Not Always A Chip Off The Old Block

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for September 10, 2020, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

            After teaching school for thirty years, I noticed an interesting pattern among the students I taught, — the sons of medical doctors quite often also became medical doctors, often pursuing the same kind of specializing as Dad, such as oncology. Added to this observation was the fact that many of my teaching colleagues who were coaches had children who later became coaches, or, in some cases, professional athletes. My wife and I were both teachers, and one of our daughters became a teacher. I worked with publications most of my life, and one of our daughters became a journalist, and, later, a book designer.

            While, in my 86 years of living, I have seen exceptions to this pattern, in most cases the trend seemed to be “a chip off the old block,” the “block” being either the father or the mother, so it wasn’t just “like father, like son.”

            The reasons for this pattern to an extent are obvious. For example, my wife and I had very few athletic skills, and no great interest in athletics, so the probability of our daughters becoming award-winning athletes was not too great. However, our granddaughters are very good athletes, and are chip’s off their father’s block. In most cases that I have observed, the parents were not deliberately trying to mold their offspring into an image of themselves. My wife and I never pushed our children into any particular direction, allowing them to discover their own talents and abilities; and then encouraging them in those directions. So I was pleasantly surprised when one of them went into fields of my specialization.

            My years of observing and counseling young people, especially college freshman in search of a major, also tell me that you can’t force, manipulate, or cajole a kid to be a “chip off the old block.” I am a case in point.

            My mother was an extremely gifted musician, with an incredible amount of raw, natural musical ability. She, like her Wendish cousins, could hear a song on the radio, and then play it on almost any instrument, even one they had never played before. When she was 16, because my mother wanted to play the organ for the church, and because her family could not afford lessons for her, she borrowed a piano teacher’s book, taught herself to read notes (along with all the loud, soft, glide, etc. markings), and no longer had to play by ear. She later taught herself to play the church organ.

            But her passion for music didn’t end there! She decided that her twin sons inherited the same musical talent she was blessed to have. So she hired a piano teacher (a great sacrifice for a family of our income) from Giddings to come out to Dime Box to give her boys piano lessons, and she bought us an old piano (another financial squeeze for us).

            It took two lessons to prove my brother’s lack of talent and interest, so my mother poured all her efforts on me. I continued taking lessons for several years, and she planned for me to have a career as a band director, and when she retired I was to take her place playing the organ for our church.

            I allowed her to push me in this direction, because I loved music as much as I loved the other fine and literary arts. At that time, my only doubt was that I would live in Dime Box the rest of my life and play for our church.

            After three years of playing the trombone in my high school band, and two years playing in a junior college band, I learned the truth of what I had suspected all along: I had no talent in music.

            My junior college band director was humane enough to take me aside my sophomore year and tell me that a person who marches on the after-beats and consistently hits in-between pitches on a horn should not major in music and should not become a band director. Giving up the dream was a relief to me, and my mother eventually got over wanting to make me a chip off the old block. Rather than trying to make your kid a chip off the old block, just let the chips fall where they may.


Ray Spitzenberger is a retired WCJC teacher and Lutheran pastor, and the author of two books, Open Prairies and It Must Be the Noodles.

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