Lost Journal: Dinner-Time Career Talk Tabled

Journal entry: October 14, 1986 (age 17) – Career Talk

My father is a hard worker and an accomplished professional. He started working and contributing to his family’s household income at the age of 12, during the Great Depression. At 17, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy. It was 1945, and he was on a ship headed for action in the Pacific when the Japanese surrendered. After the Navy, he earned a degree in electrical engineering from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY. About 25 years ago, he started working at IBM in its hometown of Endicott, NY. One of his early assignments was serving on the task force that set up IBM’s first building used solely for circuit board manufacturing. He’s now a senior engineer and manager.

That’s a lot to live up to. At 17, I’m the youngest of his six sons, and my next oldest brother, Dan, is 18. Compared to our parents, and even our four oldest brothers, Dan and I have had it pretty easy. We’ve attended private Catholic schools, the hardest work we’ve done is deliver papers and wash dishes, and the closest our country has come to war recently was the titanic battle for Grenada.

Dan is living at home during his freshman year at SUNY-Binghamton. He’s doing very well in his General Education classes, but he hasn’t settled on a major yet. This is an area of concern for my father, and he brought it up at dinner tonight. Our family dinner hour is a fairly regimented affair. It begins promptly at 5:30 p.m. with grace. “Please” and “thank you” are engrained habits, we ask for permission to leave the table, and dessert is reserved for those who have finished all their vegetables. Serious paternal questions are expected to be answered seriously.

“Dan, your mother and I are a little concerned about your lack of direction in school. What are you planning to do with your life?”

Even for Dad, that was a doozy. I looked at Dan with keen anticipation. He seemed to be prepared for the question, and replied in a thoughtful tone. “Well, I’ve been giving it a lot of thought, and I think I’m ready to commit to something serious.” After Dad blinked and nodded gravely, Dan continued. “Mom, Dad – I wanna be a dancer.”

My eyes widened as the rest of the room seemed to freeze. Dan has, in fact, never shown the least interest in the performing arts. The extent of his dancing experience is an awkward, prom-night shuffle to Wang Chung. But you wouldn’t have known it from his earnest expression as he added, “I live for the dance.” When he asked to be excused from the table a moment later, Mom blurted out a quick, hushed “Yes!” Then, as the Vienna Fingers were distributed and eaten, silence reigned.

This kind of insolence, particularly toward my father, is very unlike Dan. The only thing I can guess is that he’s sick of being asked to predict the rest of his life before he’s even held a real job, lived on his own, or had a serious girlfriend. For better or worse (and most likely the latter), we’re a different generation with different challenges. I was grateful to Dan in a weird way, in that he was lightening the probable impact of my intended career choice. Theatre. Seriously.


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