Miles To Go (milestogo13) wrote,
Miles To Go

In Agreement with Will Smith

What the hell is it with some families? Or, from my experience, most families. At least families so unlucky as to have ambitious, creative children with big dreams and a ton of potential.

"Unlucky, Richard?"

Yeah, apparently! Because it's been my own experience, and the experience of countless kindred spirits that I have run across in my travels, that the child who wants to work at Wal-Mart and let a time clock slowly siphon away their soul is infinitely more praised than the child who boldly, openly, and proudly proclaims that they want to be a writer, or a painter, or a musician, or any of the other kinds of creative and expressive endeavors that our race collectively once gave a damn about.

And I don't want to hear a single one of you, not one of you, NOT ONE, tell me it's because the chances of succeeding are so small and parents are just concerned about their children's future prospects and blah de fucking blah. You know why I don't want to hear it? One word.


The chances of your kid becoming a professional athlete and making millions upon millions of dollars for him to conveniently spend on his defense team when he shoots/murders/rapes/mauls/mutilates/desecrates a corpse/jaywalks are on par if not worse than my chances of getting a book deal, music contract, or major gallery showing that breaks me into the big time. On par or worse. And yet the absolute idolatry that hangs like a urine-gold nimbus around prospective athletes, especially down here in SEC country, is indisputable. The chances are no better, the consequences of failure are far more severe, and the toll it takes on the child can be unspeakable. But it's perfectly alright. Why? I think it's all about what a family can relate to.

So often the creative types I have known sprang from parents that made you convinced that whatever creativity their offspring had manifested, it was either a recessive gene or a spontaneous mutation. When Creative Bob Jr. is locked in his room learning how to shred on a guitar because it makes his brain snap out of its introspective feedback loop of ever-deepening angst for five minutes, and those are the most glorious five minutes of his day, Teamster Bob Sr. is scowling outside the door wondering why his lazy asshole son won't get a job at the factory and play football like a normal boy. There is no commonality, and so often we as adults want to believe that our own experiences make us the be all and end all on life choice advice. Because, you know, none of us never made a fucking mistake.

Even some of the kids I've known who HAD creative, artsy parent types have been steered away from that very same life path, which I think may even be worse, because hypocrisy trumps ignorance in my mind. Almost without fail, these are parents who never got as far as they wanted, who feel that their own choices led them to failure and misery until they were eventually forced to take that soul-crushing job, become part of the machine, and never even once entertained the notion that they could try to do both. Or they did, and they discovered they just weren't strong enough, just weren't determined enough. They indulge themselves in the classic fallacy of human arrogance that if they couldn't do it, no one could. Least of all their own child. I find their lack of faith...disturbing.

If a child tells his family he wants to be a professional football player when he is five, more often than not he's in pads the next day with an alpha male coach and an alpha male father screaming alpha male things at them in the only kind of support that alpha males understand, which looks a lot like child abuse, but you know, whatever. Because sports is American, sports is manly, sports is a cash cow, there's some obsolete alpha male warrior mentality attached to it that lends a false sense of honor to the pursuit. We are now a society of the NFL Network and NBA Season Pass. The Renaissance, this isn't.

I told my family I wanted to be a writer when I was five. My dad was cool with it and got me a typewriter. The rest of my family launched into a 24-years-and-counting campaign of convincing me I was eventually going to starve to death and die alone in a gutter if I kept up that crazy talk. Fuck, why not, it worked for Poe, right?

I also don't want to hear anyone tell me that I'm just bitter about the treatments jocks got and am belatedly venting about their "opportunities" or whatnot. I was a student athlete once upon a time, okay? I got to look behind that curtain. I got offered the Kool-aid. And I was just as disgusted then, too. But this isn't an entry to rip on athletes. It's a way out for a lot kids that don't have any other societally available or acceptable avenue, all those arguments, fine, whatever. This is about the families. This is about the people who perpetuate this notion that dreams are for idiots and you should conform, who praise the ones that do, and badger or belittle the ones that don't. This is about people who honestly and truly believe that you should just know your role and stay there, because if you don't try you can never fail.

What did treatment like this cause me to do? It caused me to wall off my family from a significant portion of my life. I could fill a book with stuff about me that my family doesn't know. Oh wait, I DID! I stopped telling them about so much of what I was involved with that when my bio ran in a playbill recently, my mom was confused about when some of this crap actually happened. Because I never told them. Why? I didn't feel like listening to it. I could have called home and said I just landed a lead role on Broadway, and the response both expected and dutifully delivered would be a, "That's nice dear. You're not going to quit your job at Scholastic though, are you?"

My joy has never been theirs. It's always been their concern. The comedy, the writing, the acting, all things I would only ever get the most perfunctory of "yay..." for before the lectures began. And the things that always monumentally depressed me have been the things that have made them the happiest. The corporate life and being "proudly" shackled to my desk job. I wouldn't be using this blog as a therapist on the subject if I hadn't seen it happen to so many other people. If I weren't actually watching it happen to a couple people right now. All accomplishments met with criticism and all triumph met with concern about what new avenues to failure they have opened. As though each step they took down the path to the one thing they have always wanted more than anything else were breaking another biblical seal. "I'm glad you got that book deal and that advance, but you know you're just going to get eaten by insect-faced monkeys with lion bodies now, right?"

All I'm saying is, if you plan on having a kid, or you have a kid who is still in those young, formative, impressionable years? Let them be themselves. Let them dream. Please. There is no harm in letting them aim high, unless they're actually holding a gun, in which case you may have other problems. If your child comes up to you at five and says he wants to be a dinosaur cowboy when he grows up, help him learn about dinosaurs and pick out which one he thinks he'd like to ride the most. If your daughter comes up to you and says she wants to be a musician, encourage that. Countless studies have shown a tremendous link between musical education and improved mental development. Use the interwebs, help her learn the best way to go about pursuing her career, make her aware of the realities of the situation, do what you can to protect her, but never tell her the dream is stupid. Life will be harsh enough, and the road long enough, without you piling on. You can be concerned without being condescending. You can care without crushing their hopes.

And if your kid comes up to you at five and says he wants to be a writer, buying him a typewriter isn't a bad way to go.
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