RIP: My dad
This posting has nothing to do with movies, but seeing as my father passed away earlier this year (March 14, 2008), I felt the need to acknowledge his death by speaking about him on my website. My father was a great influence on my life and the creation of this site, and I miss him a lot.
VIKEN BERGE GARABEDIAN
1940 - 2008
My father was born in Beirut, Lebanon* and came from a poor background. As anyone who ever met him will tell you, he was a great story-teller, and I can still remember him telling us about his "When I was a kid..." stories including the time he received oranges as Christmas presents, wrapped in aluminum foil (his parents couldn't afford anything more), or the time he went to cut his hair in the 50s and asked the barber to give him a haircut like "Elvis Presley". The barber slapped him across the side of his head and told him to shut up and take whatever haircut he gave him. How times have changed.
Despite his meager beginnings, my dad never sat back and waited for things to be handed to him, he went out in search of life and his destiny. After his schooling years, he spent some time in Russia, Armenia and France, and learned a rare skill for those times (and even moreso, nowadays) as an antique carpet repairman. He got himself a nice job in this profession and ultimately wanted to settle down and raise himself a family (that's where I come in, later on).
One of his sisters was teaching alongside a young, attractive Armenian girl named Janet around that time, and thought the two should meet one day. My pops was 27 years old when he met her and two weeks later, they were engaged! (Wow, can you imagine if we did that these days...?) I guess I didn't really follow in his footsteps in that respect. It worked out really well for my parents though, as they got married a few months later, as my dad had to move to Holland because there was demand for his profession there.
My parents moved in over a French Fry stand in the streets of Amsterdam (it's a wonder I still love fries with mayo to this day) and attempted to start a family, while learning a new language and culture in the Netherlands. My sister Tamar came first, then me and then my brother, Sevan, a few years after that. I don't remember much from my years in Holland (yeah, even then, I was smoking weed...just kidding), but I do remember small things like playing soccer, some friends, school and eventually, a cutesy house that my parents were able to afford, in front of a small river (Oostzaan, baby). I remember it being a massive body of water, but when I went back a few years ago, it turned out to be more like a pond... :)
When I was about 8 years old, my parents decided that they needed to make a move for their future (and ours) and decided that Canada was the place to make that new start. They packed their bags (again) and moved the entire Garabedian clan to Montreal, Canada, with promises of snow-mobiles, swimming pools and hot-dogs (literally, I remember them saying that we can get those things here). Canada turned out to be a great move for everyone, as the opportunities were even greater here, and for children, I think my parents believed it to be a "cleaner" place for us to grow up, considering that Holland allowed drugs and prostitution (ironically, I wanna move back now...just kidding).
My father's profession wasn't much in demand in Canada, and neither were antique rugs, so he decided to start a clothing business (import/export) with the help of my mom instead. By this point, the kids were in school (now learning English and French and forgetting our Dutch), so he could take that chance. Times were rough, but my father's work ethic was always very strong, and even moreso, his fun-loving spirit. My dad was always good for a helping hand, a story or a joke for anyone who would listen. He wasn't a clown or anything, but he sure brought the house down when people were around.
During my teen years, I had some great times, but I remember my father being very hard on me. I think he was the same toward my brother and sister, but being a teenager, I was mostly centered on myself in those days, and couldn't really figure it out. As an adult, I can say that I was looking for "love" and acceptance from my dad, but he was very "old school" and obviously wasn't built that way. My mom compensated for that, of course (as most good marriages do), but it was still hard on me, psychologically, I believe...which is likely what made me work and study harder, so that I could ultimately receive his acceptance and appreciation (I should be a shrink).
My dad's favorite cat...
During my high school years, I also started working with my father at his clothing business. It turns out that I had usurped some of my pop's entrepreneurial spirit, as I started out by working at his warehouse, but by the time I was 18 years old, I was actually buying clothes from him, and then re-selling them around flea markets around the city (which at that time, weren't "antique" flea markets, but re-sellers of new merchandise). It was a great experience for me both as a son and a businessman, because it taught me a lot of things about how to manage an enterprise, but also, how to behave around people.
My father wasn't a perfect man, but one of the reasons I wanted to write this tribute, was because I believe that he was a "good man" and "good father", and not enough of them get their public due these days.
Even though I was making some money at these businesses, my parents insisted that I stay in school and continue my collegiate studies. Honestly, between me and you...I didn't really care, because I felt like I had a good thing going already, but in order to have "something to fall back on", I decided to placate them and continue my studies, while working on my business over the weekends.
A few months before I graduated from University, my father's business went bankrupt after a few people whom he befriended (and obviously trusted) screwed him over for some large debts owed, and my own little enterprise was dissolved at the same time. Thank God my parents had told me to stay in school, man! At that point, I decided that I might as well go one step further and achieve my Master's degree (MBA), which I did over the next two years, with my final six months spent studying in Rotterdam, Holland...a nice return trip for me.
In the meantime, my dad didn't sit around and feel sorry for himself, he continued to do whatever he could to make money (no, no selling drugs), including importing sandals, selling my mom's flowery arrangements around town and even filling in for odd jobs at company warehouses or auctions from time to time. My father was a worker, and he didn't believe in an "easy buck". We were never a rich family, but he was able to change his station in life from poor to middle class at some point. But most importantly, he did it all with dignity and respect from those around him.
My mom made that...
He also taught me the value of money. Believe it or not, to this day, I have never paid one cent interest on any of my credit cards. That's 100% my father's influence. He taught me not to live in a world of debt, and I can't tell you how important that has been for me, later on in life. He was always conscious of all the kids' livelihoods and worried about us all the time. I'm glad that he was able to live long enough to help me purchase (and move into) my first home as well.
When the time came to look for a job after graduating, I spent no less than 9 months sending out resumes to over 150 companies, many of which were movie companies in the States, hoping to land a nice marketing gig somewhere. I remember trying to be creative and sending them cover letters that said "TOP 10 REASONS TO HIRE BERGE GARABEDIAN AT MIRAMAX" and shit like that. A wonder none of that worked, eh?
My parents were very encouraging during this difficult time in my life, as I was really starting to feel down on myself, not knowing where my life would lead. Finally, I "settled" for a job at a computer distributor in town, making about 1/3 the money that all MBA recruiters had been touting beforehand. Nice. My father was never an ass to me, but was never overly affectionate or encouraging either. My mother covered that ground nicely, but as a guy, ultimately a man...I obviously coveted my father's respect.
When I reached my 20s, I started to no longer take my father's "hardness" toward me personally, and just started talking back to him, but always respectfully. In other words, if my father would say something that was putting me down (aka tough love), I would rebut with a response, instead of just absorbing his jabs. My father wasn't abusive at any point, or mean, but he was basically from the "old school" mentality that equated being "tough on your kids" with love. I believe he also believed that it would make us stronger people, and in my case, he turned out to be right.
In other words, whatever minimal grudges I held against my father during my teen years, completely disappeared by my 20s, and in fact, turned into more of a competitive spirit between us. Bottom line for me was always having my parents, and more so, my father...be proud of the person that I would become.
As I worked like a schmuck at that computer company, something was starting on computers themselves called...the "WORLD WIDE WEB". That's right, kids...that's what folks called the Internets before it was what it is today. Going through a very productive period of my life at this time (I'd also managed to write 4 screenplays while I was studying for my Master's and nabbed myself a girlie-friend), I decided to start teaching myself some of the coding, in order put together a goofy "webpage" of my own, originally called "Berge's Rippin' Site" or something to that effect.
I was falling into some writer's block around that time as well (my dream was still to become a screenwriter or movie producer at that time), so I decided that maybe I could start writing some movie reviews, and then post them to the site (I'd written my first reviews in our weekly McGill MBA newsletters, one of which was for SE7EN, if I remember correctly...a 9/10, of course).
All of this was being done, at nights, after I would return home from my "day job". My parents didn't really mind or notice at first, but after a while, they worried about my workaholic ways (they might've had cause for worry, as later on my doctors would diagnose me with an illness that might be exacerbated by stress and an unhealthy lifestyle -- I would sleep at all hours of the night, eat crap, etc...).
I don't want to turn this into the "beginnings of JoBlo.com", but suffice it to say, I decided to write from a "regular guy's" point of view, came up with the name "Joe Schmoe" at first, but then did a search on Yahoo (Google didn't exist then...1998), and realized there were a ton of them already out there. Maybe my marketing background helped a little here, as I thought to come up with my own "name" (brand), JoBlo, which resembled Joe Blow, but obviously wasn't written the same way. One search on Yahoo showed "0" results, so JoBlo.com it was!!
Even though I spent the first 3-4 years of JoBlo.com working like a crazy person, my parents never dissuaded me from it, although my father would constantly bug me about not making money. Of course, I had no master plan with the site at that time (I honestly had no idea where the Internet would even go or the future of the site, which was more like a "hobby" to me), but I was having fun, keeping my writing skills sharp, and living off the salary from my day-job.
All that changed when the Net blew up, the site gained an audience and advertising came into play. I still remember the first time I received a check for the site and I showed it to my dad. He was finally a little impressed. Not that it was a lot of money, but just the fact that my "computer time" was actually producing revenues.
By 2001-2002, I was able to quit my day job and do JoBlo.com full-time from my parent's home. I used to joke about the fact that I was "working from my parent's garage", but no joke...my room was in the garage and that's exactly where the site was created and maintained for the first 4-5 years of its existence.
Now maybe it's because I come from an ethnic family background, or maybe it's because I'm a mama's boy/daddy's boy, but I never once thought to move out of there until my early 30s. It was a great life, doing what I enjoyed doing, living with my mom and dad (and by this point, both of my siblings had moved on to greater pastures) and not having to worry about the rent, cooking or any of that shit. Unlike many North American-bred parents, my parents also loved the fact that I was still sticking around home, at least until I could find someone for myself and get married on my own, of course.
It was during these final 4-5 years, that I really got much closer to my father, and enjoyed much of our times together. I looked forward to sharing my stories with him every day, and appreciated his many opinions about my business. He didn't really understand the Internet, but he knew a lot about business and had lots of opinions to share with me, which I always took to heart.
The Garabedian clan...in happier times...
One of the things that I miss the most from my father is...his presence in my life. I used to see my dad every day, even during the final years when I had moved into my own place, because I left my JoBlo.com offices at their home. I would drive to my parent's home every afternoon (yeah, I don't "do" mornings) and my mom and dad were always there for me. I miss my dad just being there, in front of the TV, watching CNN or something, and asking me about a letter that I had received or whatever else.
During the final 2-3 years, my dad was a big part of the site's day-to-day behind the scenes operations, taking care of all shipments coming in/out of the house/office (yeah, there are actually quite a few). He took great pride in that and I was happy to work with him in that way.
Even though my father never formally told me that he was proud of me, I didn't really need him to say it anymore, as I could see in his enthusiasm with the site, that he was proud of me and the business that I was lucky enough to have created.
Even when he went to Germany for alternate cancer treatments last year, he asked me to give him some JoBlo.com stickers, so that he could hand them out to people over there. He also liked to wear a JoBlo.com cap whenever he went out, and I would hear his pride from a lot of other people at the bank, pharmacy and otherwise ("Your father was in here the other day, talking about your site, etc...").
I've had a lot of wicked cool experiences during my years of running this site, all of which I would share with my family, but when I was quoted in TIME magazine last year, I think that was the ultimate for my dad, as he had grown up reading that esteemed magazine (for him). I remember seeing the honor in his eyes at that time.
My father was diagnosed with skin cancer (melanoma) two years ago, but it was only after his own doctor had told him "not to worry" about a growth under his arm, about six months prior to that. If only that doctor had told my father to get it examined six months earlier, he might have been saved. Take note, people!! By the time he went to the specialists, they told him that he was in the "final stages" already, and that there wasn't much that could be done.
My father was obviously taken aback by the news, but surprisingly, was very optimistic and remained that way until the final two months of his life, when he wasn't able to walk or do much else. Until then, he tried everything in the book (other than chemotherapy, of course, because they told him there was only a 5% chance that would help anyway, and it was actually more poisonous than not), including a 45-day liquid diet in the mountains of Germany, through which my mother also joined him.
Yup, through "good times and bad"...
Even though it seemed like he only had a few months to live after this initial diagnosis, he went on to live about 2 years and 2 months, after that. That extra life that was given to my father was primarily because of his optimistic outlook, lively nature and inability to believe that he was going to die. I don't remember ever discussing his death with him, even during his final two weeks in the hospital. He was always optimistic, cheering others up around him and even going back to Germany for a second go-around a few months later.
I can't tell you how my father felt about his own life, but from where I stand, he was a very happy man with a good heart, who worked hard, lived an interesting and fulfilling life and most importantly to me, was a great father, a solid husband and a genuinely decent human being. I only hope that my kids are as proud of me one day, as I am of my father. He also celebrated his 40th wedding anniversary to my mother two months before his passing, and gave me a glimpse of what a "good marriage" could be. All you read about these days are divorces and people not getting along, but even though my parents had their share of issues like any other couple, deep down...there was respect, love and a joy to be around each other.
Someone once asked my mom why she married my father, saying that he was "short and had no money" when they tied the knot (they couldn't afford a honeymoon). My mom's reply was that "He had a good heart and could make her laugh..." and that the rest, wasn't all that important. That remained true to the end.
Of course, times were very tough during those final months in the house, when my father was ailing big-time, and couldn't do much, or his final two weeks in the hospital, when he could barely speak or acknowledge our existence, but I choose not to focus on those horrible times, and concentrate rather on the good times that I shared with my dad over the years, and remember him as the cheerful, funny and outgoing person that he was. He took to me to my first hockey games when I was younger, he nudged me to succeed through much of my life, he hopefully passed some of his "humor" gene along to me and never once did anything that made me ashamed to know him.
I've met a lot of different people in my lifetime and at some point, you get a sense of the "good" and the "bad" and my dad was definitely one of the good guys, and I'm thankful that I was lucky enough to have him as my father in this world, and that he was able to live long enough, to see me succeed a little in life, and hopefully put something good back into the world. I'm not a particularly religious guy, but whoever was in charge of all that...thanks! I miss you dad and I hope that you are looking over me these days and enjoying your afterlife. Thank you for everything...
-- Berge Garabedian aka JoBlo
* To know more about why my father wasn't born in Armenia (despite being Armenian himself), go to Google and type in 'armenian genocide').