Like a typical mother, I could peacock about my daughter’s success in the corporate world she created for herself. But as a professional writer, I’d rather talk about how there is no doubt in my mind that she is about to become a best-selling author. So this will be a cryptic, rather “representational” account of how we might come to influence our children who often improve on their parents’ talents, even though we would love to claim that talent sprung forth from the DNA supplied by their forebearers.
It happened once before, this generational capping of parental talent. My father, who grew up learning to play piano by ear, never thought much about capitalizing on his natural musical talent. He went through much of his young adult years working for others, opening a downtown flower shop in a small town, co-owning a theater in a San Francisco suburb just before TV hit its stride, and working for a major beer company for ten years, rising up the ladder until he was on the road more than he was home. It was then that he hit an emotional wall, because he knew if he stayed longer, he would become one of “them” – the men who spent most of their week doing the sometimes immoral bidding of their corporate bosses and returning home on weekends to attend church with their families.
One day this father of three took a huge leap and quit his corporate job. When that day came and his philandering boss asked him why he would give up such a promising career, he asked this boss if he sincerely wanted an answer, to which his boss nodded his head. “Because I am afraid if I stay, I will become just like you.” And he walked out. Or so he said.
Dad realized at that point he would have to start at the bottom – somewhere. So he took a position as a salesperson at a piano store near our home. There, he used his piano-playing talents in tandem with his salesmanship to outsell even the owners of the business. It was then that he realized he needed to open his own store. So he schlepped his family back East, where he had grown up, to launch a piano store, engaging the entire family to help run the business. My mother became the accountant and ordered the sheet music, my brothers repaired and delivered instruments and I – well, as the only girl, I was ordered to dust the pianos and clean the store’s tiny restroom. Ugh. But my father was immensely proud of his business success, the fruits of which sent us all to college, afforded us trips to Europe and provided security for my parents.
Naturally, there is a back story. One of my two brothers, who had taken piano lessons with me when we were small, had had little patience to learn to read music and eventually abandoned learning piano in the traditional way early on. Instead, he would listen to what he was supposed to play and then find all the notes on his own as he sat down the piano, driving his piano teacher – and me — crazy. When given free rein to sit down in the family music store on days it was closed, this brother worked incessantly on developing that skill. He mastered arpeggios, discovering close harmonies and perfecting musical runs – all learned by ear after listening to reel-to-reel recordings of music he wanted to learn to play.
As we became adults and moved back to the San Francisco Bay area, my brothers and I all gravitated to doing things we loved, and music figured prominently in that dream for my talented brother. But he also knew that musicians generally starved if performing professionally was their dream, so it would be a while before he found a way to parlay his talents into a full-blown career. One day, however, he became a featured pianist on a well-known cruise line after having sent them a sample audio tape. His familiarity with the music of our parents’ generation all the way to the present day had impressed the line’s musical director. Soon, he was getting booked by some of the most prestigious cruise lines in the travel business. That was 27 years ago and he is still at it, traveling the world doing what he loves. In the past, he would occasionally take our parents on these cruises, where my father would sit slack-jawed, watching his son play music my dad could only dream of ever performing in his lifetime. And so my dad’s secret aspirations became realized in his son’s career, making it even sweeter than if he had realized this success on his own.
So it is with the daughter I mentioned here. I did not discover that I could make a (mostly modest) livelihood as a writer until mid-life, but I knew there was nothing else that could be remotely as gratifying. Because of a dearth initiative to take paths few women took at the time, however, along with both the happy and sad obstacles life threw in my way, I would remain limited as to where I could go with it. As a mom, however, I recognized my daughter’s love of words from the time she was tiny. We had read books together until she was in her teens, longer than most parents used reading as a “bonding” practice. “Someday you will discover the joy of writing things people will want to read and it will make you feel very fulfilled,” I told her, like some kind of maternal soothsayer. Of course, she reacted to me with youthful denial, the way many young people do, defining that adage about how parents magically and suddenly become brilliant as their children get older.
I won’t go into how it all came about, but my daughter became a success in business at a very young age, eventually making the front pages of newspapers, magazines and being interviewed by experts regarding her precocious success. One day she called me. “I am going to write a book!” she said, excitedly. My heart leaped, as she explained how brutally honest she intended to be as she recounted her path to this new reality. My community college drop-out, who got most of her business savvy by reading books and observing others, wanted to help other young women who had special talents realize their own dreams.
And so the day will soon arrive that her book, being published by a well-known New York publisher, will hit both cyber-bookshelves as well as real ones. It is indeed heartening to read about all the pent-up demand for this personal story to be told. I feel privileged to have read through her initial drafts of the book and given her my thoughts, but there is little I would change. And like my father, I sit here slack-jawed, feeling even more joy in my daughter’s success than my own. She tells me now that writing her first book is just as — if not more— exciting than running her business.
Yes. Life can be amazingly sweet.