The quality and sound of a man's laughter often disclose more about him than do the words he offers. Some men laugh only on cue but probably never when alone. Some laugh hysterically at a world they define as beyond control.
Others laugh to shake out jangled nerves. And then there are those men whose laughter bubbles up from deep within the resources of the self; clear, potable and lightly carbonated by their life experience. That is the laughter of Gregory Kabel. Easy, contagious, and with no hint of the missing midlife crisis he twice joked about when reviewing the distinct chapters of his life.
Originally from Cincinnati, Gregory Kabel earned a BA in Economics at Denison University. Groomed to assume the leadership of the family coffee business, he received the MBA of the University of Chicago Business School. Rather than return home, he joined huge ad agency BBDO as an account executive. He was assigned the Wrigley chewing gum account. Greg focused on the introduction of their new gum Extra, which contained Nutrasweet. He also maintained the agency "Doublemint Twin" file. He had the dubious honor of responding to the legion of grandmothers who enclosed photos of their cute twin grandchildren when writing with hopes that landing a TV commercial might pay their doublebad college tuitions.
Why did he not return home to manage the family business in Cincinnati?
"My moving back to Cincinnati would have been awkward given my lifestyle. Although my family relationships are amicable and open, I think my father was none too eager to have the whole town know about his gay son, and I was happy to be in the bigger community that Chicago provided.
"I spent only two years at BBDO. Advertising is very subjective. You either love it or hate it. I was expected to come up with concepts and sell them to clients whose views could be frustrating. I wanted a profession in which I could be the expert, so I went to University of Chicago Law School. I wanted to represent individuals, and I took a lot of courses in estate planning, but people kept saying to me 'What are you thinking? You should go into finance'. So right out of law school I went into corporate finance. For a couple of years, I was with Mayer, Brown & Platt, and then I was with McDermott Will & Emory for another 12 years. The last transaction I managed was the leveraged buyout of Nutrasweet from J.D. Searle. Searle lives on its patents and the one for Nutrasweet was running out. Internal managers bought it." [At this point in Attorney Kabel's account, it seemed as if artificial sweeteners might be a recurring motif that would lend a sassy title to this profile. Unfortunately, sugar substitutes will not recur forcibly in his decades to come.] The first big transaction he managed was the leveraged buyout of Montgomery Ward. How did that go? "Well, they went into bankruptcy a few years later, but the lawyers got paid."
Kabel graciously granted an interruption in his narrative - which will contain a startling career change - to answer the demand for personal details about his love life.
Now, at the age of 52, and living in Fort Lauderdale, Attorney Gregory Kabel is single. "I have had two long-term relationships. The first one was in 1987-2003. He worked in the meat industry. No, he was not a knife-wielding supermarket butcher. He worked for a magazine that tracked market prices in the meat industry. My second relationship did not last as long. He was a cable guy and something of a rolling stone. I met both of my exes at Sidetracks in Chicago. Now the love of my life is the Dalmatian I adopted after the end of my second relationship. I don't understand why people think Dalmatians are not sociable. Otto is an angel, incredibly friendly and loves everyone. Maybe it's me?"
Why the translation to Fort Lauderdale? "When I retired from law, I went to Chicago's Harrington Institute of Interior Design. I had gotten into interior design to keep my sanity while practicing law in a huge firm. My partner and I bought the condo adjacent to ours and combined them. I got to do almost all the design work. The condo ended up featured on the cover of Traditional Home. I tried doing design in Chicago but ran into the same annoyances - subjective design by committee. Clearly, there is a pattern with me. I was seeking a life in which I would not be subjected to frustrating controls. I had visited Fort Lauderdale a few times and moved here in 2005. I designed and built my home in the Key West style. I was the general contractor. I remember feeling that it was the best year of my life. Every day there was a problem that I enjoyed solving."
In 2007, when the market changed, Kabel passed the Florida bar and hung out his shingle, which is now to be found on the drive in Wilton Manors. "I do a good amount of business advising, but the lion's share of my practice is estate planning, and 90% of my clients are gay." His multiple careers and locations make his advice useful to gay folks creating relationships and with assets and relatives in other regions. Protections vary from one state to another. For this reason, Kabel always includes descriptive language when documenting his clients' relationships. Where and when they met, how they describe their affections, how they experience the permanence of their union. Those descriptives often have strength in court when legal documents from out of state may not. Kabel echoes what all lawyers in this business say. "Do not wait. Seek legal advice and do your planning well before you need it."
When asked if he felt that his life would ever again change direction, he was emphatic. "Nope. I'm three years into a growing business that I enjoy. I have a lifestyle I enjoy. Through my practice, I meet wonderful, interesting people. I am open to another man coming into my life, but I do not yearn for it the way I did when I was in my 20s. My life today is not a fire drill practice."
Despite the fact that talking about death and assets is not pleasurable, doing so with Attorney Gregory Kabel will brighten your day and will secure the probability of your own easy laughter in years to come.
(A version of this profile appears in this week's SouthFloridaGayNews.com)