Legacy

My friend Michael loves jazz. He infected his son with the same passion for music. By the time Nick enrolled in Jack’s school, he was already an accomplished guitarist and now in his junior year, he regularly plays with several jazz bands and combos. Our friend Jeff, also a jazz lover, recently said to Michael, “Congratulations. You’ve created a jazz musician.… Now what?

When Jack was little, Patti and I, like most parents, collected and saved his artwork. We continue to encourage his creativity over the hump of the tween years, up to the present day. Along the way there were times I shared Jeff’s ambivalence, thinking to myself, “Are you just preparing him for life in a garret or working at a Starbucks full-time?”  I would hear the voice in my head chastising me for not preparing him for law school or medical school or Wall Street: “He’s a smart kid, he could be making a lot of money”. So when Jack decided that he wanted to focus on going to art college, I could feel the conflict rumbling in my tummy. I mean, there’s no question that I’ve always regretted the 10 or 15 years in which I didn’t create art. I wonder what my life would’ve been like had I gone to art school rather than studying political science.

But I knew deep in my heart that I could give Jack no better preparation in life than to let them know how important it is to follow your passion. I told him “most people are not passionate or talented in any particular way. You are a gifted artist and you love to make art. You are doubly lucky. It would be criminal to ignore those things to lead a life of mediocrity.” So I helped him to put his portfolio together and think about his application essays. We went to visit various art schools in the spring and I shared his anxiety over the weeks in which we were waiting for a decision.

He decided that RISD was his first choice. It was mine too, had been since I was 16 and I had attended the RISD summer program where I had the most extraordinary time of my young life, making art all day, living hundreds of miles away from my family, being surrounded by talented and creative friends, smelling of turpentine, and loving life.

I guess it’s a cliché: the father, frustrated in his youth, sending his son along the same path, like a mediocre football former high school player goading his son until he becomes a star quarterback. My own father was frustrated in the fact that he didn’t become a full-time artist, and, when I was in my 20s, he sort of encouraged me to take a different path, to study bookbinding or some such. Like most things my father said to me, I didn’t take it very seriously and so continued to go to the office every day.

I have learned so many things from art over the years, and I’ve learned it does not derail your destiny or condemn you to penury. Art is a constant in my life, even if I haven’t drawn a sausage for a month, informing how I see the world, how I think, how I feel. I can think of no greater legacy to leave my own son than to share in that wisdom and experience.

So I had no ambivalence last week, when Jack texted me excitedly at school to say that he’d been accepted into the class of 2016 at the Rhode Island School of Design. Instead, I felt enormously proud. And I felt, from some other plane, that Patti was sharing in my pride, because she too wanted Jack to follow his muse, to lead a creative life, but most of all to be happy. I think that in Providence he’ll be able to do all those things.

If a half-century of living on this sphere has taught me anything, it’s that regret is a waste of time, that one should seize every opportunity that comes one’s way, and that the fear of the unknown is just a one-way ticket into darkness. Fortunately, my son is braver than I am, less damaged, brighter, more confident in his abilities to change the world. He is my greatest work of art (though, of course I can’t claim all the credit).