Here are some notes that I hope will enlighten you as to my background, character and personality. A more thoroughgoing description would really require a book, so my presentation will be brief.
Overall, I would say that my childhood was stable, consistent, and nurturing. I spent many years in Queens, New York, one of the five boroughs (administrative divisions) of the City. My family was, generally speaking, 'middle class', in lifestyle as well as economic situation. However, we were quite different from others in our social class, with intellectual endeavours and personal development taking more prominent roles.
My parents were both born in Croatia, but had fairly complex backgrounds. On my father's side, there were German and Austrian connections, on my mother's side, Bulgarian and Macedonian. My father, as a soldier, escaped from Nazi-dominated Croatia during the Second World War, and was granted refugee status in what was by that time Allied-controlled Italy. He returned to Yugoslavia to work as a pilot in the national airline, but then he emigrated to America a few years after this. He is also the only person in history to have been involved in two aircraft hijackings . . . and was never prosecuted. My mother came from a somewhat different environment. She was planning on starting on a career in Croatia when she happened to meet, through mutual acquaintances, my father in Rome during a holiday. They decided to marry that city, in St Peter's Basilica. My mother realised that her future then lay in the New World, and they both came to America, where they permanently settled. My father, Charles, became an accounting manager at Pan American Airlines, and my mother, Barbara, was a housewife until she went back to work, as a lab technician, when I was about 14.
The first residence in which we lived was a rented apartment on the top floor of a house in Corona, Queens. A few years later, we moved to a somewhat better apartment in an eight floor building not far away. A few years after that, we were able to purchase our own house in Jackson Heights. This neighbourhood had an interesting history, in that it was at one time one of the premier areas of New York City, but had become 'merely' middle class by the time we moved there. The well-built two-story brick house in Jackson Heights dated from the 1930s. In all the places we lived, I believe that we were comfortable and secure but without having many luxuries. I learned to appreciate the all of the good qualities of the things I possessed, and I also learned how to make the best use of them, which often involved ingenuity and imagination. If I had been born into a wealthy household, where my whims were catered to, I might have developed a 'throwaway' mentality, and never appreciated the intrinsic value of the things I had.
Growing up, I was encouraged to expand my understanding of the world, whether it was through reading books or talking with other people or getting information from the mass media. Thus, education was always an important focus in my home. My parents wanted me to attain high academic qualifications, although their own credentials differed. Whereas my mother had attained a Master's Degree in Agricultural Science by her late 20s, my father did not attain his Bachelor's Degree until his 40s, through the arduous process of attending night school.
I lived in a religiously diverse household. My father was a nominal Roman Catholic, my mother a relatively devout Seven Day Adventist Protestant. However, my father's real 'religion' was Croatian nationalism, which he pursued passionately all the time he lived in the US. Although I was raised as a Roman Catholic, my mother did not try to convert me to Protestantism, nor did my father try to convert me to political nationalism; I did however attend my mother's church meetings from time to time, which I found intriguing in a certain sense, but overall uninspiring and rather dull. This situation gave me an interesting perspective on how people deal with spirituality, in its various forms.
My parents, being immigrants from Europe, had gained proficiency in English only after coming to America. My mother did not know English very well when I was very young, and in essence, she was learning the language as I was. I also think that I learned Croatian probably before I even learned English, something which might have made my linguistic development more difficult in the early stages of school.
I attended Catholic school through the fourth grade, then, because of our move to Jackson Heights, I went to public schools thereafter. In New York at that time, secondary school was divided into Junior High School (grades 7, 8, 9) and High School (grades 10, 11, 12). Since I was performing significantly above average, I was eligible to take advantage of a Special Program, which allowed me to skip 8th grade. The idea was to put students on a 'fast track' which would concentrate a three years of curriculum into only two years. Needless to say, I eagerly accepted this opportunity to finish secondary school one year early.
Throughout my school experience, on the whole I did quite well academically, consistently getting class grades and standardised test results in the very good to excellent range. My favourite areas of study were always history, current events, mathematics, and science (especially physics and chemistry). Although I had a great interest in music and art, I had very limited opportunity to seriously study these subjects in the schools I attended. I had private instruction in piano and guitar, but much of my musical talent I developed on my own. I did not attain a serious love of literature until later, but this I ascribe to my parents not being native English speakers, and on the mediocre instruction in literature I received in school. I have come to the conclusion that communication (speaking, writing and text evaluation) is among the worst-taught subjects in America.
As for my social environment, I was in contact with a wide array of people. Most of my social circle were middle class kids who also did well in school, although I was acquainted with students of varied personality types, backgrounds, and income groups. My best friends were a small group of exceptional people who were smart, savvy, and had a wide knowledge of things. We were all very ambitious in our own way, but somewhat insecure about our environment. This wariness was common in New York, where it was prominent and more openly discussed.
Not only did we have to have an answer to the question 'who are you', but also to the challenge of 'what are you'. Patriotism was an idea that was constantly challenged in my social environment in New York City, and I, as well as my friends, could not quite feel the stalwart certainty of what it meant to be an 'American'. Our sense of patriotism differed markedly from the those of people living in Texas or Maine, people whose ancestral trees have deep roots in America, people who had at best a hazy understanding of the 'old country'. I was conscious of my moral and ethical responsibilities, but I could not understand why these things should be linked to the concept of 'duty to a nation'. Although my doubts about the validity of patriotism might be perceived as unconventional, it turns out that overall it was a good thing, for it clearly allowed my individuality to develop more freely.
My main focus in early adulthood was education, for that was seen as the gateway to success in life. In college and graduate school, I was essentially trained as a financial analyst, and I worked in this occupation for a number of years at a major university in Manhattan. It was during this time, that through family members, I met a young girl called Cassandra Foxton who had come to New York from Europe to study Fashion Design at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT). I was highly impressed with her beauty, charm, intelligence and courage. In several years, we married, and I can say in all honesty, it has been as near to a perfect relationship ever since.
I eventually made the decision of reducing my involvement in the financial area in order to pursue other areas, of scholarship, writing, research, art, and music.
But we have reached the end of this brief note on my background; only a book can contain a comprehensive treatment of all the interesting things that have happened so far in my life. To fill out some of the areas to which I have alluded above, I have added comments to the documents and photographs that can be found in the appropriate section.
Paul Dennis Sporer