I'm Aza Raskin @aza. I make shiny things. I simplify.

I'm VP at Jawbone, focusing on health.

 

My Father’s Final Gift

Jef Raskin, my father.

Twenty five days before my father died, on my birthday exactly six years ago, he gave me a present. He had the sparkle back in his eye—the one that had been reduced by pancreatic cancer to an ashen ember—when he gave it to me. It was a small package, rectangular in shape, in crisp brown-paper wrapping. Twine neatly wrapped around the corners, crisscrossing back and forth arriving at a bow crafted by the sure hands of a man who built his first model airplane at age seven.

This small brown package will be the final gift my father ever gives me.

My family does gifts strangely. For instance, we have our own mangled interpretation of hanukkah, where each person of the family has a night to give out presents. If we have five people home for hanukkah, we celebrate only five of the eight nights. The joy of gifts are in the giving, not receiving, so before opening your present you must first guess what’s inside. This tradition is “plenty questions”, a more forgiving version than the standard twenty questions.

“Animal, Vegetable, or Mineral?”, I ask.

“It’s the kind of clear insight for which all designers and inventors strive: beauty in the simplicity of using constraints as advantages.”

We are in it for the game of teasing the gift out of the gifter. It’s like extracting a ball of yarn from a kitten. The tugs, pulls, and misdirections are the fun. The question must answerable by a simple “yes” or “no”. Naturally, the later into the questions we get, the more liberal this rule becomes. We don’t break the rule exactly, but answers become not-exactly’s and yes-but’s. In past years, the givers have often spent hours creating elaborate disguises for the gifts. I’ve shaped styrofoam into a fantastic reptilian shape to disguise a pair of earrings for my mother. She guessed them perfectly anyway. There may be collusion going on.

“Mineral”, my father says.

We often waste questions on silly asides. We ask about refrigerators and ostrich eggs when the gift is clearly book shaped. But my father is sick. Where there was once the thought that a cure might be found, only fleeting misplaced hope remains like a high school summer fling dissipating in the face of college. We know there isn’t much time. Still I ask.

“Is it bigger than a bread box?”, I stare at the package in my hands. In it is my father. The man who invented the Macintosh and misnamed what should be the “typefaces” menu the “fonts” menu. He never forgave himself for his incorrect usage of English. He groomed with exacting use of language and considered that mistake a failure of being young and reckless with semantics. The man who invented click-and-drag was now the man who could hardly keep his gaze focused on his son. The box is, of course, smaller than a bread box. It’s a question we always ask. My family smiles out of habit.

“No”, my father says. A long pause. “No”, he says again, “it is smaller than a bread box. Smaller and sharper.” He speeds the guessing game along. Time.

“The metallic smell of water fresh from a pipe whipped my nose and water flooded the floor.”

“Sharper?”, I ask. A knife? The box is too small for a typical kitchen knife. It could be a Swiss Army knife. Jef always carries one. The big blade is for food, the little blade for everything else. He gets a bit indignant if you borrow it and use the wrong blade. I have a Swiss Army knife, but I haven’t carried it since airport security theater ramped up after nine eleven. It probably isn’t a knife. Maybe a razor? One can’t just ask outright, that doesn’t give enough information when you are wrong. Something sharp could be many things. Seeking something more strategic I ask, “Can it be found in a bathroom?”.

Long pause.

“Yes”.

Three days before he passed, Jef had an accident. He needed to use the restroom, so—stooped under his arm—I supported his weight as he hobble to his business. There was something quietly unsettling about escorting my father to a toilet that had been taller than me when we first moved into the house twenty years earlier. I sat him down, walked out, and closed the door. Moments later, a crash jolted the house. I slammed the door open. The metallic smell of water fresh from a pipe whipped my nose and water flooded the floor. The toilet was dislocated from its base like an arm from its socket, and lodged between the toilet and the wall was my father. Despite his size, he looked small and meager. He stared up at me with eyes full of innocent surprise. Why am I on the floor, they asked? Why am I wet? The shocked curiosity in his wide-open eyes is the single most haunting image I have of my father. Into the dark space between closing my eyes and falling asleep, that image sometimes steals. When it does, there is no help for it. I have to get out of bed and go for a run. Otherwise, sleep will be overshadowed by those confused, guileless eyes.

“It must be a razor?”, I ask. He nods his assent with a satisfied smile. He gestures for me to open it. Carefully undoing the knot, the twine, and the paper reveals a cardboard box on which he has written “For Pogonotomy”. Of course there is a word for beard trimming, and of course my father knows and uses it. In high school, I played a trick on my teachers: in every essay I used my own made-up word. I used “indelic” to mean something between “endemic” and “inextricably entwined”. No matter how many times I trotted it out, not one of my teachers caught me. I used it once in passing with my father and he immediately but gently pointed it out as a non-word. Some men spend time meticulously trimming their beard. My father trimmed his vocabulary. Language is communication, and my father was fastidious about it. Often when we got into particularly deep conversations, he’d pause and continue the rest of the discussion in written form where he could distill his thoughts into a sharp crystalline relief.

The razor itself was a vintage safety razor. Looking at it, I understood his intent. It is an inventive and simple design. The razor takes a flat blade and arches it under a metal shield, giving the blade both greater mechanical strength as well as a protective sheath that keeps you safe. It’s the kind of clear insight for which all designers and inventors strive: beauty in the simplicity of using constraints as advantages.

It’s that message, rendered in steel and wood, that was my father’s final gift to me. A way of looking at the world through the lens of playful questioning. That razor remains with me as a physical reminder of an incorporeal way of thought. Twenty five days later, the razor remained but my father did not.

Jef, I miss you.

RT @aza My Father’s Final Gift | Follow @aza on Twitter | All blog posts

View all 203 comments


Darn, that’s..

Can you write a book please? About anything


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    Your own personal daddy is a fantastic creativity in my opinion, he has major few-people We heard of once i began studying a brief history of private processing, the actual Mac pc as well as consumer terme. Your own personal daddy was truly a pioneer as well as although he is not known by the mainstream audiences I’ll always be grateful to him for creating as well as paving the way for personal computers as we know them today.


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Jason Persampieri

That was beautiful.

And almost eerily close to my experience with my father just over 4 years ago.

Thank you for sharing, Aza.



Tom

Your loss is the world’s loss. I’m sorry.


That was the first story I have read on your site. Excellent work, and the personal feelings you feel for your father are infused in your words. Well done sir.



Drew

That is a wonderfully written account.


Aza, that is some genuinely brilliant and big-hearted wordsmanship.
Heartfelt, deep, bared to the bone.

Thanks,
and do please write some more.


    Your dad has become a excellent motivation in my experience, he’s main people I actually been aware of after i started out researching the of non-public computer, typically the Macintosh personal computer along with end user cadre. Your current dad ended up being really a leading along with though they are not known with the well-known people I’ll be head over heels to help the pup pertaining to building along with introducing the manner in which pertaining to notebooks as it is known to us these folks now.



Evan Sheehan

Beautiful story; thank you for sharing.



Bruno Buccolo

I’m sorry for your loss Aza.

Breathtaking post, shivers all over my spine.
Keep up the good work.

Greetings from Brazil.


I will readily admit to crying while I read this. Thanks for a beautiful post.


You’re a remarkable guy Aza, to take such a profound loss and turn it into a gift you can share with us.

As a father, I live with deep fear of what would happen to my daughter if I pass too soon. I don’t worry so much about the financial issues, but more about the emotional issues of her dealing with that loss. It’s an issue all parents face to varying degrees, I suppose.

Your dad would be very proud of you today, and I’m certain he already knew that by the time he gave you that razor.



Sofi

Hi Aza,

As I read your story, I thought about how I lost my dad also six years ago. However, unlike yourself I don’t remember the last gift my father gave me before he passed instead I have the last birthday card. You must have been very close to your dad and it’s nice that you honour him in a way in writing about him. I still have not figured out how to honour my dad’s memory but in reading your words it has prompted me to want to write about my dad who was also my best friend. Thanks for your words as they serve as inspriration for me to write about the best guy I ever knew.

Sofi



Yunus Tunak

Great words to remember a great man. So personal, thx for letting us in the family.

And happy birthday..


This was hard for me to read. Tomorrow is the 14th anniversary of my father’s death. I was 13.

Your story of the accident in the bathroom resonates very strongly with me; sadly some of the clearest memories of my dad are during his last days and weeks, as the cancer was spreading to his brain, and he would desperately ask me to “manipulate his thumb” or some other nonsensical thing.

He taught me how to be a good friend, a good brother, a good sport, and a good person, as I understand it. But I had to teach myself how to shave, how to be a husband. I’m a father now and I’m terrified that I’m not truly prepared. I wish he was here.

Writing this is hard for me, but I feel as compelled to do it as I was to finish reading your blog.

Jef was a hero and a teacher to many of us. So was my father, on a much smaller scale. Thank you for sharing this bit of him (and yourself) with us.



David

Such a touching and warm story. Thank you for sharing. A reminder that the gifts we give may be physical, but they can be, and in many cases SHOULD be so much more.

I can only hope to ever brush against that level of greatness in the gifts that I give.

And happy birthday.


Dear Aza,

Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful story. It touched me in a way, I don’t know how to cope with. Made me realize just how much I love my father.

Still weeping,
- Nikolaj


Beautiful and terrible. Thanks for sharing that.



Avner

Aza,

It was a newspaper story on your father, published soon after his death, that first turned me to his book. I am a computer programmer and always liked the visual side of software design. I played around with it a lot as a kid, writing my own font renderers and my own windowing systems.

It was your father’s book that opened my eyes to the world of design. Still, after reading many other books on the subject and dabbling with usability and design myself, I find Jef’s work monumental. The clarity in which he put together the ergonomics of our minds gave birth to concise design principles and wonderful design concepts.

Today I am leading the development team of a small web startup. We try to bring part of Jef’s philosophy and ideas to life in our design. I know you do the same. What could be greater for a man then to have his ideas and his innovation live on to benefit the world after him?



Régis Kuckaertz

That must have been the most difficult thing you ever wrote.

We owe this man so much.


Thank you, and keep writing.


I usually don’t cry on my way to work. Beautifully written.


its odd how when people you love pass away it gives you a whole new perspective about things, in a sense you almost feel more human than you did before, giving you that drive, knowing if they were here now how proud they would be.

Good luck with Massive Health, oh yeah and ubiquity kicks ass!



Tom

Beautiful.


Thanks for sharing such a wonderful story,

Your father has been a great inspiration to me, he’s one of the first few people I heard about when I started learning about the history of personal computing, the Mac and user interfaces. Your father was truly a pioneer and although he is not known by the mainstream audiences I’ll always be grateful to him for creating and paving the way for personal computers as we know them today.

Thanks!



Krisa

Aza-
I could feel the honesty. Very heartfelt. May you have many more reminders of simplicity. Best of luck with your new endeavor.



Jay

beautiful, touching, and memorable. your story and your father.



Semple

This was an absolute joy to read. Fine writing. Thank you. Blessings to Jef.



alt

Aza, you are your father’s son. Thank you for sharing this.



Pamela

beautiful. your father lives on still…


Beautiful story, Aza.

You are not the only person who misses your father and his wonderful contributions via his work.


Great post, a touching story.


Aza- this was an amazing post, both in terms of craft but also in your depths of insight. It sounds like your father was a truly amazing man who passed his gifts on to you. Thanks for sharing this personal story publicly.


Beautiful. Brought back a poignant memory of caring for my mother at the end of her life. I’m sorry you miss your dad so.


Hi Asa,
Thanks for sharing your story. My mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer on Nov 5, 1996 (my father’s birthday) and died 3 months later. I remember one night at the hospital where my mother got up in a morphine induced waking dream, and started to walk out the door of her hospital room. When I asked her where she was going, she told me that she was going next door to ride the horses. When she was a little girl, her neighbor had horses and she would go over there to ride them. It made me wonder if she was reliving her life out of order, like Billy Pilgrim in Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse 5″.


I carefully read the Wikipedia article (which was a biography of Jef Raskin) that your post linked to. What an exceptional man your father was! His degrees and abilities crossed multiple fields of knowledge, from computer science to music and experimental design. I understood why your father’s last gift could be perceived as a small piece of perfection. After reading the biography, I realized why he (and you) did in fact see it that way.

The Wikipedia article mentioned that your father would accompany you and your 2 siblings in little musical pieces. What a patient loving father! And a brilliant and resourceful innovator, I could tell, while reading about his adventures with Apple Computer. I lived on Valley Green Drive in Cupertino during the mid-80′s, so I knew a little about things then.

Right now I am crying so hard I can hardly see. I miss my father too. I would give or do anything if I could go back in time to the 2-3 months preceding his death on 12 Jul 2009, and be with him the entire time.

You were a good son. When that accident with the plumbing and pipes happened, you were right there. Your father didn’t need to wait, lying on the cold tile floor, nor feel chilled or scared or afraid, waiting for a hired caregiver, no matter how compassionate. No, you were there. Immediately. His son. You mentioned how your father’s eyes were full of surprise and puzzlement. I think that was because there was no need for him to feel fear, as there would’ve had you not been there.

Life is for the living, they say. But they also say that those who are gone live on in the thoughts and memories of their loved ones. I’m sorry, so sorry for your loss. There’s little comfort to be given. Only this, Aza: I am certain that your father is very proud of you.


~ That’s one of the touching post, beautiful, sincere and big!

Thank You for sharing…

All the best,
I*


There once was a time I wondered if you and your sisters realized what a great man you had for a father. You do, and it is delightful to observe. Thank you for sharing this enchanting very personal story.

I remain very happy that events I didn’t wish for or like, nevertheless allowed me to meet and enjoy you and your father profoundly. It has been a great privilege. The benefits continue in my life.


Thanks for the nice story. I still use this type of razor, also given by my father.



Hrvoje Zlatar

Beautiful story, beautifully written. Thank you.


Aza, I was moved by this story about your father. I too lost my mother to cancer and know how strange it is to be the caregiver to someone that has taken care of you for longer than you can remember. I too treasure those final weeks with my mother, even though there were scary moments (falls included) within those weeks. Thank you for sharing and best of luck with your new startup.


Thanks for Sharing … :)



Megan

Aza, I am touched by your words and account of your father. I too lost my father far prematurely and have a similar memory of an incident that haunts me still. I would like to say, take comfort in his memory and in knowing that he would be incredibly proud of you but mostly take comfort knowing that he must have loved you infinitely. The thing about love is that it has no expiration. May you continue to allow that love to be the impetus to your life and works.



Angelica Moratorio

Thank you for sharing this beautiful moment with your father.
So Inspiring! I came across your post by chance trough tweeter and I am extremely happy about it. I did not know your father’s story although I am compell to read about him now.

I lost my mom to panchreatic cancer when I was 14, and although my native language is Spanish (I grew up in Argentina), my mom instilled in me the love for the English Language. I mIssed her deeply for many years and even though it sounds hard to believe or cold the time comes when you learned to live without your most loved ones. I wish she was there when my kids were born or performed for the first time, but I know she shares these moments with me from her special place.

Best of luck in your new endeavour!



brandon

This was beautiful, thank you.



William

A beautiful story. Thank you for sharing the treasured memories of your father.


Endearing, enriching, invaluable sharing. I wish more people would write about their fathers past. This inspires me to write something about my dad, who was a fighter pilot.


goood ,, I liked Jqa


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pdwalker

Beautifully told.

Thank you.


That was beautifull… Almost made me cry :)



Thor

Thank you for writing this, was a nice and moving read.


.simplicity is beautifull.


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That is so touching. My condolences.


gs, pulls, and misdirections are the fun. The question must answerable by a simple “


That is so touching. My condolences.


Really enjoyed this post, is there any way I can get an update sent in an email when there is a fresh update?



Robin Samelson

Here is one sweet place to revisit Jef. As you describe him, I can hear his voice and see the twinkle in his eyes, which was when I knew to proceed with some action from our dialogue. He smiled when talking about words and Karl Popper and interface design, which occurred in a typical day at IAI. You are your father’s son. Massive Health is so so needed and I’ve signed up to be a beta tester. I hope you will choose me. I would like to live in a Massive Health House, you are creating an environment. Inspired by your love for your family, is the most meaningful drive for creativity, we share that. Perhaps we’ll talk about that someday.


Hi Aza,

I feel that this post is really inspiring. Inspiring in the way of how to be a father. A father that a son will always remember.

Your father was a great person! An epic inventor, and besides that, looks like he always knew how to give you a life lesson and I really appreciate that you share this experience with us, because it makes me think about how can I share my life with others in a significant way.

Thanks so much, and as everybody said, keep writing.


..that was nice.. I lost my father too about 14 years or something.. I wish, he had thought me something ..



kubricklove

I Travel through the morass of riffraff that makes up internet discourse everyday. Today you have given me something special. A sad and beautiful moment that I can only describe as sublime. It’s a sad and beautiful world.

Thank you; Thank you for reminding me of the beauty.



Lisa

Aweeeee,R U Jeff,,?????


Why am I on the floor, they asked? Why am I wet? The shocked curiosity in his wide-open eyes is the single most haunting image I have of my father. Into the dark space between closing my eyes and falling asleep,



lisa

dear aza, thank you for the courage to share your tender love, loss, and gift. like your father you create magic. my heartfelt condolences and i hope your dreams come true!



Ruben

Very touching story. I am deeply sorry for your loss. I arrived at this site because of your “new way of phising” and ended up blowing my nose thanks to your delicate and nicely written description of how much important your father was to you.

All the best


In past years, the givers have often spent hours creating elaborate disguises for the gifts.



Sue-May

Very touching… I can’t think about the possibility of either of my parents passing…

Best wishes!

By the way, is the word “be” missing in your sentence, “The question must answerable by a simple “yes” or “no”.”?


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Fredrik

Thank you for sharing this. It deeply moved me.


Although it’s really sad, the story is truly compelling!


I live with deep fear of what would happen to my daughter if I pass too soon. I don’t worry so much about the financial issues, but more about the emotional issues of her dealing with that loss. It’s an issue all parents face to varying degrees, I suppose.


You are your father’s son. Massive Health is so so needed and I’ve signed up to be a beta tester. I hope you will choose me. I would like to live in a Massive Health House, you are creating an environment.


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Your father was by far the most eloquent critic of the goofy “nursing theorist” Martha Rogers. Along with some other nurses from around the world, I’m starting out to write a white paper on unvalidated practices in nursing; the first thing I wanted to do was enjoy reading your father’s essay on Rogers once again. Alas, the ANA has recently inducted Rogers into their Hall of Fame.

I also would like to learn more about Massive Health.

All the very best, Linda


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I always spent my half an hour to read this web site’s articles everyday along with a cup of coffee.


Endearing, enriching, invaluable sharing. I wish more people would write about their fathers past. This inspires me to write something about my dad, who was a fighter pilot.


If I had only known about this new Food technology before losing my Father. I applaud you. Our world needs people like you. Steven Jobs needs people like you! God Bless!


I knew your father, he taught me a lot through his writings and our email communique, I miss him too…

Hope you do well in life.

Best.


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you are always salute to the services of his father’s


Interesting, but might just prove more time consuming. Still, I wonder if in the long run, with hours wasted on waiting for fun one’s productivity will trully increase. Someone should make some tests.


I love my father so much


Always give the best to your family, especially to your parent


My father is my hero


I miss both my father and my mother. Love them so much


I love Marsha Timothy my beautiful wife and our loving child Jizzy Pearl Bastian


The story you are inspiring
In my family should be more respect for the father as head of the family
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Vinay Mohanty

Hi Aza,

Both you are Jef have been a huge inspiration to me and how I’ve shaped my career in User experience.

I remember reading about Jef and you and thinking Aza is same age as I am and he’s the head of design for Mozilla !
If my father were in the same field as I am could I have accomplished so much at your age ?
I always wondered whether your talent and gifts in product design came from Jef or whether you had just acquired them on your own.

It is touching and inspiring to see that the last gift from such a great man to his son was a very simple razor and that he wanted you to remember the simplicity and clarity of the design.

Its difficult to write about the loss of a loved one. You’ve done that beautifully through your post, shared your feelings and have honoured Jef while reminding us to stay true to good design.

Thanks a lot.


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