The Tough Life Lesson I Learned from My Dad
My father was a pianist. I grew up to the sound of him practicing increasingly difficult pieces, three to four hours a day, on a Steinway grand that dominated the living room.
He never played professionally, though, because his father drummed into him that nothing was more important than a secure job. So he went to college, first to be an MD, then for the priesthood, and finally to become an optometrist.
He was an Episcopalian priest when I was born and in the ten years my family stayed together, he transformed a sparse and failing parish into one of the physically largest and best attended churches in the diocese of Ohio.
After my parents divorced, he went back to college in his forties to become an optometrist. He had a medal in his office for getting the highest score on the national boards the year he graduated.
All in all, he spent fourteen years in college and earned three degrees, an enormous effort that allowed him to pursue two careers that, although he was superlative at both of them, he could barely tolerate
Because he was a pianist.
While everyone thought him successful and even somewhat of a saint (as an optometrist he gave huge discounts to poor people), but to me, who knew him best, he was constantly ill-at-ease, uncomfortable, unable to enjoy anything.
The only time he was “himself” was when he played the piano.
A few months after he turned 70, the sadness that he’d carried his whole life descended on him. He stopped going to work and slipped into a ten-year depression that lasted until a few months before he died.
The most important advice he gave me was this: “Don’t do what I did. Don’t waste your life doing something you don’t love.” I wish I could say I followed his advice from the start, but in fact it took me many years before I listened and acted on that advice.
As I come up on another Father’s day, I can’t help but wish that he’d been able to teach me that life lesson by living it himself. With that thought in mind, here’s a recording–made on a cheap cassette–of a moment when, for a few minutes at least, he was living his dream: