Paying it Back, Forwards

Do No Harm

By Ben Stowe, “Sound & Lighting Guru”

Some time ago I took to putting birthdays of family into my calendar. This is helpful because, well, to be completely honest, I just don’t remember them sometimes.

Recently, a notification popped up alerting me to the birthday of a childhood neighbor we called “Grandpa.” Even though he wasn’t biologically related, he was excellent at the part. That’s not to take anything away from the grandfathers I had… they were without question the best I could hope for. I simply lucked out and found another guy willing to share his time with me.

My Early Geekhood with “Grandpa”

As a young child it’s difficult to anticipate what the future might hold, or to understand how your experiences will shape and mold you. “Grandpa” ran a TV repair shop out of his house, and was also a retired electronics teacher. This is, of course, back in the days when TVs had tubes, large components, and could be fixed.

As I spent time over there I became fascinated with the technology behind my Saturday morning cartoons. My curiosity was rewarded with chores and lessons. I think sometimes they were just designed to keep me occupied and out of his way. I was a bit like Dennis the Menace, although fortunately he was more patient than Dennis’s father.

As I grew up I outgrew the time in the shop. Other things took away my attention…. sports, girls, and in general just trying to be cool. Then, we moved away.

We stayed in regular touch with “Grandma and Grandpa” formerly our next door neighbors. He would ask if I needed any tools, but I usually assured him I didn’t have any need for them. He patiently reminded me that if my soldering iron was wearing out, he had another one he wasn’t using. Mine wasn’t wearing out because I wasn’t using it either.

A Lesson in Generosity

Then, in high school I decided to pad my GPA by taking an electronics class. After all, I’d already had years of it. I really didn’t have any career interest in it at the time, it would just be more fun than the other options available.

There I was blessed to have an electronics instructor who was as in love with teaching as he was with technology. He was young, fun and cool. He was also a good looking former state champion wrestler, and a great conversationalist. Everybody liked this teacher… in and out of the classroom. I guess that was not what I expected from an electronics instructor.

This guy was also exceedingly generous with his time. My initial plan to simply get an easy A turned into a growing fascination with technology.

I made friends with other future geeks, and we would begin to both cooperate and compete with design and construction of gadgets. We built and designed all sorts of cool stuff… devices to modulate audio over a laser beam and shoot it around the school, robots, a scoreboard for the wrestling club… nothing that hadn’t been done before, and nothing that would rank as a top secret project (although I’m pretty sure one of those geeks does some pretty cool stuff for a certain government agency, but he won’t say).

Homeless with a Bright Idea

My life took a dramatic turn when I suddenly found myself homeless as a teenager in high school. Amazing how one night can change your life forever I guess.

In the process of rewriting my life’s game plan, I determined that I could mass produce and sell gadgets like strobe lights to my otherwise technically challenged classmates. My teacher was exceptionally accommodating allowing me to work during other classes and around my training schedule (I,too, was a wrestler).

Then, I decided to take this to the next level. I was going to start a business and I had a contract to provide sound and lighting for a New Years event. Only problem was, the school was closed. Without hesitation he agreed to come to the school and open up the electronics shop and the welding shop at the school, and to spend HOURS there over his holiday break so I could fulfill my obligations in this contract.

The Meaning of Sacrifice and Doing Good

What I didn’t know, was that he had been battling a brain tumor, and those hours were more limited than any of us could have known. A few short years later, he was dead. A husband, a father, a teacher, and a friend was gone.

It has never, ever left my mind the sacrifice that both he, and those that were to lose him too soon, made so that I could try to put my life together. With every hour I have now, I try to honor him with my actions as a husband, a father, a teacher, and a friend.

While my electronics instructor (and friend) died tragically young (about my current age), “Grandpa” lived well into his 80s. I think it’s always too soon, but his death was not unexpected at the time.

Profound Influence and Its Impact

Ben Stowe Boy Scout Troup LeaderWhile it takes a village, and these two great men are only a pair out of hundreds that have had a profound influence on my life, their impact cannot be minimized. I sincerely doubt that I would be in this industry without them.

One might even wonder where I would be had the road to get myself off the streets not been paved a bit by the selfless actions of a high school electronics teacher.

People ask me often why I am so generous with my knowledge and assistance. I usually just smile and say something about it being the right thing to do, but the truth is that it’s not generosity, it’s simply payments on a debt that can never really be repaid.

More than that, it’s the realization that my daily grind may change others lives, in ways that I could never imagine. We are all role models. We are watched, studied, analyzed and emulated by young and old alike.

Like the Hippocratic Oath, I hope to simply “Do no harm,” and maybe… just maybe I could even do some good!

* Republished with permission from Ben’s blog:

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