Who influences us more than our parents? For me, no one. Although our house was sparse when it came to material possessions, it contained a wealth of values and aspirations. When we lived in East New York (Brooklyn) in the mid 1950s my mother gave my father an ultimatum – by next year either we are in the suburbs or our son goes to a Yeshiva (Orthodox Jewish Day School). We moved.
When I asked my mother why they chose Valley Stream, her answer was simple – it had a good school system. What she did not also say was that the working class neighborhood was what they could afford. We were lucky. Because of the enthusiastic leadership of a man named John Smith in the 1940’s the school district developed a stellar instrumental music program.
Because my father worked late, we did not dine together. My father, however, often took the opportunity of talking to me late in the evening. He had three central themes: 1) Don’t get a tattoo, 2) Family is important, and 3) Get an education. Not only was an education the one thing no one can take from you, it was the key to success. He did have one misconception. He thought that with an education I would not have to work as hard as he did. He often spoke of a star high school baseball player whose father he knew. The star chose a college academic scholarship rather than a sports scholarship before joining the New York Yankees farm team. Sports ability is temporary, education is forever.
My mother stressed integrity. Often she said, “You can only lie once, because once you are discovered you will never be trusted again.” Or “Do not put yourself in a situation where whether you are right or wrong you are wrong.”
My sister and I were lucky to have supportive parents. I had wanted to play a musical instrument since I was eight years old. To qualify you had to pass a music test, assessing your ability to differentiate between different tones. Following the test my name was not called to play an instrument. At my request, my mother went to the music teacher to inquire whether I could play even though I had not passed. When he looked up the test, it turned out that my paper stuck to the paper in front. My life was changed.
And so was my parent’s life changed. In high school I belonged to several orchestras to which I had to be driven each week, not to mention weekly music lessons.
After high school I entered the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and then transferred to the College of Arts and Sciences after completing my first semester. It was years later that I learned from my cousin how relieved they were that I did not pursue a music career. I never knew that despite all the support in music throughout the years my parents were secretly hoping that I would become a doctor.
Many books have been written by authors who had to overcome their parents. That was not our case. Rather than having to go around them I was able to stand on their shoulders to see farther. I owe them much.
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