I was very sick as a child. It is surprising that I survived. I suffered from serious chronic asthma. Asthma runs in my family. My father had it as well when he was a child. I think mine was brought on by allergies, but also by emotional stress. My father and mother fought all the time. Not only would they scream at each other, but they would have actual physical fights. They were really just children themselves. My mom was just eighteen when I was born and my dad, twenty-one. They were very different people and had no business being married to each other.
Having asthma was terrifying. I could not breathe and I often thought I was about to die. This caused me to panic, which just made my asthma worse. I also had pneumonia often. It was not unusual for ambulances to come to pick me up and take me to the hospital. I think my dad could not stand being around me when I had asthma as it reminded him of his own suffering as a child, and perhaps caused him to feel guilty for having passed it on to me. The only time I really felt safe was during my stays in the hospital. There I learned to entertain the nurses by making jokes. I knew if they liked me, they would take better care of me. It was an important lesson that served me well later in my life.
When I was seven years old, I was admitted to what was then called the Stanford Convalescent Home in Palo Alto, California. It is now, strangely, the Ronald McDonald Home. I lived there for almost a year and my time there would play a very important part of my journey. It is strange in a way that some forty years later, I would return to Palo Alto to live as a successful executive at Intel Corporation.
As a child, I found the world amazing. I had and still have a very curious mind. My life consisted of discovery, laughter, sickness, and fear. I wanted very much to live. I did not blame anyone for my illness. I accepted it as part of who I was but I believe that I had the potential to change the outcome. Turns out, I was right.
As a child, I believed in God but I did not blame him for my sickness. Frankly, I did not think God was even aware of me or my plight. I came to believe that my survival would depend on my actions. While I was not physically strong and suffered from asthma, I also grew to realize that I had an unusual and some would say incredible mind. with an IQ that was literally off the charts.
By the time I was eight years old, I was listening to science programs on a crystal radio set I had built. In particular, I was interested in physics. For as long as I could remember, my personal hero was Albert Einstein who was still alive at that time. I understood that he was something of a misfit like me. I asked myself, why was it that I was given such a strong brain and such a weak body. I came to think of my body as just a socket for my brain.
It may be hard to understand a kid at the age of eight, spending hours thinking about the universe and his own role in it. I came to believe that my challenge was to overcome my illness and by using my mind to improve the universe I could live but if I failed, I would die. I felt that if I developed my mind, God would make sure I would live. Einstein was not my only hero. I was also inspired by Superman and would wear a Superman T-Shirt under my shirt. I like the Superman story. Clark Kent, the mind mannered nerd turning into a superhero. I wanted to be that person, the person that could shed is weakness and emerge as a superhero.
Because, I was sick and scared of dying, I had many conversations with myself about how to appeal to God. I finally settled on:
Appreciate his creation
Add to it
Be funny and playful
Love and care for others
These concepts became the foundation for my life.