Al, a longtime friend of mine, is headed to Vegas with his family today. To celebrate. There’s been all this fuss the last several weeks that 11/11/11 will mark the beginning of the end of the world, Armageddon if you will, that will lead up to the end of of everything as we know it in December, 2012. But Al isn’t celebrating the beginning of the end, he’s celebrating a birthday. Because Al’s birthday happens to be on Friday – 11/11/11. And although it would be wrong of me to let you know how old he is, suffice it to say that he’s accountant, going to Las Vegas, so you know the numbers have to mean something. If you can’t figure it out, I’ll give you a hint – it’s got sevens in it – plural – not singular.
So when I spoke with him yesterday, he thought he should go and try his luck. Sevens and elevens – Las Vegas – leave it to an accountant to make it all fit. Personally, I’m not much of a gambler. I was cured of that long ago when I was a seventeen year old and lost $127 on one hand of one-on-one poker with a friend of mine – seven card stud with nothing wild. I remember the hand I was dealt. I had four natural sixes; and lost to four natural sevens. Looking at it from my current perspective, it was probably the cheapest lesson I could have learned that has undoubtedly saved me many thousands of dollars since then.
But back to Al. I first met him in our offices in Palatine, IL in the fall of 1978 – right after my father died. Our former accountant, a good friend of our family, thought it was time to retire when Dad passed on. So we were in the market for a competent person to take over. Through a series of introductions, we met Al. He was a younger partner in his firm and I immediately took a liking to him. I appreciated his honest appraisal of our situation and his sense of humor. He was tough, but fair. And there was no question in my mind that he had our best long term interests at heart. My mother, our majority shareholder, didn’t share my sentiments and so she decided to go another direction. I think she was shocked by his candor and didn’t want to hear the truth about how tenuous things really were in the business.
In the fall of 1983, after Janet and I had moved to Carmel, north of Indianapolis, I decided to start my own company. The first call I made was to Al. Since he never worked for Mom, I was sure there was no conflict of interest and after hearing my story about ideas for the business, Al agreed to help me. One problem – I didn’t have any money to pay him. Al, in typical fashion, let me know that he would carry the bill and someday, assuming I was successful, I could start paying him. Al carried us for more than six years and I knew we had finally made it when Al let me know that I could afford to start paying him. Nobody, before or since, has extended that kind of trust and caring in the growth of our business.
Eventually, we got caught up, but to this day, I know he cut me quite a bit of slack in those early days. And nobody has touched our books, except Al, for the entire time we have been in business. We’ve watched Al and Ellen’s kids grow up and they’ve known our kids since Andrew was 1 year old. We’ve all shared stories and attended the weddings of each other’s children. In the early days, when we couldn’t afford hotels for Al to come down, he stayed at our home or picked up the hotel tab himself.
Of course, one time his lost his wallet and that created quite a stir. He never even asked to borrow money for fuel to get back to Chicago. And there was the time that Ellen wondered about some restaurant charge for Muldoon’s, an obscure neighborhood joint – not to worry, he was with me. Throughout the years, we have grown incredibly close. In fact, Janet has told me that, God forbid, if anything should happen to me, her first call would be to Al. She trusts him, and so do I, with everything we have. Plain and simple – he’s one of a kind. God broke the mold after he created Al. He’s like an older brother to me – no, closer to me than that – I don’t even know how to refer to him. Except to say that I can’t even begin to tell you how my life has been made richer through my association with him. And needless to say, I can’t even imagine how my life would have been different without his guidance and assistance over the last 33 years.
For sure, especially in the business, there have been numerous ups and downs. Good times and bad. But through it all, Al has been there; encouraging me, helping me and celebrating with me. As a business owner, it’s been scary at times – but it’s been a great ride – and it isn’t over…. We just keep on keeping on.
One more thing – when I started our ministry work, Al jumped in to help with that as well – donating his time. And he encouraged me in my seminary studies; all the more compelling because his son-in-law is a rabbi; and his daughter is a cantor in the synagogue. So, in honor of my dear friend, I just have to turn to the Old Testament today. From Ecclesiastes 4:10, “If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!” That’s been Al and me – for more than 3 decades.
My encouragement is to let you know that God places an Al in everyone’s life. You just have to find them, and invest in the relationship as heavily as you can. And my prayer is that if you haven’t found your “Al” yet, God will bless you and enrich your life the way He has enriched mine. Happy Birthday, Al. And many, many, many more………