Austin Kleon wrote a great article about fathers as artists, referencing a recent John Banville interview where Mr. Banville stated, “I have not been a good father. I don’t think any writer is.”
Artists have long been portrayed (and indeed some like to portray themselves) as tortured souls who mistreat themselves and those around them because that’s what is needed to produce great work. Conflict after all is one of the pillars of storytelling and is a huge part of what engages an audience to read, watch or involve themselves with a creative work.
There was a good deal of backlash from Mr. Banville’s comment, including Julian Gough’s response when he wrote, “When a famous writer says ‘all writers are bad parents,’ he is giving young writers permission to act like assholes.” I agree, and it’s not the message I want to share as an artist and a dad.
Being a parent is a huge responsibility, and not one we really understand until we’re in the midst of midnight diaper changes, panicked visits to hospitals, soothing hugs over friendships lost and awkward conversations about sex and the internet. Even then, we’re all pretty much making it up as we go along hoping that we’re doing more good than damage. What I’m learning is that being present is a huge part of parenting. Being available for your child at whatever age, to gently press a band-aid onto a cut or to simply listen to a teenagers rant of the moment, is crucial to building a relationship of trust and support.
This might sound simple but it’s super hard. We live in a world where career ambition and success supersedes parental duties. Overcoming the odds to become a business leader that makes a fortune for a company is a more compelling story than the parent who lays awake all night with a sick child, because that’s what parents are supposed to do. It’s just expected. Try glorifying making the best packed lunch of all time, or selling a book about knowing when is just the right time for a hug.
The real work of parenting is dirty, heart-breaking and thankless (it’s also the most rewarding thing in the world but I’m making a point here…). It’s easy to push aside parenting in favour of work, or producing one’s art because more often than not that’s the role we identify most with. It’s what defines us in the world. How many of us working in a job say that we’re a mom or a dad ahead of our profession when asked the question “What do you do?” Putting family second in pursuit of career goals, money or for whatever reason, is seen as normal. When a famous person (writer, politician, actor) states they couldn’t have achieved their career success without putting it ahead of family it perpetuates a cycle of bad behaviour.
I’d be lying to you if I didn’t admit that I struggle to find a balance between being a dad and being a professional. Initially, the sketches that would become The Art of Dad were created to provide me an outlet for the joys and pains of being a parent. Over time I’ve come to realize that they are an expression of the realities of being a dad, a husband, a son, a brother, an in-law, a friend and a working professional. My art is a reflection of my life, my life a constant source of storytelling for my art. Neither can exist without the other, both benefit from each other.
We are more than our defined roles and our business cards. Our jobs don’t excuse us from the responsibility of being a parent, they are a part of what makes us the moms and dads that we are. We owe it to our kids and to ourselves to be the best we can in both roles without ever feeling like we have to exclude one over the other.