Do Amazing People Take After Their Parents

by Dr Charles Margerison

The Parents of Amazing People ... What Influence Do They Have?

If you were to name a person who you regard as amazing in terms of their achievements who would you choose?

There are many people to choose from in science, music, engineering, literature, medicine, architecture, exploration, business, politics and other areas of achievement. We live in an age when multi-media tools such as computers and digital information systems are available.

  • How do you rank the achievements of people like Leonardo and Michelangelo, or Shakespeare and Twain, or Dr Marie Curie and Einstein, or Thomas Edison and Andrew Carnegie?
  • In particular, how did they succeed and what role did their parents have in the process other than passing on their genes?

Visits and Amazing Stories

A number of years ago, I became interested in how amazing people achieved so much, particularly in days gone by when the facilities were far less than they are today. Therefore, I went to the countries where the selected amazing person I was interested in, was born or lived. I visited the city or town or village where they worked.

On a number of occasions, such as on my visit to Stratford on Avon in the UK where William Shakespeare was born, I visited the house. While in the UK, I took the time to visit the hospital where Florence Nightingale, the famous nurse, worked in London. I also went to the small village of Port Sunlight, where William Lever commenced the great Unilever business empire. 

lever william

From there, I travelled to Haworth in Yorkshire and went inside the old home on the moors of Charlotte and Emily Bronte. As I looked outside, ‘the wild winds blew’, as described in their novels.

In the USA, I visited the homes of Henry Ford and Thomas Edison. On a visit to Germany, a friend took me to the home of Beethoven. In France, I had the opportunity to go inside the home of Dr Louis Pasteur and the privilege of entering his original science laboratory.

Travelling north from Arbois, I then went to Paris, where Dr Marie Curie, Gustave Eiffel, Napoleon, Voltaire, Hugo and many others made their mark and I walked in their footsteps.

While in Spain, I had the opportunity to visit Figueres and see where Salvadore Dali created his art. In Italy, it was possible to follow the journey of Michelangelo from Florence to Rome and, en route, see where Galileo and Leonardo worked. In Russia, I toured St Petersburg and was reminded of the enchanting music that Tchaikovsky created there. 

Early Years

I have looked at how amazing people converted opportunities into achievements. It has led to many interesting conversations and questions, particularly about those who influenced the development of amazing people.

  • In your view, what is the effect of parents on their children becoming an amazing person?
  • Is it necessary for a parent to lead and guide a child to their achievements?

That was one of the questions that were recently put to me. It made me think, can parents design the future for their child? It is a question that is important, and we can find some indications from the early lives of amazing people.

Case Examples


The father of Michelangelo was an educated man with a role in judicial administration. His mother was relatively uneducated. She took ill and tragically died when he was about six years of age. Therefore, he had an early life of trouble and distress. Michelangelo’s father could be violent towards him at times. It is said that when Michelangelo indicated that he wanted to be an artist, his father flew into a rage and said, ‘artists are no better than labourers and shoemakers’. Michelangelo went to live with another family for a while, before his father took him to Florence. It is said that Michelangelo was not a particularly good student, but focused his energies on drawing. His father wanted him to go into business and was annoyed when he opted for an apprenticeship with a painter.

  • On the evidence, it seemed that Michelangelo’s father and mother had little influence on his choice of career. Indeed, he pursued his interests regardless of his father’s wishes.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

In contrast, the life of Mozart is different. His father was a Court musician. From an early age he taught Wolfgang to play musical instruments. By the age of five, Mozart could read and write music and completed his first composition. His father, Leopold, had big plans for young Wolfgang. As soon as possible, he arranged tours to cities in Italy, France, Germany, Holland, England and many towns and cities en route. In each place, Wolfgang and his sister performed like pop stars of today. In the process, Wolfgang learned to speak English, French and Italian and became well versed in geography and culture, even though he had received little formal education. His time was taken up otherwise by writing and playing music.

  • This example shows how a parent can have an enormous influence over the development of a child’s talent. In so doing, Mozart’s father is largely responsible for setting the foundations for the amazing achievements of his son.

Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens was born in 1812. His father was sent to a debtor’s prison when Charles was only 12 years of age. It made a big impact on the young boy. He had seen his father lose the family money through bad management that involved spending far more than he earned. Charles then had to live in the prison with his family for a while and witnessed the poverty and problems. After that, he had to go out into the streets of London and find work as a child labourer to give money to his mother and family. Years later, he wrote about his experiences. He clearly learned a lot from his early days.

  • Although his father was a negative role model, Charles Dickens succeeded. Through the troubles, Charles learned how to develop his amazing writing talents and turn them to an advantage by exposing the harsh and inhumane conditions.

Florence Nightingale

Born in the city of Florence (from whence she gained her first name) to a wealthy English family, Florence had the advantage of a thorough education. That stood in contrast to others of her time, as there was little formal education and even less for girls. She learned to speak many languages and was destined to be a lady of high society. Her parents were appalled when she told them that she wanted to be a nurse, which in those days had a low social standing. Florence told them that she had a religious calling to serve others in need. Against the best efforts of her father, she eventually trained as a nurse in Germany. After that, she took 38 other women to nurse the troops at the Battle of the Crimea in 1854. On her return, she trained other nurses and wrote books on the subject.

• It is clear that in the case of Florence Nightingale, her parents could not stop her doing what she wanted to do. She developed her amazing life, during which she saved the lives of many others.

Luciano Pavarotti

The great opera singer was born to a relatively poor family, who became even poorer during the Second World War. His father, Fernando, enjoyed singing. After the end of the war, in 1945, he became the leader of a local male voice choir. He invited his son to join. In 1955, they travelled a long distance to Llangollen, a tiny village in Wales. Their Societa Corale Gioachino Rossini Male Voice Choir from Modena won the competition. Luciano was inspired and he decided to devote his time to building a career as an opera singer. His father supported him and his amazing talent developed.

  • In this case, his father, Fernando, clearly helped guide his son to success.

Dr Marie Curie

Born in Poland, she was baptized under her family name Maria Salomea Sklodowska. She received solid support from her parents and gained a good education. However, at that time, girls were not allowed to go to university. Being determined, she immigrated to France where she studied science and, in the process, met her husband, Pierre Curie. They worked on advanced science experiments and Marie was awarded, with others, a Nobel Prize for scientific discovery. She later gained another Nobel Prize. What is remarkable is that she is the only woman to ever win two Nobel Prizes. In addition, she influenced one her daughters to become an effective researcher and she also won a Nobel Prize. So, Marie Curie helped develop another amazing person in her family.


There are many examples of people whose parents helped them to make outstanding contributions. Equally, there are many amazing people whose parents hindered the achievements of their children. It seems that some children build on their parents help, while others carve out a career regardless of their parent’s wishes. The lesson, in my view, is that parents should give their children many learning experiences and opportunities, but let each child decide how they can best use their talents.