Sunday, May 10, 2009

Like father, like son

When I was a little boy, it was common for boys to pretend to be whatever their fathers were—fireman, businessperson, etc. In my case, of course, it was a bit stranger because it meant pretending to be a church minister.

I used the piano bench as an “altar”, and would put a bible on it along with a couple candlesticks. My “pulpit” was a wingchair that I’d swing around, standing against the back to “preach”. I was very young, and not yet entirely competent with English composition, so my “sermon” was a bit lacking. But its simplicity allowed me to remember it all these years:

“John F. Kennedy couldn’t be here, so I am. Jesus Christ couldn’t be here, so I am.”

Legend has it that my parents saw me do this and thought it was hilarious, so one day they had me deliver it at the house of the church organist. I did, and, the legend says, my father laughed so hard that he dropped his cigarette on the woman’s piano, burning one of the keys.

As I grew older, I became less interested in imitating my father, but I also became more involved in the church. That, too, ended when I grew older still, of course.

I have no idea whether little boys still pretend to do whatever their fathers (or mothers) do for a living. I also don’t know whether my father pretended to be what his father was (um, a minister…). But I do know this: My father never wanted to be a minister—he wanted to be a doctor.

In my father’s day, children were pressured to do what their parents wanted them to do, and my father was pressured to enter the “family business”. In the end, he was a good minister, and the best preacher I’ve ever heard. Still, I can’t help thinking that his life would have been happier if he’d followed his heart. My mother thought so, too, but said that he always claimed to be happy with his choice; I wonder about that.

I didn’t know any of that when I was a little boy, and probably wouldn’t have understood it, anyway. But maybe because of it my parents—and my father in particular—almost went out of their way to avoid pressuring me about career choice (even though a little more guidance might have been helpful, but that’s another story).

What I know for sure is that my father’s career choice made the very young me pretty unique among my friends, not that they knew or understood much about that. Ironically, at one point or another we all pretended to be doctors (in varying contexts), even though none of our fathers were physicians—though with a different twist of fate, mine might have been one.

In the end, my father’s gift was the freedom to make my own choices in life. I wish he’d had the same freedom, but I’m grateful for the legacy.


Roger Owen Green said...

Interesting. Never wanted to be like my father careerwise, but it was only because the job he did from my 3rd grade to 9th grade was driving a vehicle around IBM moving stuff from one place to another. He HATED that job and quit. He took a job w the local OEO program. THAT I was proud of.

Nessa said...

When I was younger, maybe 4 or 5, I wanted to be a house wife. These were the days when my father was still around and my mother didn't have to work. I can't imagine being one now. Not even because it's economically impossible. I am too afraid to adopt children. I don't want to screw up and be a bad mom.