David Tucker never wanted to be a doctor. Growing up, he idolized his father and wanted to be exactly like him. He wanted to sing in front of thousands of fans, enjoy international fame and live the life of a renowned globetrotting opera singer, just like his dad, Richard Tucker, the famous operatic tenor of postwar America.
“It was living in Camelot,” David Tucker says of his upbringing. He witnessed his father sing before five U.S. presidents over three decades at New York’s Metropolitan Opera House, playing lead roles in performances such as Aida, La Gioconda and Pagliacci.
“I think it has an effect on some children, especially me, to want to be like your dad,” David Tucker says.
His father, however, had other plans. He insisted young David become a doctor, and refused his son’s every attempt to follow in his footsteps, despite David enjoying a strong singing voice with some promise of a professional career.
“He really, with all his success, felt that being a doctor was more noble,” Tucker recalls. “He also worried that the road to success in entertainment is a crooked path, based on luck and timing.”
Years later, after Tucker retired from medicine and his father had long since passed away, he recalled this story to a former patient of his, Rabbi Alfred Gottschalk. Rabbi Gottschalk commented on how many stories Tucker has of his father, and casually suggested he write a book about the relationship.
Tucker thought that wasn’t a bad idea.
That book, The Hard Bargain: Music, Medicine and My Father (Richard Tucker, Opera Legend), was released last year, self-published through the platform Xlibris.
“I’ve written medical papers, but this was an exhausting experience,” Tucker says of the creative process. He worked with a co-author, Burton Spivak, to complete the project. The pair spent hundreds of hours talking, editing and marketing the book to get it where it is now. “I’m not the type of person who meditates or looks in the rearview mirror, but I had to do that to write this in an honest way.”
The book focuses on the titular bargain: Tucker’s deal with his dad. “The hard bargain was that my father demanded that I become a doctor,” Tucker says. They made a deal: Richard would pay for his son’s singing lessons if his son agreed to study medicine.
Tucker spent years finding ways to express his artistic ambitions on the side. A native New Yorker, he sang at bar mitzvahs and on the street, hanging out around Broadway and Times Square, studying music in his spare time and even performing in a few off-Broadway productions during his years at Cornell University’s medical school.
He mostly resented being forced into the medical world until his fourth year of school, when lab work finished and he got to spend time with actual patients. Having a human connection made him suddenly fall in love with the medical profession, and in fact, it was music that drew him to ophthalmology.
Cornell’s chief of ophthalmology heard Tucker sing and, impressed, invited him to stop by his office to discuss his future. As they discussed new experiments in retinal and cataract surgery, Tucker became convinced to pursue that path. In the end, that’s what won him his father’s approval.
“The struggle was pretty significant in wanting my father’s blessing,” Tucker recalls. “But in the end, I knew that he was right.”