Memories: Growing up in a Doctor's Family

September 16, 2008
Gregory J. Kelly, Editor-in-Chief

Physician's Money Digest, May 31 2003, Volume 10, Issue 10

Like many children of successfulphysicians, I'm frequentlytold that I lived a privilegedlife. My usual reply is, "Yes and no."

For 20 years of my youth, ourfamily of 10 lived in a large Tudorhouse about a quarter mile from thebeach on the Jersey Shore. Myphysician-father had purchased the4000-square-foot house in 1963 forabout $17,000.

INTERESTING TIMES

That majestic old house was thecenter of our family's universe, and,together with my parents and 7 siblings(5 sisters and 2 brothers), welived a very dynamic life. My fatherused to say that a doctor's homeshould be a place to relax andunwind. While that wasn't alwaysthe case, I do believe that he lovedhis home and its atmosphere andfound great comfort there.

He never profited from it economically,though. During themid-1970's energy crisis, my dadtried to sell the house (with noinsulation, 80 windows, and $1000monthly oil heat bills), but got notakers at $59,900. He ultimatelysold the house for about $125,000,some 10 years later. The improvedhome could easily fetch $2.5 milliontoday.

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As a kid, I remember our houseas happening place. While mydad craved quiet, my mom alwayssaid—unlike so many other parentsI knew—that she didn't mind havingmany of our friends at thehouse. "At least I know where youall are," she would tell us. Actionand adventure were constant.Today, 20 years later, I frequentlyrun into people who tell me howmuch they appreciated our family,its spirit and character, and theinviting warmth of our home.

DIFFICULT TIMES, TOO

All enduring homes have memories—good and bad. Ours was nodifferent. Over the course of 3 yearsin the early 1970s, I lost 2 youngsisters (both under 22) in 2 separatecar accidents. One November 1971morning is seared into my memoryforever—when my dad woke mythen 9-year-old brother and me totell us of the death of our oldest sister,Claire, the night before. Duringhis medical career, dad had to makevery difficult decisions and deliververy bad news. But I know he neverfaced a more gut-wrenching taskthan on that fateful winter morning.

That my parents endured thisdevastating heartbreak, stayed together,and raised the rest of us,continues to inspire me to this day.As a parent, I can't even imaginethe pain of losing a child. Whatevertheir personal flaws, I revere myparents for holding their familytogether in very rough times. Theytaught us that life goes on and todaymy siblings and I are not just greatfamily, but great friends.