to some police officers. He said “Hi Gary” when I walked in, but couldn’t tell me why he was there. He would just kind of smile and laugh and change the subject. On the way home I explained to him that it’s not safe for him to be driving, but he had already forgotten the incident. There were a few times when he would ask if someone stole his car, or where it was, but he mainly just accepted it, or forgot all about it. One night Salli awoke to find that Dad wasn’t in bed. He apparently decided to take a walk. We had the police and everyone looking for him for a few hours. Eventually he was found a few blocks away sitting on someone’s doorstep unharmed but confused, tired and cold.
The decline from there was very fast. He became more and more incontinent. His speech became just a few words and phrases. He couldn’t walk by himself. But you could see in his eyes that he wanted to contribute to the conversation. He would still get a huge smile on his face and laugh whenever he looked at his grandkids.
When I’d shake his hand he would hold mine really tight and laugh. He’d wear two different shoes. Two watches. He’d “read” the paper, mumbling words from the headlines. He’d look at pictures over and over and put them into groups…reordering them into different piles, stacking them, straightening them. Towards the end it was very much like watching a young child discovering the items around them. Eventually he was no longer able to do anything but close his eyes and we knew the end was near. Everyone got their time to say goodbye, and he passed away peacefully in his sleep. Thank you, Dad, for all you did for us. We love you, and we’ll miss you.
[please feel free to leave a comment or thought about Art below.]