My father wrote a few letters, some of them gems, most of them driven by his obligation to be attentive to his youngest child — which can produce gems.
Still. A telephone call. During the workday? Very rare.
Personal Phone Calls
We only ever had one conversation about family telephone calls during the workday. I was driving, Alisa beside me, my father and mother in the back seat.
My father didn't understand why some of his colleagues called home every day or, even more so, several times a day. "What is there to talk about? If there were an emergency, of course, a call makes sense. But, otherwise, it can wait. After all, we'll be home together in just a matter of hours."
Frankly, I don't call Alisa unless there's a question or concern — or a delight. I don't just call to say, "Hi. Remember me?" Alisa is busy. And, I trust, she'll remember me, even if I don't call.
But I thought my father should know of my red-blooded love for my wife, so I told him that I call Alisa throughout the day. "Hello, baby," I said, trying as hard as I could to summon up Barry White. "Hello, baby. I gotta have you. I gotta have you right now."
Much laughter in the car. My parents knew that I was kidding. Alisa knew I was kidding. I knew I was kidding.
But I wish I had not been kidding. (Barry White was right.)
But this isn't about Barry White.
I answered the phone.
Dad: "Hi, it's Dad."
Artie: "Hey, Dad! What's going on?"
Dad: "Are you busy?"
Artie: "I am now. I'm talking to my father. He doesn't call often, so it must be important."
Dad: "I'm wondering if you have ever given thought to becoming a stockbroker."
My father was a stockbroker. He had entered the field around the time I was born. So he had been at it for more than 25 years. And he had built a strong reputation for ethical professionalism.
Artie: "Haven't thought about it lately. Why are you calling?"
Dad: "Well, I'm looking toward my retirement. It will be in a few years. And, if you ever wanted to become a stockbroker, this would be a good time. You could take over my clients. That would be a lot easier than starting like I did, with a lot of cold calling. So, now would be your best opportunity to become a broker."
Artie: "Thanks. That's nice of you. What if I say, 'No.'?"
Dad: "Then I'll just turn everything over to Bill. So consider this a one-time offer."
Bill Grafton and my father had worked at adjoining desks — and, later, adjoining offices — for a long time. Every afternoon, one of them would slide the quaint pass-through window that connected their offices, and ask, "Flip you for it?" One would flip a coin, the other would call heads for tails, and the loser would go to the little shop in the building lobby and buy a Hershey bar for them to share. High finance in Columbus, Ohio.
Artie: "One-time offer? Pressure's on. May I ask you a few questions?"
Artie: "Do you like being a stockbroker?"
Dad: "Not a day of it."
That wasn't terribly surprising.
My father was a consummate professional. He never told me the names of his clients. That was confidential, not his story to tell. I first learned who some of them were when they visited his deathbed. Even now, more than 20 years later, people are telling me that he was their broker.
Long after my father died, I met one of his clients at a community lunch. He told me: "Twenty-five years ago, when I had just I graduated from college, I was a bike messenger for a big law firm. Every week, [Big Lawyer] gave me an envelope and told me to run it over to Art Isaac. It was money for investment. I'd hand it to your father and say, 'Whatever you're buying for Mr. [Big Lawyer], buy me one, too.' At first, I was kidding, but your father always bought me a single share of the week's stock. I probably paid for it, but he never charged me a commission or a penalty for an odd lot transaction. In the end, I had a nice nest egg. I thought that was very kind of your father, to be so generous with a bike messenger."
He was kind, but he was no fool. I bet my dad figured, "Hey, if this guy is bringing me an envelope with cash in it every week, I'm going to be as nice to him as I can be!"
Back to the phone call.
My father admitted that he didn't much care for the work. I knew he didn't like the clients who called, surprising him by barking out the name of a new company, and demanding to immediately know all about it. He didn't like scrambling around his desk reference materials for instant knowledge. And he really didn't like the clients who were angry — at him! — when their own investment decisions produced losses.
Anyway, he claimed to not have liked a day of his brokerage career.
Artie: "Oh. Well, the second question: would I be any good at it?"
Dad: "I don't think so. I don't think you have what it takes."
Artie: "Nice. Thanks. O.K. Last question: are you calling my sisters with this same offer and similar flattery?"
I figured that either (1) as a man of his generation, he didn't think that his girls should be stockbrokers or (2) he loved them more than me. Probably, though, it was primogeniture. That's when the career and wealth of the father flows to the eldest (or, in my case, only) son.
Artie: "Really? Well, thanks for your answers. I've given them a lot of thought during the past 15 seconds and I think I'll pass on the invitation. No, thanks."
Dad: "All right. Love you." [click]
He was a sweet guy, but this wasn't a sweet call.
This call was inspired by Bill, I'll bet. My father and Bill had probably discussed my father's retirement and Bill's acquisition of my father's book of business. And Bill had, wisely, said, "I think you'd better check with Artie, first."
I like the idea that Google searchers will find this story of my father — Arthur J. Isaac, Jr, of blessed memory — in a deep search of Barry White. To help that along, I offer this Google poetry: Arthur J. Isaac, Jr. and Barry White. Barry White and Arthur Isaac. Artie Isaac loves Barry White. Barry White never met Artie Isaac. Love to love you, Arthur J. Isaac, Jr.