Chapter X • Growing Pains
Sweet Success • The Albert Sweet Story
Chapter X • Growing Pains
Back in the fall of 1955, Al and Diane had been living at their home on Vanscoy when they decided it was time to start a family. Lori Jill Sweet was born on August 11, 1956 in North Hollywood, California. Al and Diane’s first born brought an overwhelming sense of joy to the young couple. A year and a half later, Ronald David Sweet was born on March 15, 1958 after the family moved to Sepulveda. The following year, Al’s sister Helen married Sy Lustgarten, and together they would soon welcome two children of their own into the world – Gary and Craig.
As with all new parents, Al and Diane both knew that tremendous rewards and trials lay ahead. Yet for Al, just finding enough time in the day for his growing family and his all consuming work schedule was going to be a major challenge in and of itself…
I was a compulsive worker to put it mildly. Even if I didn’t get home in time for dinner, I would try to put the kids to bed and read them stories. It was important for me to spend time with each of them separately in order to make our time together particularly special.
At one point, Lori might have seen a movie or something about magicians and got interested in them. So one night I decided to teach her how to become one. I laid down with her on the bed, and behind the bed was the wall plug which I could reach without her noticing. I told her to blow out the light in the room. She went “shwoo,” I pulled the plug, and the light went off. And that blew her mind. Then I said, “I think we better blow it back on. You think you can do that?” She went “shwoo,” and the light ‘magically’ came back on.
Because of my schedule, I always looked for opportunities to do things with the kids. School was just two or three blocks around the corner from our home. You know, when they are first starting school, kids are usually scared. Lori really liked the idea of me walking her to school. I was the only father doing it. That was a special time for us, just her and me.
Shortly after the birth of Ron, Al and Diane got pregnant for a third time. However in this instance, tragedy struck, and Diane lost the baby during her third trimester. It was a devastating blow to the young couple. But ultimately, the ordeal would cause Al and Diane’s love for each other and their children to grow stronger.
Both Al and Diane had special relationships with both Lori and Ron. But from the beginning, it was clear that Ron would take after his dad… like father like son. Al could see many of his own traits in young Ron, including a keen sense of wonder about the world. However such curiosity, while usually a positive thing to be encouraged, nearly turned tragic late one afternoon when Ron’s young friend made an unsettling discovery…
One time, when Ron was about five or six, Diane asked me to go get the kids for dinner. Lori was at home, and I figured Ron must be next door where he usually was with his friend, Billy. His father Don was in the garage working on his boat and told me that Ron was probably in the house with Billy. So I went in the house and I saw Billy playing with a gun, a real gun! There was live ammunition on the table in front of him! And Ron was right there with him!
I was scared, but I kept my cool. I engaged Billy in a conversation as I walked up to him. I said, “You know, that’s a terrific gun. Can I see it?” I then took the gun away from him. Now Billy’s dad was a neat guy. It was a silly mistake on his part. He had left the gun cabinet open. Billy happened to see it and grabbed one of the guns. Now this was the kind of stuff that got headlines. So I put everything back in the cabinet, locked it, and brought the key out to Don. Needless to say, he started apologizing and wouldn’t stop.
Like most parents, Al’s number one concern was for his children. After the success of the Hyatt deal, money began rolling into the Sweet home. Being wealthy, however, did have its drawbacks, especially when it came to raising kids. The opportunity to spoil them was around every corner, which Al of course knew would be a detriment to their well being in the long run. So he turned to the patriarch of the Pritzker family, A.N. Pritzker, for advice…
A.N. taught me some things about how to raise kids. I asked him once, “You’ve got kids and grandkids and you’re a billionaire. Why aren’t you spoiling them?” He replied, “Because unearned money is toxic.”
Now when Ron was about eight or nine years old, I bought him a stingray bike. A few months later he came to me and said he wanted a ten speed bike. I told him, “I just got you a stingray.” He said that Billy’s father had given him a ten speed. I then remembered how I’d been coached by A.N. Pritzker. Ron and I were really close and we had a great relationship. So I said, “If you want a ten speed, you’re going to have to get half the money yourself and I’ll match whatever you come up with.”
Two weeks later he came up with the money. I asked him how he did it. He said he had bummed the money from his aunt and grandmother. I had screwed up, but a deal’s a deal. I got him the bike. But I told him, “From now on, you’re going to have to earn the money yourself and not ask for it.”
Sometime later, having outgrown the bike, Ron was now asking his parents if he could get a motorcycle. Diane wasn’t at all happy about the idea. She was afraid he might end up getting hurt, or worse. Al, however, thought it might be a good opportunity for his son to learn some responsibilities…
We were living on the top of a hill in Northridge. It was a very nice area. Ron came to me and said he’d like to get a small motorcycle; a Honda 50cc. There were only two houses in the area when we moved in. He could go all over the place and it would be safe.
It was the beginning of summer. Ron wanted to earn the money doing odd jobs, such as feeding people’s pets while they were on vacation. He asked me to make a flyer up for him, but I told him he should to do it. So I brought him to my office and showed him how to work the mimeograph machine.
We had about two hundred people working at the company, and after he finished the flyer, he just hustled everybody in the office for these little jobs. Within a month, he had earned half the money for the motorcycle. I think it’s genetic. It’s my father in me, and me in Ron. He did what any father would want their son to do.
By 1970, the family was growing and business was booming. This caused Al to reflect on all that had gone before. With his son’s 13th birthday and subsequent bar mitzvah just around the corner, perhaps a trip to Israel was in order – to show his children the roots of the Jewish culture and to embrace the family heritage first hand.