He always seemed so grim, my doctor. He seldom smiled, despite my constant stream of (usually) funny jokes. Once, after my exam, he asked that I follow him to his office for further consultation. Receiving a personal phone call, he excused himself and left the room. So I glanced around, examined his yellowed diplomas, and looked at the photos on the credenza behind his desk.
One photograph appeared fairly recent -- the doctor, his wife and his daughters standing rather stiffly on the front porch of a modest home. Given the doctor's reputation, experience and bustling practice, his Cleveland suburban home seemed somewhat downscale for a man of his success.
When he returned, I pointed to his family photo, and said, "Doctor, why does everyone seem so . . . sad?" For several seconds he said nothing. Did I offend him, I wondered? Finally, he stood up and quietly closed the door.
For the next 20 minutes he told me about his life. He and his wife, very much in love, married young and quickly produced several daughters. One day, his warm, vivacious wife suddenly lost her energy. She became increasingly distant and less affectionate. The doctor first wrote it off to fatigue. But little by little his wife became cold and uncommunicative, with intermittent, unprovoked fits of anger followed by a sudden withdrawal. Specialists diagnosed her with a genetically based mental illness. Soon each of his daughters, at various ages, started showing the same symptoms.
Every dime the doctor earned went to specialists and therapy. Nothing worked. The daughters, now dysfunctional, never finished high school. Friends stopped visiting, because his wife and daughters recoiled at "strangers."
Ignoring advice to "institutionalize" his family, the doctor hired and dismissed a series of in-home attendants before finding one his family accepted. Now, the doctor told me, he comes home every day to his troubled family, and tries to make their lives as comfortable as he can for as long as he can.
"How do you deal with this?" I asked.
"How do I not deal with it?" he said. "God would expect no less."
Paul, a successful friend of mine from Philadelphia, started out as a delivery driver. He then went into sales, and discovered that his personality and drive made him a natural. He went into real estate, aligning himself with a successful developer. Now, they operate a large number of a national restaurant chain's West Coast franchises. Paul's team also manages a growing number of diverse real estate investments. Paul married, and he and his wife have a wonderful 17-year-long relationship, and counting.
"What drives you?" I asked him.
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