Sometimes, they are of the paper-or-plastic, pizza-or-poki-bowl variety.
Other times they are hairy and scary like the brave step to end a relationship that makes you feel small or defeated. Or the one that requires you to take a leap of faith to make things permanent with someone who, statistically speaking, could test the darker side of traditional wedding vows by becoming sicker, poorer, or just generally a lot less “better” than the person who joined you at the alter.
And yet other times, the decision is little and big at the very same time.
It’s the big decision that – come what may – life is not allowed to suck. And it’s the little decision every day after that to make this true by connecting with people, being of service to causes that matter to you, finding things to laugh about, and having some damn fun… despite the disappointments and challenges that present themselves.
This determination to find the fun and light is what makes Jeff Fallick a Bay Maker. He was nominated by his friend Matt McLean, who describes Jeff as “the most positive and selfless person I have ever met.”
Matt nominated Jeff because of some life experiences that could easily have given Jeff a deep set of furrow lines, but instead make him a source of inspiration for the spark of good vibes he brings to every room he enters.
The room he lit up for our interview was First & Main Sports Lounge in downtown Los Altos. Since most of my interviews take place in coffee houses, his choice of setting was instantly telling that being around Jeff feels a lot like an episode of Cheers. Everyone from the owner, server, and half the patrons who entered the door knew Jeff and greeted him as the universal friend he is.
To the uninformed, it might be easy to write Jeff off as a golden boy who has always had it easy. After all, his ready smile and Harry Connick Jr. good looks made it easy for him to make friends at Homestead High School in Cupertino. From there, he went on to join the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity while studying psychology at UC Santa Barbara, where he fell in love with his wife Shannon. The early days of their marriage were easy and their careers – hers as an attorney and his in sales and management for medical insurance providers – were thriving.
Life’s first major curveball hit their strike zone when they got pregnant with their daughter Zoe. Actually, the tricky pitch should have struck during the pregnancy, but actually came soon after delivery. What modern medicine deemed to be a normal, healthy pregnancy led to lingering looks in the delivery room and a question about Jeff’s ethnicity that was trying to find a benign reason to explain the shape of their beloved newborn’s eyes.
Their obstetrician explained that, much to the surprise of everyone, the speculation was that their daughter had Down Syndrome and that the delivery room that was initially so filled with joy was about to be flooded with specialists who would conduct tests and incite confusion, fear, and worry in the new parents.
“Our doctor explained that in his tens of thousands of deliveries, he had only been ‘surprised’ five times. We were completely shocked. I admit that we mourned the diagnosis for a week. But then, mostly because of my awesome wife, we decided to change our focus to notice and appreciate all that we could, like the fact that many babies with Down Syndrome require immediate heart surgery and our Zoe did not,” Jeff explains.
To complicate matters further, Jeff had just started his own business, Fallick Insurance Services. Anyone who has ever founded a business knows the demands of time and energy it takes to become profitable, and his story is no different. He eventually sold the business eight years later, but as you might have guessed by now, the early years were rough when also coping with the demands of a newborn with special needs.
Eighteen months after Zoe’s birth, Jeff and Shannon welcomed Adam, a healthy baby boy. And soon after that, their next hurdle presented itself with a breast cancer diagnosis that would leave them juggling Shannon’s chemotherapy, a newborn, the care of Zoe, and the new business.
With the help of an amazing community of family, friends, and caregivers, they cleared yet another whopper of a life challenge with grace, gratitude, and – if I’m deducing correctly from our conversation – some cathartic curse words and cocktails.
One year later, they would have their resolve tested again. Shannon’s cancer came back, this time with an even scarier prognosis.
With the help of excellent doctors, a village of support, and their determined spirits, they made it through more rounds of chemotherapy while caring for their children and keeping the business going.
Their declaration of positivity would soon be tested yet again when Zoe was diagnosed with autism. This meant that one of the biggest blessings in caring for a child with Down Syndrome – a sweet and affectionate demeanor – was a silver lining they would not get to fully experience. The concerns over her mental development would now be compounded with trying to meet her special emotional needs, as well.
So now they were contending with a toddler with extreme special needs, a six-month old infant, a family business, and a brutal recurrence of cancer.
As Jeff and I discussed all of this, I was blown away. Truly, the only response to a story like this is: 1) Are you effing kidding me? 2) How did you make it through all of this and still be the guy that walks on the light side?
“It is 100% because of my wife. She never shows any sign other than strength and positivity,” Jeff explains.
Because of the spirit displayed by both Shannon and Jeff, it is no surprise that many people who knew them were eager to help in any way they could as they managed caring for their children and the demands of chemotherapy.
“It was the little things like people who made us dinners, took out our garbage cans, and a friend who stepped up when he heard our gutters flooded in a storm, causing a leak in the house. Before we knew it, he had booked a contractor to come over and do the repairs. These acts meant so much to us when we were in those difficult days.”
Another thing that made a difference was getting involved with the organizations that had done so much for them.
“We started paying attention to how many amazing people there are who serve and care for children born with special needs and people who are fighting for their life,” he adds.
Jeff and Shannon got involved with Gatepath in Burlingame, a non-profit that had introduced them to therapists and counselors who give parents of children with special needs a place to feel accepted and “normal,” a place where there aren’t raised eyebrows about why your child isn’t walking or speaking when all the other children their age are.
Jeff decided that a perfect way to give back would be to help fundraise so that other families could benefit from their services. He pitched the idea of a golf tournament— an event now in its 12th year with him at the helm, which has grown to bring in almost $150,000 each year. He has served on the Board of Directors for almost 10 years, including a stint as its Chairman. He is also on the board of another non-profit, Pacific Autism Center for Education (PACE).
The other thing that keeps them upbeat is a commitment to taking advantage of every getaway and fun outing they can get their hands on.
“Shannon and I have a super strong marriage. We know how important it is to blow off some steam and have a good time together. We take trips, go out with friends, cheer on the Giants, and appreciate our current good health and good fortune,” Jeff says.
When asked what makes the Bay Area the place he’s proud to call home, Jeff – like most everyone – mentions the diversity, the valley business buzz, and our beautiful geography, but for him there is an extra special piece of the area that he is grateful for.
“Stanford Hospital saved my wife’s life. I will forever be indebted to Dr. Ellie Guardino and the other doctors and nurses at Stanford for allowing me to continue to live life with Shannon. Our experience there has taught us that life is short and we need to really live it,” he explains.
This mindset is precisely why Bay Maker Jeff Fallick makes us proud to be his friend, family, OneDigital colleague, and barstool buddy whenever we cross his path in this beautiful place we call home.