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).

29 thoughts on “Legacy”

  1. Yay! Great news for you and your son! My son is currently in an art program closer to home (Winthrop) and I’ve had the same feelings of fear for him. But we were right to encourage their passion…they must do the rest, right?


  2. Congratulations!!! Getting into RISD is a big deal!

    I am living the unfulfilled dream of creating everyday after graduating with a design degree. I think Jack is fortunate to have a parent who can help him make the right choices to help him get a job creating when he graduates. There is nothing more frustrating than working all day at something mundane only to come home too exhausted, both physically and mentally, to do anything creative.


  3. For some, a creative life is the only choice. The encouragement you and Patti gave Jack over the years is enough to allow him to get through school and come out one super great artist! I’m lucky because my parents always supported me through all my years in school and even my choice to be an artist. It meant a lot to me and I’m sure it means a lot to Jack too. Congrats to you both! I’m sure he’ll do great in school.
    BTW, I just finished reading PEANUT a couple of weeks ago and loved it! My wife and I don’t have children of our own, but I always wanted one (or two!). It was great following in your footsteps and imagining myself in your shoes. Thank you for sharing such an intimate portrait of pregnancy as experienced from a male’s point of view. You ROCK!


  4. Very thoughtful post. I agree that not only regret is not useful, but that the guilt that arises from it is one of the most prevalent yet accepted emotions. Many people get stuck in a loop of ‘what to do’ when they feel guilt or regret. All you can do, though, is look at what you have now, what you can learn, and what’s next.


  5. Thank you for sharing. I started art school late in life at 35. Out of high school after some time in Vietnam I went to school to become a commercial photographer and worked in that until art school. A long way around. Congrats to Jack. Create!


  6. Congratulations Jack! That is awesome! I applied to art schools after high school but was rejected. I don’t wish that rejection feeling to anyone and I am sooo glad Jack’s first choice accepted him.
    Maybe I will try again, some day.


  7. Congratulations…. When I was 17 I found my passion and life long work as a midwife. A very unusual choice for someone never before interested in the sciences or nursing, and not many midwives as role models. But, I just knew in my bones that it was what I was “suppose” to do. Thirty eight years later I still help families bring babies into this world and have also learned how to “midwife” art, passion, creativity, life, death, laughter, dancing etc, etc. There is no satisfactory substitute for following ones passion in what ever area of life that it comes to us…….


  8. I’m a little teary, your post is so heartfelt and honest. This is wonderful news! Congratulations, Jack! A new chapter beginning.


  9. I knew he´d get into that school- with you as the support-team and him- being as devoted as he is- it had to happen- and I´m so glad for you two that it did!!! Thanks for sharing this important update- I have three sons- one that has started his own business to follow his passion- and the other two- on their way to find their paths. So, I´m grateful to read about your great thoughts- I share your view. Again- so happy for you 2!!


  10. Fantastic news! He is such a gifted artist and I’m sure he will thrive there.
    I went through a similar angst when my daughter announced that she wanted to attend an art college. She had a precollege experience there that changed her forever. It’s so wonderful to have this shared passion and she turns me on to all the graffiti artists and documentaries that we watch together.


  11. Congratulations! Your meditations on passion, education, vocation, and livelihood appreciated from here. If you hadn’t turned your hand to art, you might be expressing the cliche of the blocked father/flowering son, but you have, so I think that makes it different.


  12. Such an eloquent post. Many congratulations to your son for getting into such a fabulous school, and to you for encouraging your child to use his gifts and love his work.

    My parents discouraged me from a life in art. They were very well meaning; they thought I would never be able to make a living as an artist, and they wanted me to have a place to sleep and food to eat. I was an obedient child, so I went the traditional path at a great liberal arts college, and became an English major. While working my first job in communications, I loved working with the graphic designers, and considered going to design school, but kept hearing their doubtful voices (and my own, inside my head) and chickened out. This is my one big regret in my life to date. I went to journalism graduate school instead.

    But guess what happened? An insightful teacher spotted my gifts and encouraged me to consider designing newspaper pages instead of writing or editing. He got me my first design job at a newspaper, and started me down a path I should have been on all along. Still, the things I learned about writing, editing, graphic design, publications, marketing, public relations and publicity have held me in good stead. I am a fiber artist now, and I use these skills every day to teach and to market my work. The winding path worked out okay.


  13. Sorry, I posted in the wrong blog post…it was meant for this one…

    Great to read about you and your son!

    We have a book by you, which my hub grabbed in a MoMa store at the SFO airport a couple of years back (the only thing he actually bought for himself in the entire trip) and often I sit down with it to read through…but the illustrations in it are so gripping that it is usually tough to read I like to share it with my son who is quite an artist too…he is about 6.

    I would like to share my website with the community of Artful Parents across the globe! It all started when my little son (aged about 2 then) started doodling such amazing masterpieces, that I just had to preserve each one of them. Over time, I ran out of space and ideas to stock them This led me to create http://www.littlesketchers.com.

    Do stop by!

    Your Blog is such a delight to browse through!!


  14. Wow what a wonderful, deep & honest thing to read. From a 22-year old at university, I think you did the right thing 🙂 I really hope his art college is going well, does he have a blog of his own I wonder? Looking forward to your latest ponderings. Charlie


  15. Thanks for sharing, Danny. As I read this again, I am listening to my two teenage sons – one on guitar, the other in another room wailing on his drums. They are both very gifted musicians, and visual artists as well, although they don’t yet see it that way. (They think they are not good enough) Even so, both have expressed their desire to make a living in the arts. And, I am both thrilled and anxiety ridden at the prospect. I know the deal is an old, unhelpful belief that says following your passion in to the art world equals a life of struggle and potential poverty. I’m ready to give up that old belief. It’s not even mine, really. I don’t know why or how I picked it up, but it’s high time we all (the collective) let go of it. Thanks for making that a bit easier….together we parents can do it by sharing our journey.


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