The Sins of Parenthood

For years I sat at my computer and enjoyed the sound of a strumming guitar coming from the next room. That gentle music had become so much a part of my daily life that I never gave it a second thought. At some juncture a realization smacked me. In my silence, I seem to have condoned the injustice that had changed my life and may now be affecting my son’s.

My son is a natural musician. Not like the ones who take instructions and occasionally stop their routine to practice, but the kind who are forced to stop their music so that they may tend to what the rest of us call life.

Towards the end of senior year, he was overwhelmed to be admitted to Berklee School of Music in Boston, his dreamland. Following the example of concerned parents, and proud of our left-brain deficiency, we insisted that he earn his BA and major in a mainstream subject, just in case he should ever need a desk job. Naturally he wouldn’t do anything that might break his father’s heart, so he remained here and studied philosophy and English instead.

Each time I think about this, I look back at my own life and see the day I was persuaded to enroll in dental school and forsake my dream of being a writer/poet. Our only difference is that forty years later, I’m still holding a grudge while this good man has already moved on without as much as a complaint.

Still, the fact remains that we may have done him wrong and admitting to our fault offers no comfort and telling myself that he could still attend Berklee with a basic degree used to help only a little. But it seems I was wrong again. Berklee closed its undergraduate program two years before our son’s graduation. Simple as that. Gone.

Over the years I have listened to the wonderful sound of his guitar, piano, the drum – even bongos. When it comes to music, there’s nothing that he won’t try. Hours suddenly become meaningless as he works through the night and I will never know where that abundance of energy comes from. Even when there are no instruments available, his fingers drum the side of his thigh or the tabletop and what comes out is wonderful to listen to. He breathes music, lives it, and no doubt dreams it, too. He uses a variety of gadgets to muffle the sound so as not to disturb anyone.

This week he is home for a few days and once again, our home is filled with joyous music. A born-and-raised American, he knows little about Persian classics, so it surprised me to hear that he wishes to learn playing the ‘tar’, a Persian string instrument I my late father used to play when I was a child.

Soon after we were home from the airport, my son asked if he could bring down the old tar from the shelf. No one had touched it for years and now three of its six strings were broken. Also out of tune, the sound that came out of that old tar was pathetic, at best.

Once again manifesting his undying enthusiasm, I didn’t have the heart to tell him he was playing it all wrong. So I searched the YouTube and found him a nice performance by a master of tar. While I typed, he watched. Halfway through the piece I noticed the music sounded much better. I stopped my typing and looked to find him accompanying the musician—three broken strings and all – in the best performance of Morgh-e-Sahar that I have ever heard!

Unfamiliar with Persian music he knows even less about that piece, but his ears and his hands follow the command of music, enabling him to follow and become part of it, a natural flow of talent that a BA in philosophy failed to stump.

We aren’t the first parents to impel our child, or rob him of a unique opportunity in the name of sound advice. In a perfect world, I would have earned a degree in creative writing, my lawyer daughter would be a dancer, and my son might enjoy a PhD program at Berklee. Now filled with remorse, I can only hope that he will find a suitable program to further his musical studies, open new doors, and forgive his parents for committing what could only be categorized as parental sin.

Zohreh Ghahremani is the author of Sky of Red Poppies, available now. U.S. book tour stops and information here.

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