The Day My Father Began to Understand the Colors of My World


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The world is full of color. It has to be. Where else would we find depth and meaning and purpose? Color comes together to make shape. The vibrancy of blues, reds and yellows all wash over us as we experience life. Everything ruptures with color, even music with its bright highs and dark lows or language spoken with meaning and clarity. Existence is an art and the freedom to express your art a privilege we all hold dear. I discovered the power of expression when I was young. Crayons and scissors filled my mind. I could manipulate a world of my own on paper, shaping its people. I was king. I knew my subjects. They were spread in 2-demensions before me as they struggled to all escape my mind at once. Although my scribbles never quite matched the emotion I felt deep inside me, they were enough. The forms and figures were mine. I created them. I began to know myself as I continued to grow and develop, but I could never reach the ultimate plateau I felt so strongly that I needed. I needed a boost to reach some sort of self-assurance in my ability and my love.

I tried to achieve acceptance once. Although I was young, I remember it well. I had spent all day in school creating another expansive world. As my teacher rattled off times tables and division, I furiously created an eight-year-old masterpiece through a storm of colored pencils and erasers. As I perfected each tree in my landscape, I began to feel powerful. I knew what it was to create and to be good; all I needed was for someone to show confidence in my work. My mother picked me up, but I didn't take this opportunity to show her. My picture was special. It deserved the ultimate unveiling. I was going to show it to my father. Dad came home unhappy, as usual, and ready for dinner. I knew better than to involve him yet. As I ate my unnoticed meal, I could barely hold my excitement. After dinner, I ran to my room and unfolded my work along its careful creases. I walked slowly to his chair, carefully and excitedly balancing my masterpiece in my hands.

"Look, Dad, look at what I did. I did it today in school all by myself."

He turned slowly in his chair, upset because his connection with CNN had been broken.

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"Yes, son, what is it?"

So far, so good, he didn't seem too angry.

"Look at this. I made it for you."

I un-cradled it from my arms and watched his face with anticipation. I knew that as his face turned a deeper and deeper red that my night was slowly changing.

"Dad, it's on the other side.... See, look at my drawing."

The silence hung over my head, as I drew deeper and deeper inside myself scared of what he was thinking.

"Dad?"

"How did you miss these problems? I thought you told me you studied son. An 86? That's totally unacceptable. I think you need to go study some more."

"But, Dad?"

"Now!"

I turned, slowly crumpling the drawing I had unwittingly made on the back of a math test. I couldn't understand how something so unimportant could take the place of something that meant so much to me, something I needed. As I walked to my room, I played the moment over and over in my head. I saw my dad lifting me up, celebrating my accomplishments. I saw my picture on the wall of a famous museum with people all around and my dad standing in front saying, "my son did that." I even saw him just putting it on the refrigerator with one of the old magnets next to my A papers and the good reports from my teachers. I knew, though, that none of that had happened, and I knew it never would. I lay in my bed that night and thought and thought about how I could please my father, but I fell asleep before I could find an answer. I'm sure my dreams were filled not with tests about numbers or correct punctuation but rather with a dark blue sky and rolling green hills as they are all of my nights.

My father is dignified and proper. He eats with his elbows off the table. He watches Jeopardy for personal satisfaction at being the (self-proclaimed) trivia god. My father taught me how to read. He taught me how to think. For these gifts I am grateful. I can't deny that he set my foundation for success. However, I spent my early childhood slowly falling into an increasing emotional void. He was never there for me to teach me how to feel or how to love. I knew how to think, but I couldn't use my mind to find my own right or wrong. After all, dad's way was the right way. He was right about everything. He knew about everything. This was preached to me through his unmoving feet and unchanging mind. As I became less and less my own person and more and more my father's, I found it more difficult to express myself. He could do nothing but criticize me. When he wanted me to be more athletic he would just say, "Hey son looks like your getting a little heavier. You know, it's hard to have a girlfriend if you're fat." or "When I was a kid, we all played sports. I always had friends in my neighborhood because I was great at football."

To a young boy, ten or eleven years old, friends are important, and I already had trouble letting people see the real me. My father continued to make it hard. Sometimes I would appeal to his logic and try to get my way to be like him. I once told him that some artists get lots of money and have big houses. He said, "Those are good artists son. You would starve."

Then I realized that my dad's lack of understanding of art was a blessing. I had found something he didn't know a well of experience of which he had no knowledge. Other than professing my drawing a waste of time, Dad had nothing else to say about how I loved to spend my time. I found my freedom, an area of my own. It was one free of my father's influence. I branched out, trying to become as creative as I could. Dad wouldn't pay for piano lessons because they were a waste of money, so I sat in our living room with my grandmother's dusty, old piano and my moms beginning books, slowly learning keys and chords. As I became more accustomed to the beautiful white keys, I would sit in the dark playing simple melodies. I created pictures in my mind of flowing sound washing over me, protecting me. As I played, the only other sound I would hear was that of the door being slammed loudly and the television volume increasing. The deterrents didn't matter. I was too entranced to care. Of course, as I was discovering music, Dad began to appreciate my art more. "At least it doesn't make noise," he would say, trying not to laugh. His little jokes never seemed to lose their humor.

It was then that I began to discover just how extensive the world of music was, and I found many new summits to conquer. My Grandparents discovered I loved to play, and they told me they would fund my efforts if I joined the school band. When I saw it lying there, I knew I had to hear it. Rapidly twisting snake-like upon itself into a dazzling explosion of thin brass, it called to me. I was staring at it when my band teacher put a hand on my shoulder.

"It's a French horn," he said

All I could answer him with was "yes." I was mesmerized.

We drove home in silence. I held its massive case in my arms. Finally, Dad looked at me.

"You don't have to keep doing this."

I just looked at him.

"I can't believe you would use your grandparents in your little plans. I know how much you like to waste time but now your wasting money and a lot of it."

I had to fight hard to hold back the tears pressing behind my eyes.

I said, "You'll never understand," and waited as new pictures filled my head, greeting me with their familiar calm.

I continued art, sometimes painting and always drawing on everything. I moved through more and more instruments. I found trumpets, guitars, and many other ways to express myself. Dad continued to be closed-minded, criticizing me and blaming creativity for bad grades. I never understood that, but I knew he wasn't reasonable. I began to doubt that Dad and I would ever be able to talk until, one day, he surprised me.

"Son, you like art right?"

"Ummm, I guess."

"Well let's see how much you know. Who's your favorite artist?"

"I really like VanGogh."

"Oh yeah, he was good. Ever hear of the Sistine chapel?"

"Yes..."

"I bet you don't know who painted it."

"Michaelangelo"

"Oh...good, bet you don't know how long it took."

"How long?"

"Ha, I knew you wouldn't know. How are you supposed to be so good at something when you don't even know anything about it?"

I realized then that his feigned interest was yet another trap to prove some kind of intellectual superiority. He continued almost every night asking worthless questions to show how much he knew. He researched something he hated so much that he almost reached expert status. I began avoiding him as much as I could fearing his demeaning quizzes. Dad and I had less and less to talk about. Everything focused on him furiously trying to beat me. He thought he finally had an upperhand, but I knew the colors were still mine. I didn't know the facts, but I could create it and it was inside me.

The strange thing was the time and place when it seemed to happen. Dad was on yet another business trip recently. He flew to the country's capital to be with other men of his own kind. I'm not sure why he decided to go to the Smithsonian or why he specifically tried to get tickets, but dad had an earth shattering experience. As he came to the exhibit I can only speculate about how he felt. There, one after the other, paintings with broad strokes and vivid color spoke to him in a symphony of light. As my father looked at the spectacular composition and the emotion captured forever it seems like he was almost broken. I didn't know until he came back.

"Son."

"Yes Dad."

"Is VanGogh still your favorite artist?"

"Yeah, one of them."

"I think I know why."

He went on to explain in vivid detail his experience, and although I was jealous he saw VanGogh it was an amazing change in my father. He progressed slowly and has begun to feel color. We've looked at my drawings, he pours over the details and comments with words that I didn't know he could use like mood, and, rhythm. He can actually stand to listen to my music as it pours from my hands. Never before had I had any support in what I did but he is slowly realizing the importance of what I love. I don't think that he was converted entirely in one visit to a museum. He has been slowly changing over time, and he still is by no means perfect, but everything is getting better. I think that seeing the work of someone who had devoted his life to the things I love overwhelmed him. He saw that artists have vision and they can create beauty. As he realized the magnificence of style and thought he too is being filled with beauty. Before he began to understand I could see him only in monotone grays and blacks. He blended in with the world's boring background, a smudge, or a careless mark. He was 2-dimensional without purpose or reason. Then he began to understand. I've seen him slowly filling with realization as color is brought into his life. The sky is still blue, but so is sadness and suffering. The sun is still yellow, but so is excitement and joy. His reds are anger and speed. His greens are relaxation. My father has finally begun to see the world as I do, and his understanding has brought us together. The world is filled with color. It has to be. It has to be.


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