As a lifelong musician, music advocate, and music writer, I weighed the importance of avoiding the temptation to be an overbearing parent with the desire that my only child would follow suit and take up an instrument. A small piano, another keyboard, an assortment of guitars, and a willing mentor in the house provided a nurturing environment. When he finally came to me at the age of 9 or 10 and expressed an interest in trumpet or drums, we drove to a nearby music store. A few licks on the drums brought a smile to his face, and we were off and running.
The first 6 months he seemed enthusiastic. The ensuing 6 months required frequent reminders that practice was necessary, and the final 6 months were torture – for both of us. Lectures about the importance of commitment, the cost of drums and lessons, etc., etc., etc.
I came to the realization that perhaps his arts education journey would be different from mine. I told him that I would support whatever he wanted to pursue, and that we could take a music hiatus for the summer while he played baseball and also pursued his newfound joy – photography. At the end of the summer, we wanted a decision before continuing.
When the summer was over, he came to us and said that he had decided that photography was really what he enjoyed. We committed to him that we would match whatever amount of money he saved on his own to put toward a nice camera. And for the last couple of years, it’s clear that he has the photography (or shutter) bug.
Some parents are more demanding than others, and the recent buzz about “Tiger Moms” has rekindled the discussion about how strong a hand parents should rule with. Of course, there’s still no blueprint to parenthood. It’s still an art more than a science, in my estimation.
Lesson: One of my concerns with standardized testing and the pressure that kids face at such an early age is that childhood should be a time of exploration, not of narrowing their focus. Expose your kids to a world of possibilities and they will choose to narrow their path when it’s appropriate – and they’ll have the benefit of making an informed decision.
There are obviously many challenges still ahead for these parents of one. But if my pride in my 13 year-old son’s work is any indication of the job I’ve done as a parent, then I guess things will turn out okay. Here’s a sample of work from Michael Cortello, aspiring New Orleans Photographer: