It's a real wrenching thing to go from being a private person to being a public person. But it's what everyone wants – to get everyone's attention, to have your music make a living for you, to be validated in that way. –James Taylor
My Dad Roderick Yoshimi Kobara lived a full and fulfilling life. He died peacefully just before his 90 birthday. His life was a version of the American dream. He grew up in poverty outside of Salinas California. His father, my grandfather, died before he was 50 and only had one good profitable year as a farmer. I never met my grandfather, he was a hard living and hard drinking man of few words. From the little bits I have pieced together it was a brutal life. Dad decided to go to college and forge his own path. His entire family was interned in the concentration camps in Poston Arizona in WWII and lost everything. Nevertheless, he enlisted in the army to serve his country. He emerged out of the camps with a hunger to prove he was an American. He legally added Roderick to his name to become more accepted in the mainstream culture. He got admitted into the University of San Francisco and got straight As his first year. He knew he was not that smart so transferred to UC Berkeley to be challenged. He wanted to be a medical doctor, but his inferior camp education set him back and he pursued business and ultimately accounting. He faced enormous discrimination on campus and after he graduated from Berkeley to pursue a career in accounting. Finally a Jewish accountant in Stockton hired him as an apprentice. He passed his CPA exams and became one of the first Japanese-American CPAs in California. He opened his practice just outside of J-town in San Jose, where he built and operated his firm for more than 50 years. He was a self-made man who valued his heritage, education, hard work, and service to community and family
Despite his success he saw his own potential to do more.
He had high expectations of his children. He desperately wanted his kids to become successful and named them John, Mitchell, Katherine and Elizabeth. Assimilation and fitting in was an essential value. He was a man of few words, not unlike other Nisei men (second generation Japanese-Americans). Hugs and the words “I love you” came decades later when he was a grandparent. Yet he provided for his kids to have every opportunity he did not.
We all want to please our Dads. I was no different.
More than any other person my Dad is responsible for my development as an evangelist for networking and mentoring.
In the early 60’s my parents would have friends over to play bridge or to socialize. He told us many times to come down from our rooms and to shake the hands of his friends and introduce ourselves. We rarely did. It was an exhausting loop of unmet expectations that irritated and I think embarrassed our father. One night, he called Mitch and me into the kitchen for yet another lecture on self-introductions. We were oblivious and disinterested teenagers and this pissed him off. He talked for a few minutes about what it takes to be successful in America. That meeting people, shaking hands, speaking well and becoming a “public person” were critical skills. He talked of his own struggles and wanted us to have an advantage. (I am giving him some eloquence here) A speech he never gave again. We looked lost. So he grabs me by the shirt, just to get my undivided attention while Mitch braced himself for something worse. He says, “If you do not become a public person, I am sending you to a psychiatrist!” More confusion washed over our faces. He left us exasperated and angry.
I never forgot that night and those words. I tried to give speeches in high school; I joined the band and student council. But I was so uncomfortable with myself. In college I continued to push myself to fit in and to become a better speaker and meeting others. But they remained elusive skills. I was introverted and an inauthentic speaker. I sought advice and eventually took public speaking classes. In graduate school, the idea of a public person returned to me and I continued on a winding uphill path of developing my public person skills.
After decades of trying to interpret my Dad’s goal for us, I found my own way. Years ago I invited him to hear me lead a workshop, where I told this story. I introduced him to the class and asked him if the “public person and psychiatrist” part was true—he nodded affirmatively. Then he said, “See and you turned out pretty good!” High praise from my father. But I also saw a flash of parental satisfaction as we both enjoyed a moment from the sculpted versions of our histories.
Today, my goal of being a public person has evolved. How do we reveal our true selves? How do we see as much as be seen? How do we help others without expectation? How do we engage others to pursue our common pursuit of meaning and fulfillment? How do we become part of something much larger than ourselves?
How do we become and how do we help others become a public person?
Bottomline: He mentored me and introduced me to networking. He planted a seed within me that I made my own. He inspired SWiVEL.
Although many think I need a psychiatrist, my Dad’s antidote has worked so far. 🙂
Thanks Dad for your sacrifices, for giving me so many opportunities, for teaching me how to play golf, for loving me in your own way and encouraging me to “smell the roses”. Thanks for giving me the challenge and satisfaction of trying to become a public person. Your life and your advice will continue to inspire me.
Roderick Y. Kobara 9.19.25 to 8.20.15
Thanks for reading.