Someone should have protected Tom Perkins

Yes, Tom Perkins’ letter to the WSJ was shameful, but now, 48 hours later, I too feel shame.

If you missed it you can read his letter to the Journal here, and then his follow up here. The Twittersphere lit up, everyone piled on (including me) that his comments were stupid, and the rants of a now irrelevant old man, and tone deaf about the gap between the 1% and the 99%, and an insult to the Jews, venture capital etc. etc.

But this morning I am wondering how did his family, or the WSJ for that matter, let this happen? Tom Perkins was born in 1933. He was alive when Kristallnacht happened. I am sure, if asked 20 years ago, he would not have said these things even if he thought them! He would have known it was reputational suicide.

I spend a lot of time around old people these days, and I am grateful for the time with them. On one side we have Alzheimer’s and on the other we have healthy, honest-to-goodness old age. And I’m learning that, as people age, the self-governors can come off. My father and his friends can sometimes say things that make me cringe, and that I know they would not have said even ten years ago. But they’re older and less tolerant, and frankly care less about what other people think. So they speak their minds and sometimes reveal prejudices that they were taught as children in the 1930s, which they suppressed as thinking adults, and which are re-emerging as they age. Sometimes idiotic, sometimes upsetting, but often just raw and unfiltered.

But Tom Perkins is considered a fair target because he’s a billionaire. Because of who he is, and because of his prior role as both a founder of the venture capital firm that bears his name (Kleiner Perkins) and a former board member of News Corp., he was given the platform to speak his 82-year-old mind. And, unlike conservative friends at a private dinner, Tom Perkins was allowed to embarrass himself in front of the world—and to destroy his reputation in a single day.

But should he be a target? Should we not remember his age? Or if he is still a target in our society, then surely someone should have stopped him?

Yes he’s rich, and has been crass with his wealth, and offended a lot of people, but now he’s at an age where his mind may be weakening and his judgement may very well be off. He is no longer in power. He’s not on HP’s board, he’s not involved in KPCB in any way, he’s out of the picture. I’d feel differently if he was still driving companies and investments, but he’s not. The WSJ should be ashamed for publishing his letter, realizing how tone deaf and inflammatory it was — chasing clicks at the expense of an octogenarian.

And I hope his family now knows they need to protect him from humiliating himself in public.


A living example of how the “princess romance” theme can backfire

If you were raised on Disney princess movies, and Hollywood musicals, as I was, you were probably brainwashed into thinking that to be happy you had to find a man. Even a few years ago in Sex and the City, the girls were all pursuing relationships as their ultimate goal. Most movies don’t pass the Bechdel test because what few women are in the movie have only one topic of conversation—relationships with men.

But this weekend I was reminded of how very toxic this brainwashing can be. My mother-in-law is now 83 and in assisted living dealing with slowly-progressing Alzheimers. Some days she’s good, some days she doesn’t want to get up and just lies in bed staring out of her window. Saturday was one of those days.

As I sat on her bed quietly talking with her, trying to cheer her up, I asked her what she thinks about. She told me she thinks about the past and all her good memories are about husbands. Part of her sadness now is that she sees no future for herself because without a man she has no future.

Margit was married first at 19 in Malmo, Sweden, and divorced at 20. She then moved to New York, a beautiful Swedish girl who spoke little English in the early 50s—a time of fur coats, night clubs and martinis. There, she had a part-time job in the New York Public Library but quickly started dating, and then married, a man 30 years older then her. She and Harry were happily married for almost 20 years when he died at age 70.

Once widowed, Margit took off, dropping all contact with her teenage kids until she had another husband (they learned to fend for themselves younger than most). Again she married an older man, this time a Swedish restauranteur. He died after an 8-year marriage and at 53 she had a facelift, lost a lot of weight and set out to find another husband. This time, she chose a man her age with whom she lived happily for 20 years. But when he fell ill and died, she was truly alone, and her attention latched onto her son, my husband, whom she now expects to be the source of all her care and attention.

What’s so sad listening to her talk as she looks back is that she has never lived an independent life where she was happy with herself. She’s never really worked, never really spent much time with her kids, her whole existence revolved around her husband—and now that she doesn’t have one she has no center or purpose. She has told me she is embarrassed to be without a husband and, while she’s had a few female friends through her life, she’s not making any now. When we discuss events happening to my family and friends she always asks me what Bret thinks, or my father thinks, because my ideas don’t really carry weight unless validated by one of the men in my life. With my kids she openly favors our son, and has little time for our daughter or her own daughter.

Why, I wonder? Why build your whole existence, your whole source of happiness, around whether you have a man or not? And yet in film after film that is the woman’s sole objective—find your prince, marry him and fade out. I’m all for being in happy, stable relationship, but not as your entire source of happiness.

Which is why it is so very important that we support filmmakers who show independent women living full lives without a prince. Why Geena Davis’ work on the portrayal of girls in media is so critical. And why we must help our girls get to college, have meaningful careers and build independent lives so that their husband, if they chose to have one, is a part of their life—not their whole life.

My Personal Journey

Riding the Alzheimer’s rollercoaster

It’s Saturday about 11:15 and every time I don’t know what our next 3 hours are going to be like.

My mother-in-law has Alzheimers. Not the advanced kind. She knows who we are, remembers our names, and remembers a lot from fifty years ago but she doesn’t know what day it is and what she wants to eat for lunch — and we don’t know who she is going to be each day.

Today I went to pick her up for our Saturday lunch date. She was in bed and she didn’t want to get up. She hadn’t eaten breakfast and needed to eat (not eating makes doing anything else tough) and I knew if I listened to her and left, as she was telling me to, she’d lie in bed and cry, because I’d left. So I got her up, cleaned her up, dressed her, cheered her along in the car as it poured down on us, and took her to meet my husband Bret at one of her favorite restaurants… but today she decided not to talk to us at lunch. No idea why, but she wasn’t going to talk.

Last Saturday started out the same, but once I got her to the restaurant she picked up, was cheerful, and, had you joined us, you would not have known she’s been struggling with her mind. But because she was well she remembered the week before…

That week, two weeks ago, Margit and I went out to lunch with my father who came along to help me. He likes all my attention, but understands when I am with her that I need to be focused on her to make sure she’s OK. To hold her hand, to help her when she decides to wash her steak in her water, or put ice onto her pasta, or confuse her plate with her food. And that week we ran into my company’s lead investor at the restaurant. He also commands my attention, and expects me to be brilliant and together and a CEO, which is hard to be when your attention is already torn two ways. But I did give him 5 minutes of my attention and then paid for it.

As I took her home my mother-in-law decided to punish me. She told me I wanted her dead, and I wanted to hang her from a tree until she was dead, and maybe I should just hang her from a tree because clearly I didn’t care about her and just wanted to dump her back in “that place”. She was angry that I was going back to my father (who was leaving for England the next day) and decided to lash out – until I got her back to Sunrise and hugged her and told her Bret would be there on Tuesday, and  I’d be back next week and then she told me she did appreciate that we were taking care of her.

It’s a roller coaster. A never ending cycle of good days, bad days, cruel days, sleepy days, demanding days and on every day we’re with her I watch Bret watch her with tension in his face and sadness because even if you’ve never had much of a relationship with your parent, watching them struggle with their mind and be deeply unhappy is so very painful. But he’s decided he’s going to take care of her – she’s one of the lucky ones.

Here we are in the center of technology, with miraculous advances every day, and yet we can’t stop our minds deteriorating. I know we’re not alone. Every family that experiences Alzheimer’s experiences the roller coaster. It’s awful. Surely if we can invent the smart phone, and google glass, and an electric car that can go 300 miles, surely we can find a way to prevent Alzheimer’s? Seems to me all those ad dollars could go to better use than selling sugar water.

My Personal Journey

It’s a mad world

All around me are familiar faces
Worn out places, worn out faces
Bright and early for the daily races
Going nowhere going nowhere

The tears are filling up their glasses
No expression, no expression
Hide my head I want to drown my sorrow
No tomorrow, no tomorrow

And I find it kind of funny
I find it kind of sad
The dreams in which I’m dying
Are the best I’ve ever had

I find it hard to tell you
I find hard to take
When people run in circles
It’s a very very
Mad world
Mad world

Tears for Fears 1982 — Mad World

On the train racing through snowy Connecticut. On my way to see a major prospect but consumed by thoughts of the nightmare my mother-in-law is living.

She’s going through the long, slow decent into Alzheimer’s. We brought her out from Florida to be near us so we can care for her and now she is in an assisted living facility. For the first month she was in the Memory Unit while we stabilized her. Surrounded all day by people whose minds have left them. Thankfully we were able to move her to the main facility a week ago.

She has B and C days, sometimes a D day which is heartbreaking and then, on some sunny days an A day.The day before I left was an A day and she was fully aware of what is happening. She spoke quietly with me of the process of losing her mind, losing her short-term memory and how frustrating and frightening it is.

I have been the enemy for 30 years. She forbade Bret to marry me and found fault with everything I did. Now that she is ill and vulnerable I have become a cherished loved one. I am deeply aware of the opportunity to finally build a relationship with her, albeit under cruel circumstances. The illness has taken her temper, taken her criticism, taken her bitchiness. It’s left a young woman with a sense of humor looking forward to finally getting to know her grandchildren. Willing to talk about Studio 54 in the mid 1950’s, about being a beautiful young Swedish girl married to New York doctor 30 years older than her. Wanting to make new friends, wanting to keep her mind.

Each time I go to see her I have a pit in my stomach as I get out of the car. Every time I leave her I have a crush in my chest. It’s a sad, mad world.