Wednesday, September 21, 2011

My Dad

This is a photo of my dad when he was going to RISD back in the early 50s. He was an illustration major, and it was there that he met my mom, a painting major. They were a handsome couple, smoking their cigarettes and  hanging out in the Bluebird Cafe (now the RISD store). Sixty years and seven children later my dad's life is winding down.

At 81, my dad went into the hospital for the first time in his life with a rapid heartbeat. He was home and recovering when I left for Alaska, but by the time I returned he was noticeably weaker.  Now, surrounded by his college sweetheart and his seven children he seems to be slipping away from us. Impressions of my Alaska residency are tucked in the back of my brain for later, right now it's all about Dad.

While my parents never pushed us to be artists, all of us inherited some artistic talent. When we were little my mother's hands were too full of diapers and dinners to hold the paintbrush, but my dad supplemented his paycheck as a jewelry designer with freelance at home. I loved to sit at his drawing table and abuse his pristine drawing and inking supplies. When I was in my early teens I unearthed their old boxes of oil paints, pried the caps off and did my first painting (which I still have), a jar of marbles on a red velvet background. When I went to RISD in the late 70s it didn't seem nearly as cool as the little black and white photos and yearbooks from the 50s had suggested. And it was no longer affordable for the average joe, so I left before I got too badly into debt. After all, I had learned how to be financially responsible from my dad.

Here's what else I learned:
Be polite. Don't complain. Be patient. Work hard. Don't gossip. Keep your dignity.
I learned how to use tools. And when you need to build something, how to sit down with paper and pencil and sketch it out. How to innovate and be resourceful. And how to just generally figure things out.

I can't say all those lessons have stuck, but I'm a lot like him in many ways. There is only one way in which I resemble him that I wish I didn't. He was a cautious man who never put himself first. But who could blame him? His father had left his family of 3 boys to struggle when he was a teen, now he was responsible for feeding and sheltering 8 dependents. There wasn't a lot of room to take risks in order to realize his own dreams.

I have no such responsibilities but am just as cautious. My father never expresses regret, but I'm afraid I will, if I continue to play it safe.


  1. Sweet post about your dad.
    He'll always be with you.

  2. Although not identical, your father sounds a lot like mine. My older brothers tell me he was a frustrated artist and I know he had traveled to Chicago to learn to be an architect but they wouldn't admit him because he didn't have a high school diploma. Didn't have one because his mother died when he was 16 and his father deserted him and his 3 sisters. So he hit the road to find work. He had 5 kids of his own and he taught us all those same things you learned from your dad.

    I've long thought I was more like my dad than my mom, but reading this post - you've given me something else to think about. I never thought of dad as cautious but I guess he was. And I am too. Thanks for sharing.

  3. A wise and beautiful post. Just what I needed to read right now. My brothers and I got our ability to draw from our father but he never did more than make funny birthday cards. I believe that doing what we're good at makes everything better.


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