One moment my father was attending school in a small town in New Jersey, when suddenly, his parents announced they would be moving to the Soviet Union before the end of the year. He would be leaving his friends and his familiar surroundings to move to a foreign land. What did Dad think, and what did his siblings think? It didn’t matter. They could not control their destiny. Like all children whose parents move to another state or another country, it was not their decision to make.
The move was motivated by the presumption of jobs in my grandparents’ homeland. Eighteen years after immigrating to the United States, my grandparents dream was crumbling as they realized they could no longer provide for their family.
Dad spoke highly of his Soviet education. He enjoyed his classes and the cultural opportunities of living in Leningrad—a city much grander in size than the town where he was born. He went to the ballet and the opera. College became a reality rather than the impossible dream it had been in New Jersey.
When did he begin to fanaticize about becoming a doctor? Was it when he was walking the halls of his school in New Jersey, or was it during his science classes at Leningrad High School #7? In any case, becoming a doctor was no longer an illusion when he was accepted to the First Leningrad I.P. Pavlov Medical Institute. How exciting that must have been for him, knowing that someday, he would be a doctor.
But I guess it was never meant to be. The price to realizing that dream was Russian citizenship, which Dad refused to pay. His hope of becoming a doctor was dashed at the moment the ultimatum was issued: become a citizen or leave school.
That was the instant when he knew he had to return to New Jersey. My father never had the opportunity to continue his college education again. The closest he came to practicing medicine was when he worked as a medic on a hospital ship during World War II.
He was a loyal employee during his thirty-five years at Allied Chemical working in a small laboratory as a chemist. My mother, who worked as a switchboard operator at an office for a group of physicians, had more interaction with doctors during her career than my father ever did.
Did that make him sad? How often did he think, “If only?” I knew he never forgot because among his photos was a tiny—1 ½” x 3”—picture of my father standing in front of a statue with some friends. The notation written on the back of the photograph was “Leningrad—My School—August 1939.”
He never forgot. I want to live in a world where dreams can come true for everyone, no matter who they are or where they live.