Stepping Out Of The Shadows When you have Highly Successful Parents
These are the legacies inherited by Daniel Richler, Gillian Apps and Dan Hill, respectively. Their stories are helpful to anyone who wants to carve their own distinct path.
Take Daniel Richler, editor-in-chief of Book Television: The Channel. He grew up in a home where his father, Mordecai, tapped out his novels and diatribes seven days a week, 365 days a year.
"In some ways it was a comfort having him upstairs working all the time," says Richler of his late father, author of such classics as The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz and Barney's Version. "But he was not terribly accessible." Daniel and his siblings often played or fought in silence so as not to disturb Mordecai's concentration.
Fortunately, Daniel's parents recognized that fame might be harmful. "Sometimes Dad would even hide parts of the newspaper where he was featured that day," says Daniel. "They really tried to minimize the burden. And Dad told us to be happy with whatever we did, saying, 'I don't want five little Mordecais running around'."
So did his father's success impact Daniel's choice of professions? "Listening to the whack-whack of Dad's thumbs on that typewriter, I knew it couldn't be easy."
Still, Daniel managed to turn out his own first novel, Kicking Tomorrow (McLelland and Stewart), at age 29. But the famous last name was a mixed blessing.
"It certainly didn't hurt when getting publishers to read my manuscript. However, critics were only too happy to lambaste me, doubly so."
For Daniel, coming into his own meant going out and finding a job by himself - in this case, as a radio personality in Montreal. "I felt better about myself, knowing that I could open doors on my own," he says. "It forced me to develop my own expertise in the language of rock and roll." This also let him differentiate himself from his father, since "Dad didn't use words like 'dude'."
His father's unorthodoxy and moxie were crucial for Daniel. "It showed me how much in life is possible. I tried to emulate him from time to time, but I quickly learned you had to earn it yourself," Daniel says.
Earning it yourself is a message that another child of successful parents, Gillian Apps, knows well. She's the scion of not just one, but two generations of hockey stars: her grandfather, Syl, and her father, Syl Jr. Gillian herself has been named to the Canadian Women's World Hockey Championship team.
"My parents didn't pressure me to follow in their footsteps," says Gillian. In fact, she credits them with urging her to discover her own strengths and pursue the things she liked doing. "What they did stress was education as well as athletics."
Gillian's dad had retired before she was born, with 785 NHL games for such teams as the New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins under his belt. Syl Sr. was a legend with the Maple Leafs, winning the first ever Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year in 1936, finishing with three Stanley Cups to his credit.
Big skates to fill. Did this deter Gillian?
"Actually, Dad doesn't really talk about it a lot, so it's never been much of an issue. And people describe Dad and Syl Sr. as gentlemen. There's nothing shocking or scandalous here. It's been really inspirational for me," she says.
Gillian is working this summer at the Lori Dupuis and Jayna Hefford Hockey School. In the fall, she plans to continue with college in the United States.
"Right now, I'm just trying to do as well as I can for as long as I still enjoy it," she says about her sport.
Her advice to others in her situation? "Try to be yourself. I mean, it's great to have interesting parents to look up to, but don't do their path unless you'd really like to."
Sounds like Dan Hill, Canadian recording star, was listening in. His father, Daniel, had extraordinary achievements: the Order of Canada, a Ph.D., and co-authorship of Human Rights in Canada: A Focus on Racism. So how did Dan end up a musician?
Not with his father's blessing. Dan, born naturally musical, faced many barriers.
"Dad came down to my room when I was 17, and announced that I wasn't gonna be Bruce Cockburn," says Dan.
"What he told us was we had to be the best at anything we did. He was fanatical, in part because he was black and felt we had to fight for absolutely everything."
Dan says he wasn't greatly influenced by his father's reputation. Instead, he felt pressure "more from inside our house, where Dad's powerful drive made me incredibly ambitious and competitive, beyond anyone else I knew."
This schooling in tenacity came with a high price. "Dad didn't come out to our sporting events, believing that intellectual prowess was king. He'd also arrive home exhausted, or irritable, because he was under tremendous stress," says Dan, recounting the time a bomb threat was made against his house during a particularly touchy human rights case.
Dan's own triumphs, including five Juno awards and numerous hit songs, took their own toll as well.
"The great part is that I made good money and experienced wonderful things early in life. The dark side was forgetting about things that are really important, like family and spouse."
Today Dan is a married father himself. He has turned his talents to writing instead of always performing. "I had to catch myself. When I turned 40, I became diabetic, the same age as Dad. It helped that I reached out for therapy and read widely in order to start reshaping my life."
Dan's closing words of advice?
"I think the secret is to find your own path, not to feel intimidated or that you have to follow in your parents' footsteps. Learn from their power and charisma and relate it to who you are and what you love to do. Then be proud in yourself, not necessarily what the media recognizes
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