“Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it. ”  –Proverbs 22:6

My brother used to draw.

He wasn’t a big comic book guy, that was me, but he enjoyed art, pictures of all kinds, especially drawing. As a teenager, I could squirrel myself away in my room for hours scribbling in my teenage angst-ridden imitation of Poe. My brother would draw. Not only would he draw, but he decorated his room with this eclectic collection of picture clippings and random pieces of art. It was wonderfully imaginative: you’d walk into his room and be met my this collage of images.

My mother hated it.

Now, it wasn’t the fact that some of the art that he cropped and put on his walls came straight out of my father’s extensive Playboy collection (my father was less likely to miss a whole page from a magazine as opposed to my brother cutting out the particular drawing or cartoon that intrigued him), it was the fact that my mother didn’t get art. To her, art was not practical. It was a complete waste of time, effort, energy, and resources. To say we grew up poor might be an insult to poor people. Story has it that, when we lived in England, BBC did a special on poverty in England … from outside our home. That was when my mother decided we had to move. We came to America and, by the time of my teenage years, had become a middle class family. Something, to my mother’s way of thinking, we couldn’t have done if she’d indulged a muse.

She was right.

Writing, despite our most fervent daydreams, it is not exactly the fast track to riches. We write, we indulge our muse, because we have to. In order to still the voices in our head. Because something in the core of our being crawls up and takes hold of us to move pen to paper. I sympathize with any parent who sees their child toiling away at any “worthless” endeavor, because they want the best for their children. The French call it “l’art pour l’art,” art for the sake of art, and it isn’t practical.

So down came the wall of images and we were encouraged to pursue real careers. Me something in science, preferably something in medicine, and my brother anything else he was good at. He eventually joined the Marines. Art may not have had any practical value, but the thing that always stuck with me was how my brother was never the same. It was like, once his creative side had been squashed, the light had been driven from his eye. I, too, fired my muse, but only for five miserable years.

Raise a child in the way he is bent. I am bent to write. I don’t know how my children are bent, but it’s my job to be on the look out and encourage, even support, their natures. I won’t tell you that I don’t stay awake at nights fearing that my oldest will one day say to me “Dad, I want to be a dancer.” Pragmatically, no matter how much that may make him happy, it’s not exactly the best way to support himself or a family (and he’s not living with us once we sing “Happy Birthday” for the eighteenth time). However, I also know the cost of discouraging his creative side.

This all came back to me because I went to visit my mother the other day. Over a civil cup of tea, she managed to squeeze in a bit of commentary asking when I would quit wasting my time with this writing thing. After all, I wasn’t making any real money doing it. She never saw herself as being particularly discouraging; this was just her typical brand of “negative encouragement” as she tried to steer me back on a course she judged to be more realistic. I only smiled at her.

And remembered how happy drawing made my brother.