Happy Birthday, Ted

January 25, 2018

“Dad, It’s Nancy. Can you hear me okay?”

“Oh, hi dear.”

“Dad, I’m here with my friend Chris. And Mary, Mike, and James are on too.”

“That’s nice.”

“Chris is going to whistle for your birthday.”

“He’s going to what?”

“Chris is a champion whistler. He’s going to whistle for you.”

“Oh, okay.”

It was Ted’s 100th birthday, and his daughter Nancy wanted to mark the day in a special way. I was honored to be part of the celebration.

My heart has a special place for seniors. They have this amalgam of wisdom and peace, nestled in the shadow of diminished relevance and failing health. Like gravity, life takes its toll.

Over the years, I’ve serenaded the parents of many work colleagues. Two stand out in my mind. Carlyle co-founder and Vice Chairman Bill Conway and Vice Chairman Dan Akerson had me whistle for their moms in their final years of life. It touched my heart to see these immensely successful businessmen look for a way to honor their moms with a simple gift that says “I love you” more than any fancy gift ever could.

In the years since, Bill and Dan have both mentioned how much these serenades meant to them. As my parents age (both are in their eighties), I better appreciate that time is fleeting and we need to honor and appreciate the special people in our lives while we can.

Over the years, I’ve whistled for seventy-five, eighty, and ninety year-olds, but then there was Ted. I had never whistled for a 100 year-old. When Nancy asked me if I’d whistle for her centenarian father, I was so excited. We planned it for months in advance.

On the special day, Nancy gathered her siblings from around the country on a conference all. One sibling was with Ted at his him in Arizona, while Nancy and I were in my office at Carlyle, hovering above a speakerphone.

I whistled my standard version, kicking if off with a fun little trumpet voluntary and ending with “and many more.” Ted was touched by the call.

In the scheme of things, it was rather simple. On the other hand, it was simply magical.

It kind of reminded me of why I so enjoyed the twenty-five Grateful Dead concerts I went to in the ’80s and ’90s. The Dead were all about the music–no fancy stages, no costume changes, no fireworks or over-the-top lighting. The music stood on its own, needing no support from superficial things.

It was Ted’s 100th birthday, a feat accomplished by few. With the whistle serving as catalyst, children scattered to the winds came together to honor their dear father. It wasn’t elegant or lengthy, but it was delightful and heartfelt. When you’re 100, I suspect that’s just what the doctor ordered.

(Find this and other stories in my new book Find Your Whistle: Simple Gifts Touch Hearts & Change Lives.)