Discover more from So What?
My Biggest Fan
On my father-in-law's sudden death
“So when a great man dies, for years beyond our ken, the light he leaves behind him, lies upon the paths of men. — Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Ken Fenoglio was my biggest fan.
From the second I started dating his daughter — way back in the late 1990s — he read everything I wrote. He would comment on the articles. He would send me notes about what he agreed with (and what he didn’t.) He would defend me against haters.
Every time I saw him in person (usually at holidays) he would find a time to go get coffee — just me and him. And he would always ask me how I was actually doing. Was my career going how I had hoped? Was I happy? And — always — how could he help? He wanted me to know that he was there for whatever I needed whenever I needed it.
That support only increased when I was laid off by CNN late last fall. He sent me self-help books. He checked up on me more often. He wanted me to know he still believed in me — and was still rooting for me.
That was no different during our spring break trip to Colorado earlier this month. Ken and Kerry, his wife and my mother-in-law, were retired and game to come just about anywhere. So when they heard we were taking our family to ski, they signed up immediately.
When I saw him out in Colorado, Ken was his usually (and relentlessly) optimistic self. He was happy — surrounded by family — and it showed. He hugged me and, of course, asked how I was doing.
The next day, we went skiing. Yes, Ken too. No matter that he was in his mid 70s and hadn’t skied in 40+ years. He practiced what he preached — you had to continue to push yourself, to believe that you could do new things, that nothing was impossible if you set your mind to it.
Watching him on the slopes was telling. We took a lessons — and Ken was eating up the advice of our instructor. He wanted more information, more ways to improve. “Feedback is a gift,” he was fond of saying.
He got better that day, a triumph of will power and want over age. He wasn’t perfect but he had fun. It was a good day.
Little did we know he’d be dead less than 48 hours later.
Ken got an infection in his leg that led to sepsis and eventually his passing. (My wife wrote a beautiful obituary for him here.)
There’s no silver lining here. It was awful. Jarring. Shocking. Traumatizing.
But, what has happened in the 10 days since Ken passed is that I realized something: He wasn’t just my biggest fan. He was everyone’s biggest fan.
People told story after story about Ken that all had the same ending: He supported me, told me he believed in me, helped me to believe in myself.
Over and over again that same message: This was a man who lived to inspire others to their best, to make sure they knew they had someone on their side who was solely concerned with them succeeding in whatever way they sought to define that.
And as I have thought about Ken over these past few days — and he’s been on my mind nearly all the time — I’ve realized how much it meant to me to have someone like him in my life.
He didn’t want anything from me. He wasn’t helping me to boost himself. He didn’t need any recognition or shine from our relationship. He just cared about me and rooted for me — unquestioningly.
His death is a moment of tremendous sadness in my family — especially for my wife who was extremely close to him. But his presence for so long in our lives was also a unique blessing.
Ken was that rarest of people: Someone who genuinely cared more for others than he did for himself.
I know he cared about me. Because he told me in a thousand different ways over the years. And that’s how I will always remember him: Cheering me on to be my best self and doing whatever he could to make that vision into a reality.