After Thanksgiving

After Thanksgiving
Michael Gollin

Cold rain drops from gray
that was sunny warm before.  
Echos of family reverberate
from now empty rooms. 
Fourteen feasted on love (the  secret sauce),
and filled four cans with refuse. 
After inspiring 
great gulps of guests mornings
and expiring them evenings,
this house resumes its normal
rhythm of breathing people
in and out
One by one.


How to Raise Kids (Answering My Son’s Questions – Part 5)

How to Raise Kids (Answering My Son’s Questions – Part 5)

Michael Gollin (with help from Max Gollin)

Marry the right spouse, someone who wants to raise kids well. Wait until you have time to devote to parenting.  Then wing it.

We read lots of books and took advice from our parents and relatives and older friends.  You get to see various approaches, lenient or strict, serious or silly, cheap or expensive.

Each time Jill was pregnant, I was terrified that I would fail as a father. With Natasha, it was fear that I would do something basically wrong. With Max, I couldn’t imagine fathering two kids successfully at the same time, and with Julia, how could I handle three?

I think my existential angst came from the realization that babies begin life completely dependent on parents for everything, then as you raise them, they have to grow into completely independent adults, and this metamorphosis is inherently traumatic and seemingly impossible without massive disturbance. There is no easy path.  But I believe most activities in life that are worth doing are difficult.  Raising our kids is the most worthwhile endeavor of my life.

Editor’s note: this is part of a series of advice letters my dad wrote for me in September 2014 when I asked him for some guidance on the big things in life –Max

How to Balance Work and Family (Answering My Son’s Questions – Part 4)

How to Balance Work and Family (Answering My Son’s Questions – Part 4)

Michael Gollin (with help from Max Gollin)

In 1994 Boston University law school awarded me the Young Lawyer’s Chair for public service.  I remarked that I had achieved a balance of guilt: when I was doing billable work I felt guilty for not doing enough pro bono work, and when doing pro bono work I felt guilty about not doing enough billable work. I figured if I didn’t feel guilty both ways then I was out of balance.  Maybe that’s my Jewish upbringing.

The same formula applies to work and family.  If you don’t feel guilty at work, you’re not spending enough time with family.  If you don’t feel a little bit guilty at home, then maybe you’re not working hard enough.  I always preferred the second kind of guilt.

At a certain point I had more worthwhile things to do than time. It wasn’t a question of wasting time any more but of choosing among worthy things.

To help me choose, I came up with an algorithm.  For any opportunity, I gave a score of 0 to 3 for professional factors like helping clients, developing new clients, helping the profession, and public interest, and for personal factors like Jill, kids, family, friends, exercise, and culture. A high composite score sent me to speak at a conference in Anaheim, stopping to see clients at UCLA on the way, after stopping at Vail to ski with Andy , and after the conference stopping at SLC and skiing with Mike Polacek and Henry, then on to UC Davis for more client work.  Even though the immediate family got nothing from it, every other factor was high for the 12 day trip.

Another factor is that I have been keenly aware that my success at work has been vital to the well-being and security of our family.  I am very deeply proud of the stability that I have been able to provide.

Editor’s note: this is part of a series of advice letters my dad wrote for me in September 2014 when I asked him for some guidance on the big things in life –Max

Facing Death to Take Charge of Life

Facing Death to Take Charge of Life
Michael Gollin

What are the most important questions when we and loved ones face serious illness? The article below sums up the inquiries succinctly.

From The New York Times
Seeking a ‘Beautiful Death’
Before making an advance directive, talk with your doctor and your caregiver about just how far end-of-life care should go at the cost of comfort.

The kinds of questions doctors should be asking:

■ What gives your life meaning and joy?

■ What are your biggest fears and concerns?

■ What are you looking forward to?

■ What goals are most important to you now?

■ What trade-offs or sacrifices are you willing to make to achieve those goals?

Everyone can answer these questions although based on personal experience they become more directly relevant and therefore less frightening when you have a serious disease or are older.

The book Being Mortal, by excellent writer and surgeon, Atul Gawande, tackles these issues in a very personal and comprehensible way. Our late in life decisions should be driven by our humanity, not the health industry imperatives. Key questions include the following.
What do you understand about your disease?
What are your priorities for your remaining time?

There was a TV show about this book.

I found the book more helpful. For example, I have made it known that I don’t want 911, ambulance, and emergency room treatment. Maybe for a broken bone, but otherwise I can be treated at home for ALS and my ventilation better than at an ER, if treatment is viable, and avoid massive discomfort and dislocation. I have rushed to the doctor in my own wheelchair in our van and returned home the same way to live my life as best as I can. I’m fortunate in that sense.

Everyone will face their health fate however they can. But it helps if a loved one or doctor or nurse asks the right questions.


Finding a Place to Live (Answering My Son’s Questions – Part 3)

Finding a Place to Live (Answering My Son’s Questions – Part 3)

Michael Gollin (with help from Max Gollin)

First decide where you will study or work. Country, region, weather, proximity to family and friends, politics, natural resources, and recreation all play a role.

Once you know the city, you need to pick a neighborhood. This depends on safety, commute, mass transit, shopping, schools, neighbors, restaurants, culture, and cost of living. I like living on the east side of DC so I don’t commute into the sun both ways.

Then you calculate what you can afford.  There are rules of thumb like 30% of gross income. You can rent, sublet, or buy a condo or house.  Over 10 or 20 years buying can be a good investment, but for shorter periods you have to be prepared to just break even or lose money, so renting can be a fine deal. Uncle Albie spotted the truth that the legalities of occupancy are less important than if you like the roof over your head and how well you can afford it.

I was born in faculty housing but my parents bought a house at 14 Trafalgar near the University of Rochester a few months later. Schools were bad so we went to the private Harley school. By 1968, the neighborhood had gotten worse and more violent. They sold the house for about break even and moved to Brighton, more expensive but with fine public schools, a great place for 6 years after the trauma of changing schools.

In Zurich I had three places in three years. First, I moved quickly and joined a Rotary residence. After a couple of months I found the rules annoying so I found the Freiestrasse apartment nearby for a similar price with three roommates.  That was a blast.  But it was on the edge of town and my lab moved in the opposite direction, and my long-term buddy-to-be Alex Kunz graduated.  My name came up for student housing downtown so I took it, for even less rent and a cool old building located near everything on the Leonardshalde.

In Boston, the same– three places, three years.  First year I shared an apartment with a high school buddy, sublet from our third roommate, Donna, on Park St., on the Fenway, a ride or walk through the park to school. I bought my still current desk/door from the building owner. The next year, I moved to share the top two floors of a house on Naples Ave., where I had both a bedroom and a spare room for an office.  When I came back after summer working in NY I got my own one bedroom apartment at 360 Riverway for privacy. Each place was about one mile from BU law school.

New York is complicated.  A whole world of connections and racing around to beat the competition. My college roommate sublet his 7th floor walk-up loft for a couple of months while he and wife were away. There was an elevator but it rarely worked. Boxes, bike, and bags up a long way! Then they introduced me to another crazy loft situation on Chrystie St. in Chinatown where a painter had a lease on the building but there was a dispute with the owner under the new tenant-friendly loft law. I paid some money to the painter and moved in. We ended up replacing the furnace and doing a lot of work out-of-pocket, but we didn’t pay rent during the dispute. Six years later I settled and Jill and I moved out, turning the space over to a new Chinese owner.

Meanwhile, I heard about homes in the Catskills Park, and in about 1985 bought a cabin in Lanesville, near Hunter ski mountain.  A good place to invest my money I thought. If it appreciated OR I could rent it I would break even and have good tax breaks.  If both, I would make money.  I figured it was a safe investment.  I enjoyed many summer weekends there and brought lots of guests.  But eventually when we were leaving New York it wasn’t renting and the brokers said it would sell just below $100k. They were way wrong all the way down to $45K.  I had paid $61k and invested about $15k, so it was a $30k loss. I became even more cautious with real estate as a result of that lesson. I figure it evened out somehow with my loft.

Jill and I decided to move to DC area as I lined up a job.  Elliot Eder introduced us to a superb broker, unlike the ones in the Catskills, and she showed us about 80 houses until we found Chestnut Ave.  We wanted a half-acre a half hour from downtown within our price range.  We got almost 7 acres for less than we expected and once in a while it is still a half hour drive downtown. The neighborhood has mostly modest homes so the house has not appreciated much but that’s okay.  We were able to pay off the mortgage quickly. We invested more in renovations than the original purchase price. But Uncle Albie was right because we have had a great home for an affordable price and we never wanted to move.

Editor’s note: this is part of a series of advice letters my dad wrote for me in September 2014 when I asked him for some guidance on the big things in life –Max

Graduate School (Answering My Son’s Questions – Part 2)

Graduate School (Answering My Son’s Questions – Part 2)

Michael Gollin (with help from Max Gollin)

Going to grad school should be a purely pragmatic decision, although with some fun, of course. It is not like college.  It is directly tied to choice of career(s).  It should not be a way to spend time (and money).  You should certainly get scholarships and fellowships and teaching posts.

The degree program you choose depends on what degrees people have in positions you would like to have. This is what’s called a terminal degree, like JD for law, MD for medicine, MBA for business, PhD for professors, or a Master for teachers.

The reputation of the department or grad school among peers is often more important than the university itself.

There are no reliable directories and ratings, in contrast to college. You need to network aggressively with your professors, advisors, family, friends, LinkedIn, and career placement office. Find the prerequisites and complete them. Research departments, grad schools, faculty, and email them and visit.

Grad school is professional training, not liberal arts. You may consider several very different paths.  Explore them all thoroughly but wait until you know before you decide which way to go.

When I was a senior (age 20), I considered PhD and MD programs, so I took the GRE and MCAT.  But I wasn’t ready to commit.  I wanted to go to Europe for a year.  I asked around and my parents did, too, and on winter break I met with the husband of the daughter of the Rubins, best friends of my parents.  He was a biology researcher at the U of Rochester and he had worked with Erik Kubli, a Swiss fruit fly researcher from Basel.  So I wrote a letter describing my research with fruit flies. About a month later I got a response from Ilan Deak in Zurich offering me a fellowship from the Swiss National Fund for a doctoral position working for him at the University of Zurich. It paid enough to live on.

It was not simple because the administration said I was not eligible for a PhD position.  My professor arranged for me to qualify for the grant provided I completed the requirements for a Diplom, equivalent to a master’s degree.  After a year Professor Deak died, apparently a suicide.  I then arranged to continue my work with Prof Eppenberger at the ETH.  I stuck around because it was a great deal to be in Zurich, even though I decided early not to be a bench scientist.

I considered a doctoral degree and career in marine biology when I was doing the 2 week lab portion of a marine biology course at Banyuls in southern France.  I also thought about studying enology at UC Davis for the love of wine.

Eventually I chose law school because I liked political arguments and was more concerned with the application of technology to society than with doing science. I thought about environmental law. The education attracted me. I took the LSAT as a walk-in standby on the US military base outside Stuttgart.  (I scored about the same on all standardized tests.)

Applying to law school and business school is relatively simple compared to other graduate programs because there are so many and the degrees are roughly similar. I was happy with BU and with my degree and career.

So I spent about three years figuring out the right grad school for me and then three more completing it. Many of my colleagues went all the way through a PhD before going to law school, so I feel like I was relatively focused.

Editor’s note: this is part of a series of advice letters my dad wrote for me in September 2014 when I asked him for some guidance on the big things in life –Max

Answering My Son’s Questions- Part 1: How to Start A Career

Answering My Son’s Questions- Part 1: How to Start A Career

Michael Gollin (with help from Max Gollin)

Follow curiosity, find a way to serve others, consider various jobs that fit, research pay, competition, and long-term advancement prospects. List jobs you might like, then choose those that have reasonable prospects for success. You will always do something you like if you do this, instead of choosing a high-paying job at the outset or something you like that doesn’t allow success. Meet people in the area and see if you like them and their values.

Choose options that tend to open doors and lead to various follow-up jobs rather than dead-end jobs.  The modern career may look a lot different from mine, which only had one major jump or three. My career went from bio to law, patent law to environmental, and gradually back to IP law.

I chose science because it expands boundaries of knowledge and can improve lives, but can be used for ill effects too, like pollution and war. It has lots of cool equipment and smart people. Law is the alternative to anarchy and hunger.  Lawyers serve clients and the law.  I help the law promote innovation and help my clients be rewarded for creative work.  Smart and creative people are my regular colleagues and clients.

But I write, lecture, teach, and have had many hobbies beyond patent law. If you remain curious, keep learning, find ways to serve that you feel good doing, and maintain a network and support group of like-minded people, you will discover your career or it will discover you.

Editor’s note: this is part of a series of advice letters my dad wrote for me in September 2014 when I asked him for some guidance on the big things in life –Max