Mom and Dad wanted a child badly. But conceiving was difficult for them, and they endured all the tests that were available those many decades ago. I’ve been told that finally, three years into their marriage, my arrival was a grand and gay celebration. I was brought home to their modest apartment in a water-front town near Philadelphia.

Dad realized his teaching position of both English and American History (and this from an Orthodox Jewish immigrant??? ENGLISH AND AMERICAN HISTORY?) was not going to provide the funds he wanted for his little family. So, he bought a business that was faltering and created a small empire.

He worked like a Trojan for the rest of his life. The man had the Midas touch, the knowledge, vigor and vision to create this enterprise and insist that it flourish. He had no quit in him.

* * * * * * *

Dad had his sights set on my Mom for years. He was seven years her senior and when she was only seventeen, he decided SHE was HIS. Dad rarely lost, so if Nina Kline was whom he wanted, Nina Kline was whom he was getting. It took him eight years of “courting” her, but he won.

Mom was reluctant to marry Dad. He was brilliant and steady, and she knew he would protect, provide for and love her and their children. But he was by no means easy or fluid. He was hardened by his early life, and there was very little of a willow’s bend in him. He was birthed into a family where mental illness was a complex and unforgiving disease. His parents were anything but light and bright and Dad became stern, often melancholy, and usually deadly serious.

Dad believed the point of life was “to suffer.” I drank his Kool Aid and came to believe unflinchingly his was the accurate assessment. I proved this to myself by getting a Masters’ Degree in a field that I had no business even considering. Yup, I sure did. I got myself a Masters’ in Speech Pathology, a medically allied field that held no interest or lure for me AT ALL.

I worked in Childrens’ Hospitals, Rehab Centers, and Schools for Developmentally Delayed kids. I had a gift with autistic kids and my Masters’ focused on that challenge. If I weren’t a kid-junkie, I would never have stayed in the field as long as I did. Because, except for the kids, I loathed Speech Pathology. But because I honestly, cross my heart, bought the propaganda that life’s purpose was to “suffer”, I thought I was definitely on the right path and in the right field. P.A.T.H.E.T.I.C.

The problem was I just didn’t get enough guidance about a career choice. Not from my parents. Nor my teachers. Nor my guidance counselor. Dad insisted I get degrees in a field that would financially sustain me, and since I loved language and kids, Speech Path seemed logical. But no one, not even I, was considering my gifts from G-D that were already apparent.

I started writing in diaries when I was thirteen, and never stopped. Am I being unreasonable to think it might have been clear to someone that I loved to write? I was lauded by high school English teachers, and my parents did read report cards and teachers’ comments about my skill. I was an accomplished dancer too. I could play the piano with emotion and proficiency. I landed the role of ANNE FRANK in the play The Diary of a Young Girl in my senior year of high school and, non-modestly speaking, got standing ovations, thunderous applause and BRAVO’s every night of the run.

So, shouldn’t I have been guided into creative writing or the performing arts? BUT …. let’s get real, there’s no practicality in any of the arts. No siree. What kind of “job” security is there for a writer, dancer, actor, playwright, or novelist? Pie-in-the-sky nonsense.

True to my form, it didn’t occur to me that I might be in the wrong field until my mid-thirties, when I went back to school AGAIN and got a Masters’ in Interior Architecture and Design. That was closer to my heart, but still, not the perfect fit.

I graduated and worked for a Design firm in Philly for a couple of years. They kept me at go-fer status until they discovered I could present, with the articulate aplomb of a pro, complex proposals with detailed blueprints and the finishes and furniture exhibits to Boards of Directors of major and minor corporations. Whooppee! Not exactly what I had signed up for.

I ultimately left and started my own firm. WHAT WAS I THINKING!!!!! O.K., so I can design. But I can’t even keep a personal checkbook balanced, much less run a successful business. Wealthy clients saw “NOT A BUSINESS WOMAN” scrawled across my forehead in neon, so they often just didn’t pay their bills, or they decided they didn’t like the dye-lot on the $15,000 custom made sofa I had designed for them that they had signed off on.

I know for certain, though, all those years of training and work were not wasted. I learned things I never would have learned had I been well suited to a career path from jump. Although I’m positive “suffering” is not the purpose of life, it does build strength, tenacity, empathy, courage and a willingness to stay with something until something better materializes.

Working in Childrens’ Hospitals and Rehab Centers with kids who endured treacherous medical conditions, taught me things I never could have learned in any of  The Arts.  Speech Path was the career that fully acquainted me with “suffering” from watching parents who watched their children suffer. Those kids, some born with half their faces missing, showed me the depth of character and bravery encased in the human spirit.

I couldn’t cure their medical anomalies, but I could be a cheerleader, a friend, a companion, an empathic listener. I could hold the babies and send love through touch and smiles and walks down hospital corridors. I could bring their parents a pastrami on rye and coffee and cupcakes. I could phone them from my home. I could be there for them in ways that I could and feel so privileged for the opportunity.

Here’s what I learned: Every life situation has unsuspected benefits, and nothing was wasted by choosing a career path that did not overflow with artistic euphoria. I’m so grateful I detoured and that it took decades before I was able to say I am a writer, painter, photographer, designer. I gained the unimaginable by electing to “suffer” through illogical degree choices. Hallelujah Glory!  I applaud the choices life helped me make and I know it was all part of a plan to enhance my own budding growth and development.