My girlfriend messaged me last night that her 16-year-old son, Sam, had just come home from his final basketball game. Laura says Sam is relieved but she and her husband Barry are sad. Sam was over 6’ tall when he was 13 years old and everyone pushed him into basketball. Since Sam is a “pleaser” he did it. I don’t think he even liked it then but he did it because that’s what was expected of him.
Fast forward to today: Sam is 16 years old and doesn’t want to play basketball any more. It isn’t that he isn’t good at it. He’s on his High School Varsity Team but he doesn’t it like it that much. Sam’s passion is music. He has played bass guitar as long as he has played basketball and the stage captured his heart more than the court.
Laura says her concern is that Sam needs to be physically active for his health and she fears if he doesn’t play basketball he won’t get any exercise. Barry is disappointed because he was a jock and just figured his only son would be a jock too. Not that Barry isn’t proud of Sam’s musical accomplishments. Barry is very supportive of Sam’s band and is always in the crowd cheering him on at his gigs. But he has to reconcile his vision for Sam with Sam’s own vision of himself.
I know how Barry and Laura feel. My son was never really an athlete and neither was I. I cared about academics. I loved school as a kid and I still love learning as an adult. I sign up for all kinds of online courses, just for the joy that learning brings to me. When I had a child, I expected he would go to the best schools, the best university and get the best corporate job. I spent close to $100,000 on his private education from pre-k to eleventh grade. Then, in his Junior year of high school, he informed me that he wanted to transfer to a public charter school for his senior year. He wanted to attend an arts-focused high school for his senior year because he had decided he was going to be a professional musician and he had his eye on going to Musicians Institute of Contemporary Music in Los Angeles after high school. He said he needed to work on his music theory in order to gain acceptance to his college of choice.
I was devastated. I felt like I had failed as a parent. Music is an extra-curricular activity, not a career. He was a strong academic student, earning “A” and “B” grades at one of the most prestigious college-prep schools in our city. Why would he throw that all away? He’d been at this school since seventh grade and he was going to graduate with a diploma from a charter high school instead of this illustrious academy? He was going to go to what I thought of as a trade-school college instead of an intellectual university? I was angst-ridden. Should I force him to stay or allow him to go? As the adult, did I really know what was better for him than he knew? Did I know my son as well as I thought I did?
I told him that no one changes high schools in their senior year by choice. I said that he and his friends – the friends he had had since junior high – would drift apart. Not on purpose. Just because that’s how life works. I suggested that he could study music theory outside of school and still graduate from his high school. I reminded him that the hard work was behind him. The Junior year was the hard year and his Senior year would be less academically challenging and he would graduate with his buddies.
None of this resonated with him.
It was time to dig deep within myself. Was I saying and thinking these things because of what I wanted? Was I focusing on the wrong person? He had been playing music since first grade when he asked for piano lessons. He had practiced playing an instrument every day of his life without me ever having to remind him to do so. Music was his life. Shouldn’t he have a chance to at least see if he could become a Rock Star? Did I really want him to look back on his life and say “What if … ?”
I wasn’t convinced I was making the right choice but I agreed to let him transfer.
Turns out he didn’t lose his friends. Turns out he did get accepted to Musicians Institute. Turns out he was a pretty darn good musician – good enough to be nominated for an L.A. Music Award for Rock Single of the Year. He didn’t win, but the nod was validation enough.
He never hit the rock star status but he did have eight years of playing music for a living, seeing the world because of his music and coming to the conclusion on his own that the sacrifices necessary to chase the dream are best left to the young.
At 27 years old, he is now in college—and on the Dean’s List, says the proud mom. He’s paying for it from the residuals he continues to earn from his music. He still loves music and still plays in a band. He still loves the stage and the stage loves him. But playing locally is enough to satisfy his appetite now. He has thanked me for supporting him in chasing his dream and he now has his eye on the next phase of his life.
Sam is telling Laura he wants to go to an Arts High School. In fact, he has an audition on Monday to see if he will get in. I’m confident he will. The question is, will Laura and Barry support his request. Sam’s entire life turns on their decision.
Photo credit: the author