If You Died Tomorrow Would You Live to Regret It?


Hi y’all,

I’m working fast and furiously on the book, but wanted to share a short OP ED I sent to the New York Times today after reading about Steve Jobs, being born in San Francisco in 1955 under less-than-perfect circumstances. Sound familiar? A lot of this is old news to you, I’ve lifted a few lines from previous posts. But I was hoping to stimulate some thought outside my circle of readers. Mostly, I just wanted to say hello. More soon.

Peace and love,


If You Died Tomorrow Would You Live to Regret It?

The stories about Steve Jobs never meeting his biological father have had a profound impact on me, considering the summer I just spent searching for a trace of mine.

Like Jobs, I was born under unsavory circumstances in San Francisco in 1955. But I was the product of an extramarital affair, a “fling,” as my mother indelicately described it. But unlike Jobs, my mother raised her indiscretion.

I don’t regret that. She did a good job, the best she could with the tools she had to work with and I loved her dearly. What I do regret, however, is never looking my father in the eye.

Last summer I did something radical to make amends.

I quit my job, I loaded the dog in the car and traveled across America, not only to find his son, the half-brother I’d never known, but to find myself again. It had been a tough decade — a failed marriage, financial ruin, a sex scandal which put my ex-husband behind bars. I was like a widow with four kids but no death benefits! But I kept on trucking, it’s what you do when you have kids to raise. They’re grown now, on their own, remarkable, resilient, the pride of my life.

But last year, when my oldest brother died from cancer, something snapped. Fifty-hour workweeks, for what? Scraping by, month after month, for what? Looking forward to, what? My survival skills were exhausted, my spirit broken. Hitting the road became an obsession. I wanted to reconnect with every person whom I’d ever known, I had learned the hard way that things change, people die, you lose your chance. I wanted to find that other brother before it was too late.

What I found on my journey was courage, the strength to rise above my fears, abundant benevolence from the multitudes of good people who far outweighed the bad and discernment; the ability to discern that lifetimes are made up of many chapters. Sometimes decisions are made which people regret. Having we all made a few ?

In 1983, the summer between my junior and senior year of Journalism school, I was living and working in Lake Tahoe, a summer gig at a fancy resort. I asked my mother, who had not told me about my real father until I was eighteen, where I might find him. She gave me his number. I pondered. I partied. I worked. All summer, he was less than forty miles away in El Dorado Hills, California. But I returned to New Mexico having never made the call. I got a job as a TV reporter, married well and had a baby. One night in the newsroom, my mother called. She had just gotten back from a trip to California. Thirty minutes to air time, she told me my father had died. The door had slammed shut.

My Dad

Like father like daughter, I grew up to be a bartender, for a while…

I did not long, on any conscious level, for the father I never knew, although I suppose I should have, my stepfathers were less than ideal. I was simply curious. I wanted to know about the man he was. In the absence of being able to meet him, at least I could try to meet his son. And you know what? I found him! He looks like me. He laughs like me, and what’s more, he’d always wondered about what happened to that “other baby” he just didn’t know how to find me. So, I found him and we filled in the missing pieces of each others’ lives.

We have no control over the circumstances under which we’re born. We do the best we can with the tools we have to live with. We do however, have a choice  in how we evolve.

Life, if we’re lucky, teaches us over time, that hurt might not go away completely, but the heart can expand to move stuff in next to it, stuff like forgiveness, understanding and grace. And if we are lucky, this is what we load up front on our journey, relegating anger, bitterness, disappointment and regret to the rear cargo hold.

I respect Steve Jobs for honoring his real parents, the ones who raised him. I can relate. I am my mother’s daughter. But, I look like my father. If I die tomorrow, I will not spend eternity wishing I had known this.

About Jean Ellen Whatley

Writer. Dreamer. Sometimes schemer. Journalist/memoirist/observer and sometimes constructive irritant. Prisoner of demon muses. Mother to four humans and two dogs. In my spare time, I delete phone numbers of former boyfriends.

Facebook | Twitter | eNewsletter | RSS | Subscribe to Blog by Email | Buy Off the Leash


  1. Beautifully written. Let us know if the Times publishes it.

  2. Sis, great, great story. You have made your life wonderful by being the best Mom to some delightful and smart kids – my niece and nephews. I am so proud to have you all in my family.

  3. Love that title, and your gumption.

  4. Well done! And the parallels are indeed very interesting….