The following excerpt is taken from the book LIVING THROUGH THE RACKET: How I Survived Leukemia…and Rediscovered My Self by Corina Morariu. It is published by Hay House (February 2010) and is available at all bookstores or online at: www.hayhouse.com or click here to order it from Amazon.com.
I know my dad always had my best interests at heart. He was never too pushy or too pressuring like many obsessed tennis parents are, but he does have a very forceful, mercurial personality; and memories of my early tennis life are stressful.
On my desk, I have a photo of me as a six-year-old getting ready to play my first tennis tournament. I have the whole getup—skirt, headband, wristbands, racket bag—but when I look at that picture, I see a scared little girl about to throw up from fear. I was so nervous that I couldn’t eat breakfast. I didn’t know how to keep score, I was playing a girl a foot taller than I was, and my dad was breathing down my neck. Despite all that, I acquitted myself pretty well on the court. The more I played, the better I got . . . but for me, tennis was never purely fun.
My dad, of course, saw it from his perspective, not mine, and all the signs showed that I could be a very accomplished player. He wanted to pass on his own character strengths of dedication and discipline, which were obvious in his courageous act of coming to America alone and building a new life, and I certainly inherited those traits. If you ask him today what kind of pupil I was, he’d say, “She was very disciplined on the court, very articulate, and if you told her something she should do, she would do it. She was a kid who tried her best all the time. That’s why she was good.” As he later told me, “I just wanted you to be the best.”
My dad had also introduced my brother to the game, and Mircea excelled at playing in the Juniors and ended up playing at the college level at Brown University. However, by the time I was playing tennis regularly, Dad was more established as a physician and had even more time to dedicate to coaching. “I improved on the first generation,” is how he puts it. He also knew that fierce focus on an individual sport was a good way to keep us out of trouble and away from drugs. It worked. I’ve always stayed away from drugs (that is, if you don’t count chemotherapy).
My dad was intense, and extremely dedicated to my development. He analyzed every match in great detail. Like many parents, only perhaps more forcefully, he never got around to telling me what I did right. Only after I complained bitterly about this did he decide to make two checklists: what I did wrong and what I did right. Still, after all these years, what stuck with me were his pointed and impassioned criticisms, sometimes coming at high volume.
When I was ten—a story my brother and I recount in detail to this day—I was playing a tournament and lost a close, hard-fought match in the third and final set, 6-4. It was an agonizing match, and surely I made some stupid mistakes (I was ten, after all) that contributed to my defeat. As we drove home after the match, I was in the backseat, and my dad was driving. Needless to say, he was unhappy with my performance. He was absolutely livid, screaming at me and banging on the steering wheel at the same time. At the height of his rage, he yelled at me, “You know what? You have the brain of a chicken!”
Straight from this devastating remark, he took me to a local track and made me run until he decided that I could stop. I got home and immediately called my brother, who was then away at college in Rhode Island. I was completely crushed and cried out to Mircea, “Dad just said I have the brain of a chicken!” And my brother broke out laughing. He thought it was the funniest thing he’d ever heard. I was shouting at him, “I can’t believe you’re laughing!”
“It’s funny!” he managed to say, and he was right. To this day, my brother will randomly text me: “You have the brain of a chicken.” As a matter of fact, he jokingly suggested that I call this book Resurrection of the Brain of a Chicken. The line gets a laugh every time.
My brother figured out by his midteens that he wasn’t going to let our father rule his life—although, ironically, he did in time follow Dad’s lead when it came to a career path. Not only did Mircea end up specializing in neurology like our father, but he also eventually went into practice with him. Still, at age 15, my brother announced that our dad could no longer be involved in his tennis, which really disappointed my father. So when I came along, Dad made up for it by getting completely, almost obsessively, involved in my game. I was the youngest, the baby girl, who was by nature a pleaser. I compulsively tried to become the perfect child. It seemed like the only thing I could control.
Excerpted from Living Through The Racket by Corina Morariu (Hay House, Inc.). Copyright © 2010 by Corina Morariu. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.