Both my parents are artists. Although they met in the theater world and dabbled in numerous other media throughout their 40-plus years of marriage, they are visual artists by profession and singers by passion.
I now say this with much pride. But when I was 10 or 11, I thought it might be cooler if – like my classmates – my dad had some 9-to-5 job or if my mom brought me home a little souvenir from a work conference. Children are cruel like that. They don’t always understand where their parents do what they do.
In college, I joined the university theater troupe. My parents were very displeased. They feared that, like many people they knew, I would give up my studies for a life waiting in the wings for my turn in the spotlight. I had to sneak to rehearsals and once even crossed out my name on a program when they went to see a play so they wouldn’t know that I had been involved in the production the past few months.
They told me nearly every day that, because they had known the hard life of an artist, they did not wish the same for me. I listened and, and being the good girl that I was, took the courses that would up my chances of getting a stable job.
But I couldn’t deny that a love for the arts was in my veins. It wasn’t just my parents who had met in the theatre; my grandparents did too. In fact, my family was full of actors, writers, musicians, singers, dancers, filmmakers, and photographers.
Then, of course, I did something that was even crazier in their eyes: I married a boy from the same theater troupe. My father had to resign himself to the fact that his daughter would not have an easy life.
But my husband was more practical than most artists. And so, he did the unthinkable: He took the 9-to-5 job. Except that the hours were more like 9-to-9, and the job ended up taking us to many countries.
Our parents could not see the wonderful cultural opportunities we were exposed to without also noticing that we were, for the first time in our lives, doing housework that would usually be left to hired help in our country. It took many years for both sides of the family to accept that this was just how things were done in different parts of the world.
What little savings we had over the years went not into signature clothes or designer bags, but theater tickets, show DVDs, and soundtracks. Both our boys were raised on a diet of these things we loved and in turn learned to love them as well. There were classes, coaches, and numerous costumes to make or buy. There were dress rehearsals, call times, and hunting for the right size tap shoes when the main pair suddenly broke.
My older son, who is turning 16, now has to figure out what he wants to do in life. It didn’t surprise my husband and I one bit when he said he wanted to go to a performing arts school. Just as I’d once wished for my father to have a corporate job, he sometimes wonders what life would be like if his father had pursued his dream of being an artist.
Children are cruel like that. They don’t always understand where their parents do what they do. But in this day and age, it is acceptable for them to be vocal about their opinions.
Now, I’m in the same situation my parents were in. How do you encourage your child to follow his dreams? More importantly, how do you support him when you’re not on the same page?
Despite my initial desire to give my lengthy opinion on why my son should go for a “proper” degree rather than be a starving artist, I knew the answer he was hoping for.
I’ve already given it to him: “Go for it. And give it all you’ve got.” In the same breath, I also whispered to my husband: “I guess we’ll have to support him a little longer than we thought.”
My son’s future may be uncertain, but one thing is certain: I will be right there in the audience, cheering him on as he wears his performer’s heart on his costumed sleeve.
Dana is the beijingkids Shunyi Correspondent. Originally from the Philippines, she moved to Beijing in 2011 (via Europe) with her husband, two sons and Rusty the dog. She enjoys writing, photography, theater, visual arts, and trying new food. In her free time, she can be found exploring the city and driving along the mountain roads of Huairou, Miyun and Pinggu.
Photo by Dana Cosio-Mercado