RIP Billy Packer

This morning, I got numerous texts from friends noting that Billy Packer had died. As one friend shared, “If you’re our age, it’s like the Big Bang – Billy Packer and college hoops were always there, before time.” And that is true. He called every Final Four in my life that I can remember. Billy Packer was a legend in North Carolina where I grew up, having played for Wake Forest before becoming a ubiquitous college basketball color commentator. Love him or hate him (and some people did!) Packer was a key part of the landscape.

I grew up in an NC State household. My dad went to NC State and was followed by my brother. I wasn’t that interested in college basketball until I was 11 and the 1983 NC State “Cardiac Pack” pulled off one of the greatest runs and championship upsets in all of sports history. Even now, watching that final shot and Lorenzo Charles’ thoroughly improbable last-second dunk gives me chills and fills me with emotion (even today, I probably watch it at least three times a year). That’s when I became addicted to college hoops and the sweeping narratives that grip the country every year during March Madness. And, of course, Billy Packer called that game.

In a certain sense, I realize that sports are trivial, but experiencing that championship with my dad was one of the highest points of our time together on this earth and I can’t think of those moments without hearing Billy Packer’s voice (“THEY WON IT!”) RIP Billy Packer.

Nobuyuki Tsujii and experiencing new music

I love music. Growing up in North Carolina, I had a steady diet of top 40 radio with a heavy dose of country music from my mother (especially Loretta Lynn, George Jones, and Tammy Wynette). While I listen to a wide variety of music, I still feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface on genres like classical, or more generally, music from outside the United States. I’ve been trying to actively change that.

Over the past few years, I’ve been making a special effort to buy tickets to performances by artists I don’t already know and in genres explicitly outside what I know. NYC has so many amazing venues with decades of proven curatorial excellence so it’s easy to do here. This approach has led me to see artists like Senegalese superstar Youssou N’Dour and Brazilian legend Caetano Veloso (check out this New Yorker piece on him: “How Caetano Veloso Revolutionized Brazil’s Sound and Spirit.”) I walked into those shows knowing nothing about the artists or their music, or even the language they were singing in. Without fail, I leave those shows a huge fan and the music becomes part of my musical identity. (If you get a chance to see either Youssou N’Dour or Caetano Veloso – DO IT. Wow. A couple of the best shows I’ve ever seen.)

We went to one of those don’t-know-anything-about-this-artist shows last night at Carnegie Hall. The performer was Nobuyuki Tsujii, a Japanese pianist. Before these shows, I make a special effort NOT to read about the performer or listen to the music since I want to experience it fully with no pre-conceptions or pre-defined expectations. When we walked up to Carnegie Hall, the body of people in line was electric. After the crowd filed in and he came out to perform, the crowd went crazy. For the next two hours, we were blown away (see program below). We found ourselves yelling for an encore as part of a rapturous standing ovation (and we got three encores interspersed with the curtain calls).

I’m so glad we went — we’re now Nobuyuki Tsujii’s newest fans. Be sure to go see him (and other artists you might not know) when you get the chance.

11 paradoxes of leadership (from LEGO)

One of my CEO coaching clients with 30+ years of experience (much as a CEO) recently read The LEGO Story: How a Little Toy Sparked the World’s Imagination and shared the list below of 11 “paradoxes of leadership” mentioned in the book that supposedly hangs on the wall of every LEGO leader.

We both marveled at the list — neither of us had ever seen it before despite consuming voluminous content about leadership in our careers. It really captures what is needed to be a leader in all of its contradictions.

11 Paradoxes of Leadership

1. To be able to establish close relationship with your employees – and to keep proper distance
2. To take the lead – and to recede into the background
3. To show the employee confidence – and to be aware of their doings
4. To be tolerant – and to know how you want things done
5. To be concerned about your own field of responsibility – and at the same time to be loyal to the overall goals of the company
6. To plan your working-day carefully – and to be flexible to your planning
7. To express your opinion – and to be diplomatic
8. To be visionary – and to keep both feet firmly on the ground
9. To aim at consensus – and to be able to cut through
10. To be dynamic – but also thoughtful
11. to be self-confident – and humble

Back to blogging: ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more

In 1965, Dylan (in)famously went electric at Newport, kicking off a sizzling set with “Maggie’s Farm” (see it on YouTube). The FU spirit of the song is powerful. Dylan was breaking free from folk music convention based on the power of a song that itself represented a musical insurrection — breaking free from a toxic sharecropper / landlord relationship:

I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more
No, I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more
Well, I try my best
To be just like I am
But everybody wants you
To be just like them
They sing while you slave and I just get bored
I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more

This story is as old as time. The basic theme from “Maggie’s Farm” was lifted from a 1920s Bentley Brothers song, “Penny’s Farm.” This was a song that Dylan certainly knew since the basic lyrical form showed up later in his song “Hard Times in New York Town.” Dylan clearly drew his inspiration for “Maggie’s Farm” from that Bentley Brothers’ song:

You go in the fields, you’ll work all day,
Way into night but you get no pay;
(You’re) promised some meat or a little bucket (of) lard;
It’s hard to be a renter on Penny’s farm.
It’s a-hard times in the country, Out on Penny’s farm.

Digital sharecropping on Twitter

In today’s world, many of us are doing the digital equivalent of working on Maggie’s farm but our new landlords are digital and Twitter is now Elon’s private farm. On Twitter, the little bit of meat and lard you get for working on Elon’s farm and enduring the landlord’s occasional abusive rants is “engagement.” The idea of “digital sharecropping” is certainly not new (1, 2) but I would argue that the “engagement” rewards one gets are generally worth less and are more troublesome than when that term originally emerged years ago. The meager rewards most people get are worth even less than the cast-off scraps they got in the first place. From a business standpoint, advertisers certainly seem to valuing this engagement less than ever, as selling ads on Twitter has become equivalent to walking around wearing a sandwich board with your brand at a combination building explosion / riot / car wreck / hanging / bloody insurrection.

I’m not a Twitter star by any means but I’ve had moments of achieving large-scale engagement and the general experience is a short-term rush of endorphins (“people are interested in what I have to say!”) followed by the online equivalent of a burst sewer pipe flooding your house with shit. As engagement shoots up, the quality of the conversation goes irretrievably downhill to the point where you mute replies, start blocking people, mute specific words, and clench your teeth until the flow of sewage stops and you can get back to your regular life. Even when you’re not actively involved in a discussion, incredibly important topics like “free speech” get debated with all the rigor of a first-year philosophy student who just took a massive bong hit and won’t leave your dorm room until he expresses every last faux-profound thought on the subject. This is, to put it mildly, not fun.

Blogging: old-school but WAY better

Blogging is entirely different and I would argue better. Blogging is a little retrograde, but retrograde in the same way a warm vinyl record with illustrations and liner notes is retro in comparison to a disembodied streaming service where accessing music is hyper-convenient but with very little warmth.

With a blog post, I can’t just react or dunk on someone — I have to actually write and formulate thoughts. When I’m done, I post and let it sit as I focus on other things. I feel clear-headed (vs. the brace for impact feeling I get when posting anything remotely controversial on Twitter). Anything you might call “engagement” on a blog is generally slower and more thoughtful. I have been blogging in some form for almost 20 years and I still get thoughtful emails about posts from many years ago, whereas with Twitter people tend to forget what you posted within hours. The overall body of tweets in the universe don’t tend to serve as an archive of considered thinking. (In fact, the primary use case for old tweets today seems to be surfacing things people wish they hadn’t said.) The vibe of Twitter often resembles Sartre’s dark play No Exit in what we are collectively trapped in a room with each other and the only thing we can do to pass the time is engage in mutual torment. L’enfer, c’est les autres (“Hell is other people”).

Sure, the engagement model around blogging is much less instantaneous and visceral. You don’t get to likes and retweets pouring in immediately — but that’s a feature, not a bug. With blogging, you might write a post that only three people read, but if the right three people read it, it can be life-changing.

A good blog post can have the same enduring small-but-huge generative spirit of the first Velvet Underground record, of which Brian Eno famously said, “The first Velvet Underground album only sold 10,000 copies, but everyone who bought it formed a band.” My post about helping move a Confederate monument only has about 1,000 all-time views but it connected me to an historian doing work in this area and we met up for dinner when he visited NYC (turned out we were related! Another story for another time.) A potential executive coaching client doing background research on me also found that post and instantly related to the topic given that he had grown up in the South. We have been working together for years now and that post provided a key part of the instant rapport and connection that makes a coaching relationship work. When I saw the esteemed historian Robert Caro speak in Brooklyn, I was able to ask him if he believed LBJ (subject of his Pulitzer Prize winning books) was actually racist, and I blogged his answer. The post only has ~5,000 all-time views but blogging what I heard actually contributes to the historical record in a meaningful way. I send this post about red / yellow / green check-ins to my coaching clients all the time as practical guidance on a research-backed practice that will improve communication in their teams.

I have many examples like the ones above over the years but those immediately come to mind. The blogging medium promotes thoughtful interaction. It’s thoughtfully prepared “slow food” versus the McDonald’s-slamming-out-burgers of Twitter.

I no longer like the way I feel when I use Twitter. With Twitter, I find myself transforming into the never-satiated “hungry ghost” of Tibetan Buddhism, with a “mouth the size of a needle’s eye and a stomach the size of a mountain.” I might get a bunch of likes and retweets but the more I get, the more I want — and the dumber the conversation tends to get. And the more “engagement” I get, the more I might find myself arguing all day with strangers about a momentary thought that I didn’t care that much about in the first place. Even dumber, I find myself hardening on that fleeting thought as arguments escalate. I see otherwise lovely people I know in real life transform into raging maniacs on a daily basis. If “engagement” is seeing an endless parade of everyone’s worst selves, then Twitter is truly killing it right now. But for me, this type of environment has turned into an all-around waste of mental and emotional energy.

So, I ain’t gonna work on Elon’s farm no more. It’s time to step out of the darkness and into the light.

As Dylan sang, I got a head full of ideas that are drivin’ me insane — pissing into the algorithmic wind of Twitter isn’t how I want to work through those ideas. I’m not deleting my Twitter account but will be going more or less read-only while doing most of my writing here on my own virtual land (powered by WordPress, built by a company led by a person who seems like a deeply thoughtful person — great interview with Matt Mullenweg here, btw). Let’s see how it goes.

Building an all-electric home

A few years ago, we decided to buy an 1870s-era Brooklyn brownstone and gut renovate it to “passive house” standards (more detailed info on “passive house” here). During the middle of our project, I wrote about why I was excited about the passive house approach. In short, a passive house leverages simple building techniques to build a highly-insulated air-tight home that reduces energy usage by up to 90% while providing clean, fresh, filtered air. Our basic goal with the project aside from having a nice living space was to build a home that would last another 150 years while taking into account its impact on climate change. (This is not a new interest for me — I had similar motivations when we built Etsy’s award-winning (1, 2, 3) headquarters in Brooklyn which participated in the Living Building Challenge (LBC) as one of the largest LBC buildings in NYC). To address climate change, our environments at work and at home have to be built with purpose with responsible energy usage baked in. Recycling and reusable tote bags aren’t going to cut it (see “The Great Recycling Con” and “The Cotton Tote Crisis“).

One of the choices we made was making the home all-electric. Now that we’re basically done, I’m writing this because we learned a lot from the process. I’m hoping others out there who read this may share their lessons (and I’m glad to update these posts to answer any questions anyone might have). My plan is to write in some detail later about each of the key areas (see “Key choices in building an all-electric home” below) and what we learned in the multi-year process.

All-electric: why?

According to the NYT, 67 percent of carbon emissions in NYC come from buildings. A gut renovation is a huge opportunity to do the deep work required to minimize the long-term footprint of a building. Part of that is designing the home to be all-electric. Union Square Ventures wrote about the importance of electrification in its series about areas they are exploring for their Climate Fund (proud to be an LP!) As they wrote: “Building electrification and grid decarbonization go hand-in-hand. While electrification does not instantly make the energy supply entirely clean, it gives it a chance to be.” The clean energy future isn’t fully here yet but aligning around electric means that when it is (and it will get here), we’ll be fully ready to plug in. For now, we have a small solar array on the roof that provides some of the energy and we signed up for CleanChoice Energy via ConEd (the local utility in NYC) for the rest of our power. Theoretically, the energy we consume in the house produces zero carbon emissions.

We’ve lived in the house for 10 months now and that’s given us the opportunity to experience weather extremes that are typical of NYC, from 16F / -9C in January to 97F / 36C in June. So far, the energy consumption numbers are what I was told they would be but I still find them stunning. My rough numbers comparing energy bills from my old conventional NYC apartment (a developer-renovated brownstone with an apartment on each floor) with the new house suggest about an ~85% reduction in energy usage versus my old apartment when adjusted for square footage. Yes, 85%.

While it wasn’t cheap for us to get to this point, this kind of project isn’t a way of building that demands a huge premium. There are a number of affordable housing projects being built to passive house standards around the country, with the largest right here in NYC: Bronx – Park Avenue Green. Habitat for Humanity has built passive houses, too. These projects recognize that high energy bills are a key contributor to poverty and the passive house approach mitigates the impact of energy costs by almost an order of magnitude. Affordable housing isn’t just about getting someone into a house they can afford to buy. It’s just as important — if not more — to get into a house you can afford to operate.

It’s a smart way to build for the long-term, plain and simple, and much less expensive to operate than a conventional building. There’s no fancy, untested technology and it all works right now. In fact, the core principles of passive house building were established in response to rising fuel prices during the 1973 oil embargo when I was a year old and started to take hold in the 1980s.

Key choices in building an all-electric home

There were a couple of key areas where we had to make quite a few choices. I don’t know if all of them were “right” but we’re happy with the results. In future posts, I plan to write about these issues from the perspective of someone who had to make all of these choices.

  1. Supply of electricity. In NYC, we have ConEd and the default electricity feed you get makes no provisions for renewable sources. In other words, it’s default “dirty.” Building and fire codes in NYC make it difficult in some environments (e.g. landmarked districts) to fully blanket a roof top with solar, which can limit one’s ability to offset electricity from the utility, or to use batteries to capture and use daytime energy. I learned a LOT about this and will definitely document what I learned in a future post.
  2. Appliances. Like many people in NYC, we were accustomed to using a gas range, a gas hot water heater, gas heating (via a boiler), and a gas dryer. The thought of using electric versions of each of those gave us some anxiety as the functioning of each of those systems affects one’s living experience significantly. We did it, though, and are super-happy with the results.

I’m not sure exactly when I’ll write the more detailed posts but if you’re interested in this topic, feel free to reach out and let me know what you’re interested in. I’ll try to write about it if my experience offers any insight! If you’ve been through the same process in NYC or anywhere else, I’d love to hear from you about your lessons learned.

My letter to the editor was published

Update 7/30/20: my offer to help fund the move of the Confederate monument was accepted and I sent a check for $15K (a little more than my initial offer) to the Town of Louisburg today.

I wrote a letter to the editor of The Franklin Times about the Confederate monument in Louisburg, NC, where both sides of my family go way back to the 1700s, including slave owners and Confederate soldiers, including one who gave his life for the Confederacy. It was published today (PDF of the paper – it’s on 5A). Last week, I wrote in detail about what led me to write the letter (“Moving my Confederate monument“) but I wasn’t sure it would be published. In the letter, I explain how the monument relates to my family, why I think it should be moved, and offered $10,000 towards moving it. The letter ran today in the print edition under the headline “Monument’s move ‘applauded,’ financial assistance pledged.” (image of paper and text of letter below)

Since I wrote the letter, the monument was moved into storage in a hurry over the weekend out of public safety concerns. The news report on the front page of the print paper today gives a sense of why:

In recent days, the protests have grown more confrontational, especially as those from outside Louisburg joined in, including at least two motorcycle clubs that showed up armed with guns and claw hammers to “defend” the monument.

This is yet another reason the monument has to be moved. It’s time to fight together for our collective future, not litigate the distant past.



To the editor:

I am writing to applaud the decision of the Louisburg Town Council to move the Confederate statue to the Oakwood Cemetery, which I’ve been following from afar. While I don’t live in Franklin County, I’ve spent a lot of time in Franklin County. Both of my parents were born and raised in Franklin County and their lines go back to the 1700s, before Franklin County was even called Franklin County. As an adult, I’ve studied the history of my family, all of whom fought for the Confederacy, including multiple casualties: my great-great-grandfather James Martin Dickerson (wounded at Gettysburg), great-great-grandfather James Dallas Pearce (wounded at Cold Harbor, VA), and 4th-great uncle Solomon Pearce (killed at Sharpsburg/Antietam). Solomon’s father Nathan — my 4th-great-grandfather who shares my grandfather’s name — owned slaves. While they may have believed they were fighting for a just cause at the time, everything we know today shows that the cause was wrong. More importantly, the symbols that revere a time that is now in the distant past are making it harder than ever to move forward into the future.

As we grow up, our understanding changes as we spend more time in the world. Growing up in North Carolina, I loved the Confederate flag and kept a Confederate Army hat in my room. I never thought about what the Confederate cause and its symbols might mean to others. But I grew up and learned the hurt that those symbols represented to people I cared about, and I put them away for good. As the apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13:11: “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” In a similar spirit, it is time for Louisburg and Franklin County to move forward by putting this monument in its rightful place. It is time to face the future together, not dwell on a divisive past.

It is notable to me that the plan to move the monument adopted by the town council closely mirrors the one proposed by Will Hinton just two years ago. We owe Will Hinton our gratitude for having the vision, integrity, and love for the community to raise difficult questions two years ago and for risking his reputation by taking an unpopular position and speaking out about it. History is filled with people who did the right thing at great cost to themselves while alive, only to be recognized only after death as right. I believe Will Hinton should be celebrated today. As a tribute to his vision, I would like to offer the Town of Louisburg $10,000 towards moving the monument to its rightful place.

I know many in my family there in Franklin County will not agree with me. Doing what is right doesn’t always create harmony. Ultimately, I believe we honor the memories of our ancestors by doing what is right today. It is time to replace the divisive symbols of yesterday with symbols of unity. Thank you, Will Hinton, for your courage and to the members of the Louisburg Town Council who cast the right vote.

Chad Dickerson
Brooklyn, NY

Moving my Confederate monument

I sent a letter today to the editor of The Franklin Times in Louisburg, NC with an offer of $10,000 to help fund the move of a Confederate monument there to a local cemetery (full text below this post). (Update: the letter was published and the monument was ultimately moved, funded in part by my donation, which I increased to $15,000.) I say “my” Confederate monument in the headline of this post because the monument is in memory of Franklin County’s soldiers, and they are my ancestors. While the monument is shared by many, the monument is just as much mine as anyone else’s.

Most of the people who read this blog probably have never heard of The Franklin Times or Louisburg. It’s the county seat of Franklin County, North Carolina which is where both of my parents grew up, where I visited my grandparents’ farm a lot as a child, and where my annual family reunion is louisburg_monumentheld. Both sides of my family go back to pre-Revolutionary War times there. In the Civil War, all of my relatives fought for the Confederacy, and with multiple casualties: my great-great-grandfather James Martin Dickerson (wounded at Gettysburg), great-great-grandfather James Dallas Pearce (wounded at Cold Harbor, VA), and 4th-great uncle Solomon Pearce (killed at Sharpsburg/Antietam). Solomon’s father Nathan — my 4th-great-grandfather who shares my grandfather’s name — and his son Acrel owned six slaves according to the 1850 slave census.

All of this is why I took a special interest two years ago when I read a story in the Raleigh, NC News & Observer (where I had my first job) about Will Hinton’s proposal to move the monument (“A Confederate statue. A mostly black college. And simmering small-town resentment.”)

Will Hinton had a simple proposal: move the divisive monument from its downtown location at the college to a local cemetery and replace it with a flagpole bearing an American flag that would represent everyone. Hinton was an unlikely agitator — a pickup-driving white man who had deep roots in the county. His grandmother and mother were born there and his great-great-grandfather had actually donated the land for the local cemetery (Oakwood) where many of the Confederate dead were buried. To make his case, he delivered a remarkable guest sermon at his church (“White Male Privilege“) and wrote a letter to the editor of the local paper (“Thoughts on Our Monument“). As the News & Observer story notes, some folks in town who had known Hinton for decades turned their backs on him for speaking out. I was really moved by his conviction, tracked him down, and sent him a message of support. We talked on the phone shortly after. Ultimately, nothing happened, though. The painful monument remained. Time passed.

While I was quarantined in North Carolina several weeks ago just after my father’s death, the passing of generations weighed on my mind. It was an unusually heavy time, with George Floyd’s murder coming just days after I had sat by my father’s bed as he passed. The Bible verses of my youth were suddenly present in my mind during those days and I thought of the beautiful writing of Ecclesiastes 3:

1 To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
2 A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
3 A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
4 A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
5 A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
6 A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
7 A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
8 A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

While I was in North Carolina, I made a special trip to see the Confederate monument (the photo with this blog post is one I took that day). With the passing of a generation in my father’s death and all of the pain of George Floyd’s death, I felt the need to stand in front of that monument and say goodbye to that part of my family’s collective past. A time to lose. A time to cast away. 

I eventually made my way back to Brooklyn but I thought about that monument every day as monuments around the country have been coming down. This week, the Louisburg Town Council voted 4-3 to move the monument in an emergency Zoom meeting. When I visited the monument just weeks ago, I didn’t expect it to be gone so soon after over 100 years in its current place. The plan that was approved was more or less the plan that Will Hinton had proposed two years ago. In today’s News & Observer, Will was interviewed and said, “It’s not a time for a victory lap. It’s time to slowly, humbly, calmly walk hand in hand.” Will was right, but was taking the path of righteousness (in the most positive Biblical sense).

I sent the letter below to the editor of The Franklin Times applauding the vote and offered $10,000 towards moving the monument as a tribute to the conviction of Will Hinton (A time to speak). As I say in the letter, “I believe we honor the memories of our ancestors by doing what is right today” and after a lot of reflection on the present and deep study of my past, I want to do what I can to bring forth that change. It’s time for all of us to turn the page and face the future.

The letter was published on July 2, 2020 so I moved the text of the letter to a separate post.

My new (old) coaching business: Strong Back Open Heart

After about 2.5 years as a Reboot coach, I’ve decided to focus on building my own private practice. The catalyst for the change was largely a technical one (more on that in a moment). I step away from my official relationship with Reboot with nothing but love and gratitude for the entire Reboot team, particularly my dear friend Jerry. I use the word “official” because I will always feel a deep connection to Reboot and my friends there. All the words I said about Reboot in my blog post when I joined forces with them remain true. (And I’ll certainly continue referring clients to them when I’m not a good fit.)

Now, the “technical” part: with the passing of AB5 in California (the so-called “Uber law,” which stipulates that most contractors must become employees), the folks at Reboot decided to shift their relationships with coaches like me who had worked as independent contractors and transition to a smaller roster of coaches as employees. I’m in a phase of my career where being an employee isn’t the right fit for me, so I made the decision to focus on building my own business. The name of my coaching business is Strong Back Open Heart LLC. (It’s not entirely new — I established it in November 2017 as the umbrella for my work as a contractor for Reboot and a few private engagements.)

The name of the company is derived from my approach to coaching and leadership as I articulate on my new web site:

I believe “strong back, open heart” leadership is the key to building great companies. The strong back is represented by fiscal discipline, strong process, and accountability. The soft, open-hearted front are values, purpose, connectedness, and compassion. Organizations and people are at their best when they manifest both in equal balance.

You can read more about me as a coach and my coaching approach, which includes a few brief anonymized case studies of actual coaching engagements. I also built a directory of leadership resources with books and articles that have helped me as a leader over the years and helped my coaching clients (consider this in beta — it’s a work-in-progress). If you’re interested in working together, all the ways to connect are on my contact page.

Aside from continuing the work, I’m excited about running my own business. A big part of my excitement is that I’m doing something completely solo for the first time in my life. I’ve always been a part of other companies throughout my career and I built and led teams at companies of all sizes for 25 years. I spent my time as an executive constantly scaling and delegating and I enjoyed it. Now it’s fun to do that in reverse and I’m enjoying being the CEO, CFO, CTO, CMO, and executive assistant.

If you’re interested in working together, please do reach out.

A huge thanks to Simon Collison who was a joy to work with as my design partner on the web site and to Chris Shiflett at Faculty for making the introduction to Simon.  

The Phillip G. Dickerson Sr. Memorial Scholarship

I wrote about my dad’s passing last week. While we’re missing him and adjusting to life without him, my brother and I have been spending time at my dad’s house getting his affairs in order and reminiscing about his life. One of the constants in all of our lives has been NC State. My dad really believed in the power of education and talked about it constantly when we were growing up. He graduated from NC State with a B.S. in civil engineering in 1968. He grew up with little money and kept having to quit school to work to make more money to go back to school again. It took him seven years to get that degree, so it meant a lot to him. He loved NC State and his house is covered in NC State paraphernalia.

My brother and I decided that the ultimate tribute to our dad would be to endow a memorial scholarship at NC State in his name to make it easier for others like him to build the kind of rich life that he did through education.

If you are interested in contributing to honor my dad’s legacy, gifts may be made to the Phillip G. Dickerson Sr. Memorial Scholarship Endowment. Checks should be written to the NC State Engineering Foundation and can be mailed to: NC State Engineering Foundation, Campus Box 7901, Raleigh, NC 27695. Or contribute online here. Go to “Search All Funds” type “Dickerson” and you should see Phillip G. Dickerson Sr. Memorial Scholarship Endowment. All gifts are considered tax-deductible.

I know my dad would be thrilled to have an Engineering scholarship at NC State named after him. The image below is of a letter I found just yesterday that my dad wrote to my mom in December 1961 when he was a first year student at NC State and they were still dating. He had gotten three test scores back, all miserable: 35, 33, and 31. He wrote to his girlfriend (my future mom), “I’m going to change to Agriculture Education next semester I think. This Engineering is just too much math and technical stuff for me.” But he didn’t quit and powered through with the sheer force of will we saw him apply over and over in his life when he had a goal in mind. And now one of his legacies will be to help other NC State engineering students do the same.


Phillip G. Dickerson: 1943-2020

My father Phillip G. Dickerson Sr. passed away at age 77 around 5am Thursday, May 21 in my hometown of Greenville, NC. The obituary is here. I was with him at his bedside in his final days and I know he knows how much I loved him. The family has established the Phillip G. Dickerson Sr. Memorial Scholarship in the School of Engineering at NC State to honor his memory (more on that and how to contribute here).

I don’t feel like I need to write a tribute to my dad today because I did it while he was dad_headshot_smalive. I wrote one for Father’s Day in 2012 and I shared it with him (and the world) then. If you want to know what a great man my dad was, I encourage you to read it. I only feel what I said about him then more deeply now that he is gone. I’ve been talking with friends and family non-stop since he passed away and the themes from that post are only magnified in this moment. He was a good man. We didn’t always see eye-to-eye on everything but we adored each other and there was never any question about that. I am grateful that I shared that tribute with him when he was alive. He lived very modestly and didn’t seek the limelight but I know he enjoyed the attention when we did special things for him.

Since I wrote that living tribute, I also had the opportunity to fund basketball and pickleball courts in a county park he helped bring into existence as the County Engineer of Pitt County, NC (a job he had for 30+ years). We named it the Phillip G. Dickerson Sr. Courts in his honor and had a ceremony for his family and friends. We gave speeches while he sat in the front row. You can hear my brother and me talk about my dad in this YouTube video (starting at 10:34), including some playful digs at the UNC Tarheels, a team my dad loved to hate as an NC State graduate. My dad and I bonded regularly over basketball so it was more special than you can imagine to name a basketball court after him. I’m glad we did that while he was still alive and every time a father and son shoot around there like we did when I was a kid, they will see my dad’s name on the sign.

Even though I’m at peace with how I expressed love and appreciation to my dad, the finality of death is startling. In life, we often say “this isn’t life or death” about situations and being in a situation that is actually life or death is wrenching. In a series of excruciating decisions made even more excruciating from all of the considerations of the coronavirus epidemic, we decided to put my father in hospice care at home the prior weekend. After being safe and healthy with my family in Brooklyn, I made the decision to leave my two-month-long quarantine in Brooklyn Monday morning and was able to be with him starting Monday evening. A generous lifelong friend drove me all the way from Brooklyn to my dad’s doorstep in Greenville, NC and I’m not sure I will ever be more grateful for any gesture in my life.

(Warning: if discussions of death and dying are difficult for you, I encourage you not to read further.) 

I really hesitated to put in words what I’m about to write about the most difficult parts of the experience but after speaking with friends and family, I found that my experience is common and there is even a term for some of what I experienced: “terminal restlessness.” No one seems to talk about it, though, until after you’ve been through it. I wish I had known what I was about to deal with when I came down on Monday, so I’m writing about this in the hopes that someone going through a similarly grueling experience will find this post and feel comforted that they are not alone. Writing this also helps me process my own experience.

If you’ve never been through having a loved one in hospice, it’s difficult to describe the experience. On the most basic level, being in hospice means that the family cares for the loved one at home making sure the person is as comfortable as possible in the final days of life, with the generous support of a team of nurses, social workers, and clergy (and they are incredibly generous). They visit, advise, support, and train but the care is nearly completely administered by the family. One of my main jobs was giving my dad the medicine he needed to have a peaceful transition. I’ve had what some would consider “important” jobs in my life but none was as important as my job as nurse for my dad in his final days (along with my dear brother). Nothing comes close.

On his second to last night with us, my father talked all night. He was normally a quiet man who spoke in simple language. That night he was having visions, mentioning names of his brothers who had passed before him, talking about going places. I sat by the bed with one of the caregivers we had brought on to help, trying to make sense of what my father was saying. Everything was in the present tense as if it was happening right then, not 2:30am in the morning. He talked about shingles and roofs and nails. He told me to go get the nails from the truck. I said, “Daddy, are you talking about the summer when we put shingles on the roof?” He said, “Yes” and seemed to calm a bit. He started talking about pigs and goats and the barn and I said, “Daddy, are you talking about when you were a boy growing up on the farm?” and again he calmed a bit and nodded weakly. I felt like portals were opening and closing, then opening again and closing again. I couldn’t see what he was seeing myself but I was sure he was seeing these things.

The most persistent image was a train. “Get on the train!” he said emphatically, raising his voice as much as his weak body would allow. “The train is leaving! Hurry, hurry, hurry!” He said he was on the train with his brother Fred, who had passed away in 2009. He said, “You can lay me down by the tracks on the ground if you have to, I have to go!” I struggled to make sense of what he was saying. I will never know for sure what he was seeing in those moments but after a few minutes of puzzling over his vision, I felt a force channel a song through my body. I began singing quietly to myself through tears:

This train is bound for glory, this train,

This train is bound for glory, this train,

This train is bound for glory,

Don’t ride nothin’ but the righteous and holy

This train is bound for glory, this train.

I will never hear that song the same way again.** It has been on a continuous loop in my head ever since as I have been trying to process the essentially unknowable that he was expressing in simple words, thinking about how insufficient our earthly language is to express such a profound transition. Looking back, I think he was starting his final journey in those moments.

(** there are many versions of this song with varying lyrics but this version by Sister Rosetta Tharpe is probably my favorite)

The rest of the night and next morning into the afternoon, it felt like we were wrestling with Death. No one tells you how physical this experience is. Much of it I would rather keep private but the reality of “terminal restlessness” is more intense than any experience I’ve had in my life, by orders of magnitude. I thought my Apple Watch was broken. I had only been the few dozen feet between the kitchen, the couch in the living room, and my father’s bedroom but it said I had walked 2.5 miles.

The talk of trains stopped and he became less coherent and stopped talking altogether by afternoon the next day. His breathing became increasingly labored. In his final 36 hours, working under guidance of the hospice nurses (who we called at all hours), we switched to a new course of medications to maximize his comfort and minimize his suffering. Every two hours I would go to the kitchen to mix morphine and Ativan in a measuring spoon from his cupboard. Once the Ativan pill fully dissolved into the morphine, I drew the mixture into a syringe and went into my dad’s bedroom.

At his bedside, I would hold his hand and gently kiss his forehead as I gently dripped the mixture of medicines into his mouth. I would say, “It’s me, Daddy. It’s Chad. I’m here to give you some medicine to make you feel better.” Sometimes he would squeeze my hand in recognition and other times I could feel him relax a little when he knew I was there. I rubbed his back, hugged him, and stroked his hair. I wondered aloud after he passed if he actually knew it was me there but then learned that hearing is likely the last sense to go when someone is dying, so I’m more certain he knew I was there. I felt calm in those moments of helping him but wept every time when I left the room.

My brother and I had been setting our alarms to alternately check on him every two hours and administer his medicine throughout the night and when my turn to check on him came that morning, he was no longer breathing. I was alone with him in that moment. I felt a strange sense of calm as I embraced his now-lifeless body, kissed him on the forehead once more, stroked his hair, and stepped out of the room to wake my brother and let him know. My father’s suffering was over. Losing a father is difficult under any circumstances and this was also my first close encounter with death. I am still processing it, and will be for some time. I know I will never be the same.

I had set a daily alarm for 6:58pm in the early days of my quarantine in New York City so that we would be ready to open our windows at 7pm to cheer for the health care workers every night with the rest of the city until the coronavirus crisis was over. On Thursday night — the first night after my father left us — I was on the phone with my family back in Brooklyn when the alarm went off. I missed New York but was where I needed to be. I asked them to cheer this time for the people who took care of my dad. I can’t express my gratitude enough to them but I like to think that on that one night, the greatest city in the world was cheering for them, too.