Encouraging a Child’s Dream

How this dad got so much right

“I like to sing,” my daughter Caroline, then still three months from turning 7 years old, tells my friend Don. “I like singing a lot.”

“Oh, really?” he says.

“Yes,” she says. “I’ll sing something for you right now.”

“Well, then,” Don says, “by all means, please do.”

This is mid-August, 1995. We’re on a beach, near the shoreline, vacationing in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. All of us, our family of four and his family of four, are wearing our bathing suits.

I had no inkling back then what would come next. No idea my daughter would decide to be a singer.

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Caroline turns to look for a fitting venue. And right near her, as it happens, is a boulder. She clambers onto it as if onto an outdoor stage. The dunes are behind her, the reeds rustling in the summer breeze, the sky a sublime blue.

Caroline clears her throat, establishes her footing and settles in for her performance. Then she starts sing “Colors Of The Wind” from the then-new Disney movie “Pocahontas.”

I’d heard my daughter sing the song all summer, ever since we had seen the movie and bought the CD. It was her favorite song. She sang it in her room at home and wherever we went.

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But I’d never seen her sing it like this, taking command of an audience. Her rendition is lovely, her pitch perfect, the emotion heartfelt.

Don and his wife and two sons listen raptly, mesmerized.

It’s all well and good for me to admire her singing. But for me to see someone else appreciate it is something special.

Of course I had no inkling back then what would come next.

No idea that Caroline would decide to be a singer.

No idea she would beg her mother to get her singing lessons until she finally gave in.

No idea that before she turned 12 we would, courtesy of recommendations from the Juilliard School, find her the right private singing coach. She was a longstanding professional willing to train a child, her youngest student ever to that point. The scheduled 15-minute interview went on for an hour, and the teacher said afterward she rarely saw such focus even in her adult students.

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I had no idea that for the next 10 years, my wife and I would schlep our daughter, by subway or express bus or car, from our home in Queens to Manhattan as often as three times a week for lessons, rehearsals and performances — all those nights after a day of school, all those weekend afternoons, so she could be put through her paces, going through song after song.

No idea that she would learn every song from “Phantom of the Opera” backwards and forwards.

No idea she would be so deeply committed and disciplined, especially about caring for her voice and her overall health, that she studied the history of opera at every opportunity. She practiced her scales in her room, wore a scarf around her neck on freezing days to protect her throat, and even avoided cold foods and beverages, including her favorite, ice cream.

I had no idea, indeed, that she would actually get to do what we all knew she was always meant to do. Sing. On stage. In the spotlight.

We also had no idea that before she turned 20, she would perform the lead in “Kismet” and “The Mikado” and “The Merry Widow,” and with opera companies in Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Hamptons, and that she would even sing at a benefit with Marcello Giordani, a leading tenor from the Metropolitan Opera.

No idea, indeed, that she would actually get to do what we all knew she was always meant to do. Sing. On stage. In the spotlight.

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But maybe Caroline already knew. Maybe she saw that boulder as a stepping stone. Maybe she was already looking for the next boulder to climb.

As it turned out, Caroline eventually turned away from singing to pursue a career as a chef. And she’s already going strong on that front. In both instances, we encouraged her from first to last.

You can never encourage your kids too much.

You can only encourage your kids too little. Every parent has a choice.

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