How working in the digital world allowed me to live in the real one
Whenever I set up Facebook pages for my clients, there was always one constant to every post: “Alan Hansen liked this” or “Alan Hansen shared this.” Many of my clients took notice and asked, “Do you know him? Is he your dad or something? He likes EVERYTHING.” Yes, he was my dad, and it was true: He never missed a chance to like every post I made and be the first to do it too.
Those clients were often colleagues a few years ago, when fellow producers started noticing how I was an effective online cheerleader in the entertainment industry. They enlisted me to set up, brand and manage their social media promotions. As a single mom with two kids with special needs, it became a great way to stay home and still make a living.
This summer, my oldest son went off to college, and just as I planned to devote more time building my digital marketing business, my dad was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. He was living in Denver, Colorado, and facing the end of his life alone. With my brother residing in Russia, I did what any daughter would do, and asked him to live with me in Los Angeles.
My brother and I flew to Denver, moved him from his home, and took him to see the Grand Canyon on our drive to L.A. Not one to let down my clients, I would log in to their social pages on my phone and tweet their recent news and previews for upcoming events or premieres. I don’t think any were even aware that I was on the road, and if they were, it was only through photos from my Instagram feed. Even as my dad sat in the front seat, often so weak he could barely stay awake, somehow he was still the first to like everything I posted, traveling along Historic Route 66.
While I enjoyed the leisurely pace we took to accommodate the rest stops for my dad, I was anxious to be home by a certain time to live-tweet a TV premiere for multiple clients. But as we rolled into Los Angeles, my dad’s health worsened, and we had to take him straight to the hospital. I called on one of my social media managers to help cover the event, which would air in the next few minutes, but unfortunately she was unable to log in to one account. So as I sat there with my father for two hours, doing what I could to support him, I was also conducting a live Twitter chat but could not even watch what I was tweeting about. Surprisingly, that client was monitoring my posts, and halfway through the program, he emailed me to commend the fine job I was doing. I sighed in relief. If only he only knew.
When my dad finally came home, his hospice nurses got hooked on the shows I covered, and were amazed that I could tend to my dying father and still make a living by engaging with fans online. Sometimes we would have two TVs on at once as I switched between shows and clients. Dad would often listen in as I was negotiating fees or advising clients on what to do with their LinkedIn profiles. Afterwards, he would tell me how he proud he was that I had made a business from something that didn’t even exist ten years ago. He himself had been an online retail pioneer in the 90s and reminded me how he used to work on holidays, much like I had to work weekends. He even got a call from Steve Jobs on Christmas Day to special order an item from his company, DesignStore.com.
On Labor Day weekend, I had numerous TV and film festival premieres that I was constantly posting about. That Saturday, dad liked everything I posted. But on Sunday, he didn’t like anything. Dread set in. I was busier than ever, not only online, but in the real world too, administering his drugs and picking him up off the floor when he fell. I worked on my devices and I stayed close by, as he grew weaker. After numerous small strokes, a nurse told me he was stabilized, and I took the time to take do some chores outside. Suddenly I had the realization that he could die any moment and ran back inside and grasped his hand and held it as he passed away.
Two days later, my brother and I had to deal with my father’s digital life at an end. We posted his passing on Facebook as a life event on his behalf, by writing the stories he shared with us on our road trip together. We shared this to our own networks as well, and in these days of being virtually connected more than necessary for work, our professional contacts could see it as well. Even a Hallmark Channel fan group I work with who call themselves Hearties posted their condolences. That night, I pulled myself together and headed out to a red carpet event for a client. I photographed her and posted some tweets, but she was surprised I had showed up at all and embraced me. She had read about my dad’s passing on Facebook and told me to go home and be with my family in mourning. But I was keeping in mind my dad’s drive to work every day I could and explained, “He would have wanted me to be here.”
After the event, one of my social media colleagues commented how odd it was that Alan Hansen was no longer liking every post we made, and how she missed him. The next day, I charged up my dad’s phone, and the screen lit up. There were push notifications of every recent post I had made for every one of my clients in the past few days. So now I knew, this was how he was always the first to respond to every post I made. Even when my dad lived 1,000 miles away, he watched over everything I did, and with every like, comment or share, he supported my work. While I will miss those constant reminders of his pride in me, it means even more that I can carry on his spirit. It is embodied by the answer he gave to Steve Jobs as to why he answered his phone on Christmas Day: “It’s my business, and the Internet never sleeps.”