The man.

My boy is now a man. He’s 6’3, 190 lbs. He has a beard and looks good in a suit. As of Saturday, he has a degree too, a BFA from the finest art school in the world. When the graduation ceremony was over, my sister texted me: Now what?

For some of Jack’s friends, the answer to that question is clear. They are the newest employees of some big corporation or another, a freshly printed job offer in their paws. Others are off on a grandparent-sponsored summer in Europe. And some are on to graduate school and a future of student loans.  But Jack and most of his friends from RISD are getting ready for journey full of twists and turns. Being a creative person means living life creatively, with no clearly charted course, a brave foray into the uncharted. They are at their own helm as they sail into the foggy future, guided only by their sense of themselves as artists.

IMG_7565I think long and hard before I give Jack advice. I begin my dusting off my own post-graduate memories. I left school with only one plan, to avoid academia, politics or journalism, the three areas my degree in political science had prepared me for. The flame under my butt: my mother’s warning that I had to be out of the house by the end of the summer. I flailed in the job waters for a bit, then grasped at the first outstretched hand and ended up working in advertising for thirty years. It was a career, it provided security, I was good at it — but I always felt a tinge of regret that I hadn’t held out for something that more closely fit my values and dreams. No matter what I achieved, people would always ask me when I was going to quit and do what I was really meant to do. I don’t wish that for Jack.

I also graduated into very different world. It was the middle of a terrible recession. No sane person thought of starting their own business out of college. The goal was to work for a big, safe company with plush benefits and stay there for life. Advertising was a flourishing and respectable business. And the internet didn’t exist.

I also want Jack (and my) investment in his creativity to have a chance to pay off. That takes time, work and opportunity. If we give in to the desire for a swift and permanent solution to his security, he could end up in an ad agency too. Or worse. So I tell him he has time and freedom. He is responsible to nobody but himself right now, so he needn’t feel like he needs to embark on a career as yet,

101_0184But he does need a job. He needs to make money so he has options. And for a tall, smart, handsome guy, there are always ways to make money. So I tell him to start by focussing on that.

He is pretty smart about working. First, he decides doesn’t want a job that is too creative. Last summer he was a landscape gardener. He believes that if he avoids channeling all his creative energies into a job, he will still be able to paint. So he has some things lined up that will add to his coffers until he has a nest egg that will let him move out of our home and into his own. In the meantime, we’ll be sharing a studio where he can continue following his passion and I can get back to the kind of creativity I enjoyed when I lived in LA.

I tell him, try things. Be open, make connections. Soon you will find a way to make money that feels right. That feels in harmony with your creative self. It’s impossible to say what that will be. It could be some job we have never even heard of before, working with people we don’t know.

When he was first thinking about going to art school, I said, “Jack, most people don’t have a passion for anything. And most people don’t have something they excel at. You have both. Don’t walk away from it. If you love art and you are good at it, stick with it. That can’t be the wrong decision.” I still believe that. Neither of us think it will be easy in the short run, certainly not as easy as it might seem to be for those of his friends with corporate job offers in hand.  But it will be easier in the long run, because being untrue to yourself is very hard indeed. Living a half-life, even with a full bank account, will leave you feeling hollow.

Being a parent isn’t easy. I am always balancing on the accelerator and then the brake, pushing him forward but not wanting to push him away. I am keenly always aware of the preciousness of our time together.

Last week I was watching some ancient videos I found on a hard drive, Jack at ten, shuffling a deck of cards for the first time, Jack on an early podcast of mine, reciting an African folktale he had made up.

gregory8376-1a-wa800In the old pictures of the two of us, he is still fresh and new with gleaming eyes, and I look essentially like I do now, a little less grey but the same. But of course I wasn’t. Patti was behind the camera, I was still a creative director, Bush was in the White House, Sketchbook Skool hadn’t been born. But Jack was another person, an energetic shrimp, his voice still high and clear, full of confidence and energy.

I want to shelter and harbor that optimism and ocean of possibilities, to protect him from the buffeting winds of reality, but I also know I can’t, he has to sail forth, he has to test himself against what the world throws at him.

I have faith in all that Patti and Jenny and I have done to make him, the opportunities and lessons we have provided. I have confidence in his intelligence, his values, his energy, his talent. But still I rewatch those old videos. Jack giving a speech about Patti’s disability, Jack marooned on a desert island, Jack playing the drums in his band, Jack parodying a kung-fu film.

A decade has passed in a heartbeat, the world has been shuffled, and Jack is a man.

19 thoughts on “The man.”

  1. …a wonderful, openminded, caring, wise and loving blog, Danny. It is a very different world, and feeling connected to what we do is more important than ever to combat the incessant stimulation. Omid Safi gave a beautiful commencement speech at Colgate college. Search for it and listen to it because you will love it. Congratualtions to Charlie!

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      1. Charlie is actually my son, and oh well, yes, what I meant to say was congratulations to Jack, one of my other favorite male names. I guess, after reading your blog I was subconsciously relating to your words and thinking about my boys. Charlie was with me at your Rowes weekend. Don’t forget to listen to Omid Safi’s commencement speech!

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  2. Danny, I know exactly what you are feeling. Our son graduated with a triple major in math, English, and art history. He too play(ed/s) the drums and has a beard. I had originally picked up my copy of “The Creative License” for him before he graduated high school because I didn’t want him to lose that part of himself, but I kept it for me because I thought, “He’ll make his own way.” He was recruited as “a creative” to be part of a software design team at GM, a great job, benefits, etc. He’s been there 2 years (Atlanta vs. our hometown, Indianapolis). The rush of not being a pauper in college to a prince with real money has finally equalized, and he’s thinking in terms of “what do I like now”? The push and pull of parenting an adult child is strange. A friend summed it up after her third daughter graduated high school, “My job is complete. I’ve graduated from parent to consultant”. Well, not exactly, but I get the thought behind it. I wish you three nothing but peace, love and understanding!

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  3. This is such a heartfelt and beautiful blogpost. My daughter is just a few years behind Jack and I feel every word of this blog as I prepare to send her off to university in the Autumn to (perhaps?) become a filmmaker. I’ve followed in yours and Jack’s footsteps for so many years and I feel quite tearful now reading this. I’ve watched Jack grow up in your pictures and words and now he is indeed a man – if I feel that change so powerfully form an ocean away, how much more so must you. Congratulations to Jack, and to you on doing such a marvellous job in raising such a magnificent and creative young man!

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  4. as a father of two sons, I am really touched by this post. They are two-year and ten-year old wonders of nature. I hope I may one day see them step onto manhood.

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  5. touching as always, Danny… my son too wants to be a painter (he already is, I believe) and I feel as you said: confident and afraid, pushing and pulling, believing and scared! thanks for sharing your beautiful journey with us.

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  6. Bittersweet. Brings back memories. Thank you SO much for sharing, and letting your light shine. Jack hit a goldmine in dads.

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  7. You are a good, sensitive, caring dad. Jack is blessed. He has absorbed your creative examples and will do as he has seen you do…not necessarily what you might advise him to do. And that cannot be a bad thing! Blessings to you and Jack

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  8. Your faith in your son, and all that went into him, is important. More important than even money. Sometimes that faith is what gives a young person the confidence to believe in themselves and take risks while they are still young enough to do so. Of all the gifts you, and his mother, and your wife, have given him (his talent and his degree among them), your belief in him is the greatest. He will be relying on it long after we all leave here.

    Sorry, very sentimental today. So many kids without good parents these days. And your family, no stranger to adversity, leaping into the bright future in the form of your son. You did good. No, you did great.

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  9. Man that time went fast! I remember when he was a freshman. He will find his niche in his own time and in his own way. He has a great family on his side.

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  10. Thanks for this one Dan and congratulations Jack Tea! Wow time is truly flying, I remember the post about “The Giant Sketchbook”. I have found it useful to focus my time and energy on the things I love- that is what you are supposed to be doing. I haven’t found anything else that makes as much sense. I will not regret that time spent- some of it was paid and some of it was not, but I was lucky to have that “art time.” It took me a while to realize the truth of art being a visceral need we have – it does choose us. Just spend as much time as you can making art, if you can sell some of it, so much the better, then more people can enjoy it.

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  11. One of the most touching posts from you Danny since I’m following you.
    I see your growth and of Jack as a hard rask accomplished.
    You’re sensitive heartfelt and deep as any great artist is.
    When I gave your name to my son I was thinking a lot of good vibrations that you have to us
    Now I’ve once more a reason to think I made the right thing.

    Have a wonderful everything,
    Stefano

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