Samer Diab Meets Def Lepperd
My nephew Samer Diab, who suffered through cancer for two years of relentless pain before dying last Thursday, January 14th, 2021 at the age of fifty-two, didn’t like obituaries but then this isn’t one. It is not quite a review, either. This is a how to, how to live your life to a form of perfection. My nephew was a model of doing the right thing just about always. I don’t mean morally, not even emotionally, but the singular skill to always be precisely where you should be at any given moment of your life.
As a close friend, it was an amazing thing to watch. Don’t get me wrong, he was no saint, his father’s side of the family are moody, his mother’s side of the family can’t control their temper. He didn’t suffer fools easily, and he knew a lot of them. And he was so straight he took the marijuana that doesn’t get you high to manage his pain from cancer. And, much like his Grandfather, my father, he was a businessman to the tips of his toes. But he wasn’t a braggart and even I wasn’t told how well he did. Maybe ten years ago during a vacation in Cancun with the family, he rushed back to Florida to ready himself for a meeting with Bill Gates at Microsoft for the company he was the President Of, Wolfram Solutions, and signed a deal to share software with Bing. It came as a surprise to me, he never mentioned that sort of stuff and if I hadn’t been around for the vacation, he wouldn’t have told me. He was the anti-braggart, getting Samer to open up about his accomplishments was a study in bewilderment, he just didn’t do it.
Samer was born in Manchester, England, on May 21st, 1968 and he was an adorable baby and, this he will definitely hate, an adorable child. So was his sister, Soussan. And a handsome, charming teen (Andrew looks identical). He went to Caltech at the age of seventeen, and graduated and moved to the US full time. His mother was so upset by the move (she and I wrote a story about it called “Greenleaf”) but, it being Samer, everything worked out fine. It was at Caltech where his friend brought along a woman for a double date, who would eventually become his wife. Samer once told me about how he got Kristin Bloom to fall for him, over a long night of Southern Comfort. Together we wrote a speech for his wedding day that I gave in Church on his behalf as he saw the stars align for the wonderful fate of love.
Samer got through the dotcom bust, the 2008 market crash, 9-11 (he was at the World Trade Center that day), the folding of his first company and the steady, inexorable rise to the top as President of Wolfram Solutions from 2008 on. Whatever hit him seemed to glance off him. Kristin has told me the meticulous care he spent on readying himself for a possible early transition. Can there be a less sentimental passing anywhere? Much as he sculpted a perfect life, he sculpted a perfect passing. His last words to his children were “Goodnight Sunshine, I love you” to his daughter Lindsay and “Good night, Andrew, love you”. He was listening to Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar On Me”.
Yes, you read that right. Samer was an 80s teen heavy metal hair fan. In the late 90s he was in New York every week on business and we went to AC/DC at MSG, “one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen,” opined Samer and I’ll tell you why. Samer expected music to be a form of escapism and if Brian Johnston swinging from bells from the roof of Madison Square Garden isn’t escape, nothing is (the last gift I sent hm was AC/DC’s Power Up). He saw everything in its own place. Music: escape. Business: money. Family: responsibility. The same way he ate, he hated potatoes and peas on the same plate, he separated his food by type. This sense of everything in its right place is all pervasive with Samer, it was a form of organization.
These were all compartments of his soul, all different aspects with an end in mind: a good life. And a good life is what he had, too short but filled with the wonder and the joy of being alive. He managed his life like a business transaction as he sailed through the best of times and the worst of times, his serenity might have been a front but it was a front that worked. If I was his children I would think of the secure life he provided me. The man was a bedrock for his family, and in Kristin he met a woman just as strong. While he didn’t know it when he married, he had found a woman capable of taking him through the agony of death to the ecstacy of afterlife. He worked from home for the most part and was a part of his family’s day to day life. With in-laws, parents, sister and the occasional weirdo Uncle thrown in, he was constantly at the hub of family. He loved us all, without a single caveat, he loved us.
I was an atheist but Samer turned me into an agnostic, and right now, when I need God most, a believer in an afterlife. Samer’s logic about the afterlife was irrefutable:
1 – There is either a divine plan
2- there isn’t a divine plan
Despite the fits and starts of life on earth a billion odd years ago, a divine plan made more sense. This is typical Samer, not an ounce of sentimentality. The thing about sentimentality is that it is a form of lying but not on purpose, you are a slave to how you feel right that moment, Samer took a deeper view of life, that if you did the right thing you didn’t have to scream and shout about it, it just was.
The last time I saw Samer was August, 2019, when he was in the middle of chemo, in New York on business. He knew he was dying, he prayed for just enough time to get his children through college, five years he would fight, five years. He didn’t get it, but not through a lack of trying. Personally, I simply didn’t believe there was a chance in hell he would die. I don’t know how, after two years, it still came as a shock.
Around a month ago we were texting back and forth, and we got to say our goodbyes.
So, you’re thinking, since Samer wasn’t a celebrity why tell me? I’m telling you, and myself, to present my nephew as a form of true masculinity and decency, a paradigm of what makes life worth living. If you have ever read Plato on the forms you may get my point here but, to put it simply, he exemplified the way a man should act in the 21st century. And he lived life without romanticizing it, it made life so it could be an incidental example of decency.
My loss isn’t your loss, but Samer’s loss is a chance to see how toxic masculinity is NOT THE FORM FOR MALES. He managed his life so he worked hard for a purpose (I bet he wasn’t far off retiring, when he was thirty he told me he planned to retire young -he always wanted to spend his life enjoying it). Work was not an end in itself but a means to an end. Love was an end in itself even while love was a test of management. Politically, he was a democratic capitalist and I am very happy he got to see Biden win the Presidency. His loathing of the Republican party is legend.
I don’t want to overstate the case to you, after all, Samer was just a man. But what a man. I have never trusted anyone as much as I trusted Samer, he was the best and smartest man I have ever known, his death is devastating to me on a personal level, and I find it hard to imagine a world without him. His Aunties, his in-laws, his friends, his business partners, we are all beyond it right now. God give comfort to his mother, who is in worse shape than I am.
But don’t take that away from this. Take him as an example of how to live life as though it is an algorithm to be figured out, of how to be a man and a force for those you love and for those you work with. I loved him more than any man I have ever known. He was, simply, an exemplary human being whose life choices could be studied as an example to how one might live one’s life even with lousy taste in music.
Grade: A- (docked a notch for leaving us early)