For all the risky adventures Bran Ferren has chased in the past six decades—a list that includes a variety of hazardous undertakings, from traveling through Afghan war zones to working in Hollywood—there was one highly perilous pursuit he never dared take on: parenthood.
“Having a family,” Ferren says, “wasn’t a priority.” It’s a late-summer afternoon, and Ferren—celebrated inventor, technologist, former head of research and development for Disney’s Imagineering department—is sitting inside a guesthouse-slash-storage facility on his ample East Hampton, New York, spread, drinking his third or fourth Diet Coke of the day.
He’s 61 years old and towering, with a wily-looking red-gray beard and dressed in his everyday uniform of khaki pants, sneakers, and a billowy polo shirt. Ferren is the cofounder and chief creative officer of Applied Minds, a world-renowned tech and design firm whose on-the-record customer list includes General Motors, Intel, and the US Air Force; before that he worked on everything from Broadway shows to theme park rides.
But today Ferren is focused on his most important client: his 4-year-old daughter, Kira, who is just a few yards away, traipsing across the garden with a pal. Several years ago, when Ferren was still in his midfifties—a time when many men are easing into their grandfather phase—his partner of more than 25 years, Robyn Low, told him that if he ever wanted to have a kid, the time was now.
Finally having a child became a priority, and in 2009 Kira was born. It took Ferren a while to adjust to fatherhood. He had to scale back on the hazardous work trips, and he had to curtail some of his more treacherous leisure activities, like racing motorcycles and flying helicopters.
“I thought, what will it be like for my daughter if I end up becoming a cripple or dropping dead, doing something like that when she’s 4 years old? It changes your perspective.” The sacrifices, though, are worth it. “Everyone says, ‘Well, you’ve never felt love like this before,’” Ferren says. “It turns out to all be absolutely correct.”
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