While celebrating our Dads on Father’s Day, we seek to understand how to honor them respectfully, even amidst career goal conflicts.
How do we balance respect for our parents, while cultivating our creative calling?
As you are ‘following your bliss’, as mythologist, writer, and lecturer Joseph Campbell often professed, you may come to find it is not always very blissful.
In fact, you may find yourself torn, disappointed, resentful, or frustrated if your family is less than enthusiastic about your career choice to pursue the arts.
This can be the first test gauntlet in your ‘hero’s journey’.
But take heart in knowing that burgeoning artists have been in this dilemma for hundreds of years and that you are in magnificent company, from Renaissance master, Michelangelo, to Oscar-winning filmmaker, Robert Zemeckis.
From his childhood, Michelangelo was drawn to the arts, but his mother died when he was only six, and his father, Lodovico Buonarroti, from a family of bankers, decided to enter a government post, and considered an artist’s trade to be beneath the family dignity and below the family’s social status.
His father tried to discourage him and beat him because he didn’t do his lessons but instead drew all the time. Lodovico did not want his son to become an artist.
Franz Kafka had a notoriously difficult relationship with his father, who did not understand his son’s literary aspirations or sensitive nature. “What I would have needed was a little encouragement, a little friendliness, a little keeping open of my road, instead of which you blocked it for me, though of course with the good intention of making me go another road. But I was not fit for that… At that time, and at that time in every way, I would have needed encouragement,” Kafka once wrote to his father.
The 20-century sculptor, Louise Nevelson, whose in-laws disapproved of her art studies, once aptly remarked, “My husband’s family was terribly refined. Within that circle, you could know Beethoven, but God forbid if you were Beethoven.”
And to draw a more contemporary example, Robert Zemeckis, director of the Oscar-winning movie, Forest Gump, would not have made it to the big screen at all if it been up to his parents. His blue-collar family thought his interest in filmmaking was only a phase and didn’t look on it too kindly. It wasn’t until after applying to USC’s film school that Zemeckis announced his decision to his parents who responded, “Don’t you see where you come from? You can’t be a movie director.” This fueled him to succeed.
The history books and blogs are indeed replete of such accounts, still being played out at dining room tables today, all over the world.
But as Joseph Campbell reminds us, “If you do follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while waiting for you, and the life you ought to be living is the one you are living.”
He also advocated, however, for compassion when he said, “Read myths because they teach you that the fundamental human experience is that of compassion.”
So blaze your path, but do it with compassion, courage, wisdom, and willingness to work hard.
My grandfather on my mother’s side is Lou, who was the oldest of fourteen children, though only twelve survived to adulthood. He was strict, proud, and forthright, sometimes even cruel in his comments. “You gained weight, your ass looks big.”
On my way home from art school for winter break, I stopped to visit grandpa where I spent a rare few hours alone with him. He asked me when I was going to give up painting; did I have a date in mind, a plan for abandoning ship, renouncing life as an artist?
I didn’t respond, and let him prattle on.
In the kitchen, he explained that when he was a young man in Europe, he was offered a scholarship to study art. He went down to the basement to retrieve an elegant pen and ink drawing of a figure, a portrait that he made as a young man.
“Art school? You want to be an artist like those men in white flouncy shirts with long billowy sleeves who sit at the cafe all day?” His father, my great grandfather, had harangued him.
Lou became a business owner of a pharmacy with the Americanized family name on the awning and passed on the same limitations to my mother, who came home to tell him one day that she wanted to be an artist. “An artist? Absolutely not – you can be an art teacher,” he told her.
She got her degree in art education, something she would never use. This all begins to explain a lot.
I had always been encouraged to follow my creative nature, encouraged to apply to art school, so I was completely dismayed when on Thanksgiving of my junior year, time to declare a major, the conversation went like this:
“Have you made a decision about a major?” My parents ask eagerly at the holiday table.
“Painting,” I answered.
“That’s not a decision”, my mother quipped sharply.
As the conversation with grandfather continued, I recognized the line of artistic leanings and the parental thwarting, which had now come to me like an ancestral karmic relay. It was now my chance to take the baton, pass it, or break the cycle and use it to conduct a symphony, or as a magic wand.
After hours of Lou trying to convince me to give up painting that winter night, it was time for me to leave. We were standing at his front door, in the last attempt, he asked, “So when are you going to give up painting?”
“I am too talented to give up painting, Grandpa.”
He threw back his head, letting out the heartiest laugh of delight.
Remember your families’ position comes from genuine care and concern for your financial well-being. Find ways to compromise, or to negotiate beneficial solutions.
You know your truth and your value. Maybe your parents will come around to approve, and maybe they won’t. Nonetheless, create the work that you and others can be proud of, as you forge ahead to live a worthwhile dignified life.
Be willing to work hard and do what it takes to be financially responsible and solvent.