Encouraging Creativity

Life is marked by milestones—rites of passage, life-changing events, moments of decision which punctuate the seasons of our lives. Our family just had one of these milestones recently, as our oldest son moved out of the house to begin a new chapter in his life—attending film school in southern California. He is a very gifted and aspiring filmmaker (in one Dad’s humble opinion), and I have high hopes for him as he throws himself into this adventure. Check out some of his films here.

I had a lot of time to reflect on this as I drove the U-Haul down to Ventura. My sons and daughters have all displayed flashes of artistic giftedness, something that my wife and I were purposeful never to push but always encourage. With my sons, encouragement included the telling of many interactive bedtime stories, teaching them how to draw super heroes, sitting with them for hours with their Legos or Kinex sets, purchasing guitars and drums and getting them lessons when they were older and showed an interest, watching and discussing the plots and cinematography of different movies with them, and even taking them to gigs to see Dad. There were spontaneous jam sessions at home, home movie experiments in the garage, lots of afternoons doing crafts with mom, and showing them how to use computer programs like Logic and iMovie.

There were hundreds of small acts where the value of the arts—and their value as artists, made in the image of God—was quietly encouraged.

It was in the spring of 1978, my first year at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, that my parents came to visit me. It was Poly Royal, an annual event where the campus threw an open house for the public. I was in my first year of engineering school, and I was quite proud to show my parents around the campus and SLO town.

During our campus tour, I had casually mentioned to them that I would typically spend time in the music building to play the student pianos in one of the practice rooms. It was the closest piano to my dorm, which didn’t have a piano. Later in the day, we were passing the local music store, and my parents asked me if I wanted to go and take a look.

That’s when it happened. An act of extreme extravagance.

I was playing a couple of the electric pianos in the showroom, and my dad began asking about the price. The salesman was quick to point out that an electric piano couldn’t play without an amp, and I would also need a drum throne to sit on. Before I realized what was happening, my dad and mom had arranged to purchase a brand new Yamaha CP-30 electric piano for me, with a good-sized Polytone amp and seat. I was still in shock as I helped the salesman carry the piano to the car. The cost was over $1500, which was no small amount in those days. And we certainly weren’t rich people. Which made it all the more incredible to me.

I ended up gigging with that electric piano all through college and into my first successful band. It kept me company through some lonely days in San Luis Obispo and especially when I was stationed at Edwards Air Force Base, where I had only my music to keep me company. I played it on my first important gig in college, opening for jazz flutist, Tim Weisberg. I played it regularly at the local coffee house, most notably one night when I headlined along with a very young Weird Al Yankovic on accordion. (By the way, he was great; my band sucked.)

Thirty years later, I am still grateful to my parents for understanding the importance of music to me, especially in that critical time in my life. Though my head was in engineering, my heart was in music. And I think my parents understood that in some way. Their act of extreme extravagance was their way of acknowledging and encouraging this part of me. They believed in me, and for that I will forever be grateful.

So I think about my oldest son and the challenging and difficult road he has decided to take. We pray for him, encourage him, believe in him. And I hope that he knows that his mom and I believe in him too.

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