A Father’s Farewell

With his life drawing to a close, Randy Pausch reveals in an interview and a book excerpt what matters most.

By Jesse Kornbluth from Reader's Digest | May 2008

RD: You’ve had an amazing career, yet you don’t seem to be thinking at all about your work. Pausch: Yes and no. One thing [my wife] Jai and I learned is that the right amount for me to work wasn’t zero. An hour a day at work makes the other hours better.

RD: Why would you use that hour to write a book? Pausch: My wife really wanted me to do it. She saw it as something from me to the kids. And it took no time away from them.

RD: How so? Pausch: I had to ride my bike for an hour every day. As I rode, I would talk on my helmet-mounted cell phone to [co-author] Jeffrey Zaslow and tell him stories of my life. Fifty-three bike rides and I was done. RD: What are your hopes for the book? Pausch: I only care about the first three copies. But I’m pleased to do what good I can on the way out of the building. It’s hard to raise awareness of pancreatic cancer-people who get it don’t live long enough.

RD: You’re obsessive about time management. Learned any new tricks? Pausch: When I was diagnosed, we decided to move from Pittsburgh to Virginia, where my wife has family. We could have afforded professional packers. But all these people wanted to help us. We thought, We’ll save a few thousand dollars, but beyond that, it’s a tangible thing that will be good for people who’d find it hard to say goodbye. Forty people showed up. And they all had something to do. So let people help you.

RD: Any other lessons along the way? Pausch: Make clear that people understand what your circumstances are. And looking for pity-that’s a mistake. RD: How important is humor? Pausch: Everybody makes their own choices. When we got the news that the cancer had metastasized, Jai and I cried and held each other. Then we made a pact: We’re going to laugh. And we do laugh. A lot. We joke about the cancer. And everything else.

RD: In your book, it’s striking how your friends treat you. “Saint Randy” gets no respect. Pausch: When I went scuba diving with old friends, one of them said, “Don’t bother putting sunscreen on Randy.” Humor is one of the greatest gifts our species has been given. To lose it would be terrible.

RD: You’ve written, “If you live your life right, the dreams will come to you.” Any new dreams? Pausch: More like short-term goals: making memories. The first thing I did, as we were buying the house, was to take our son Dylan to Florida for a swim with dolphins. I thought, I don’t remember much when I was five, so swimming with a dolphin was my best shot. I try to do many things like that. And to be savvy that way.

RD: What are your thoughts about your last lecture? Pausch: It was a magical experience. Afterward I felt, Now I can go in peace. Then some jerk from local TV pushed a mike in my wife’s face and asked, “Your husband will die soon-how do you feel?” A good thing there was a crowd between him and me.

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