When I was young, if anyone had ever told me I would be writing a book about relationships, I’d have told them they were out of their mind. I thought love was a myth dreamed up by poets and Hollywood producers to make people feel bad about what they could never have. Everlasting love? Happily Ever After? Forget about it.
Like everyone, I was programmed in a way that enabled some things in my life to come naturally. My programming emphasized the importance of education. To my parents, the value of an education was the difference between the life of a ditchdigger just getting by and a white-collar executive with soft hands and a soft life. They were clearly of the opinion that “You cannot amount to anything in this world without an education.”
Given their beliefs, unsurprisingly, my parents held nothing back when it came to expanding my educational horizons. I vividly recall coming home from Mrs. Novak’s second-grade class thrilled by my first look into the amazing microscopic world of single-celled amoebas and beautiful unicellular algae like the fascinatingly named spirogyra. I burst into the house and begged my mother for a microscope of my own. Without any hesitation, she immediately drove me to the store and bought me my first microscope. This was clearly not the same response to the tantrum I had thrown over my desperate desire to get a Roy Rogers cowboy hat, six shooter, and holster!
Despite my Roy Rogers phase, it was Albert Einstein who became the iconic hero of my youth: my Mickey Mantle, Cary Grant, and Elvis Presley all rolled into one giant personality. I always loved the photo that showed him sticking his tongue out, his head covered with an exploding shock of white hair. I also loved seeing Einstein on the tiny screen of the (newly invented) television in our living room where he appeared as a loving, wise, and playful grandparent.
Most of all, I took great pride in the fact that Einstein, a Jewish immigrant like my father, overcame prejudice through his scientific brilliance. At times while growing up in Westchester County, New York, I felt like an outcast; there were parents in our town who refused to allow me to play with their kids lest I spread “Bolshevism” to them. It gave me a feeling of pride and security to know that Einstein, far from being an outcast, was a Jewish man who was respected and honored around the world.
Good teachers, my education-is-all family, and my passion for spending hours at my microscope led to a Ph.D. in cell biology and a tenured position at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. Ironically, it was only when I left my position there to explore the “new science,” including studies on quantum mechanics, that I began to understand the profound nature of my boyhood hero Einstein’s contributions to our world.
While I flourished academically, in other areas I was a poster child for dysfunction, especially in the realm of relationships. I married in my 20s when I was too young and too emotionally immature to be ready for a meaningful relationship. When after 10 years of marriage I told my father I was getting divorced, he adamantly argued against it and told me, “Marriage is a business.”
In hindsight, my father’s response made sense for someone who emigrated in 1919 from a Russia engulfed in famine, pogroms, and revolution—life for my father and his family was unimaginably hard and survival was always in question. Consequently, my father’s definition of a relationship was a working partnership in which marriage was a means of survival, similar to the recruitment of mail-order brides by hardscrabble pioneers who homesteaded the Wild West in the 1800s.
My parents’ marriage echoed my father’s “business first” attitude even though my mother, who was born in America, did not share his philosophy. My mother and father worked together six days a week in a successful family business but none of their children can recall seeing them share a kiss or a romantic moment. As I entered my early teens, the dissolution of their marriage became apparent when my mother’s anger over a loveless relationship exacerbated my father’s drinking. My younger brother and sister and I hid in our closets as frequent verbally abusive arguments shattered our formerly peaceful home. When my father and mother finally decided to live in separate bedrooms, an uneasy truce prevailed.
As many conventionally unhappy parents did in the 1950s, my parents stayed together for the sake of the children—they divorced after my youngest brother left home for college. I only wish they had known that modeling their dysfunctional relationship was far more damaging to their children than their separation would have been.
At the time, I blamed my father for our dysfunctional family life. But with maturity I came to realize that both of my parents were equally responsible for the disaster that sabotaged their relationship and our family harmony. More importantly, I began to see how their behavior, programmed into my subconscious mind, influenced and undermined my efforts to create loving relationships with the women in my life.