My earliest memory, one of them anyway, is of something my father said to me the day I turned four years old.
“Son.” he said, “Norman.” He clarified. He needn’t have bothered, I was the first and last child he and his wife produced. “I have something to tell you.”
“What is it Dad?” I probably said, my voice a projection of the trust I felt towards this man.
“It’s a very important thing s… Norman. Very important indeed. So important that I need you to promise me something.” My father looked me in the eyes. “Can you keep a promise?” A promise! Those were important, my four year old self knew. You had to keep promises or Lord Coca-Cola wouldn’t bring you any presents for Christmas. I nodded. I could keep a promise.
“Yes Dad, I can keep a promise.” I said, or at least I said something along those lines. My father nodded again and placed a hand on my shoulder. I can’t remember if his palms had already been stained blue from years of work.
“Then promise me this, Norman. I am about to tell you something very important and I need you to listen to me, listen to my every word. I need you to promise me that you will remember these words that I tell you now. I need you to promise me that you will etch them upon your heart such that they will be a part of you until death. I need you to ingrain these words into the curves of your skull, such that to lose them would be to lose your mind.” My father’s hand was shaking. “Can you promise me that, Norman?”
I was four years old. I was a good child, a good son. What else could I do?
“I promise.” I said, certainly without even a shade of an idea what I was promising.
“Good. Now listen to this.” now my father had a hand on either shoulder, My footing shifted slightly under this additional weight. Then my father spoke.
“You will study hard, with all your heart and with all your soul and all your strength and with all your mind. You will learn and you will experience and you will train and you will graduate university. You will get a job, and you will never work in retail.”
I didn’t understand his words back then, but luckily for me this was not the last time my father said this.
And I kept my promise.