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Declare Your Dream

My Dad in his attic studio (aka his happy place).

My father was an artist.

He devoted his life to creating fine art. An art school graduate, Dad spent his life as an ardent student of historic and contemporary masters of painting.

Detailed sketches and oil paintings showcased his talents best. Racing schooners and the coastline of New England were his favorite subjects, specifically Cape Ann, Massachusetts, where he was born, raised and died.

By day Dad’s 9 to 5 “professional” job was as a technical illustrator for a prestigious Boston institution, a position he kept for most of his working life.

On weekends and evenings, in a hideaway attic studio veiled in cigarette smoke, he painted.  This was Dad’s tiny corner of paradise in an otherwise chaotic house full of children. Surrounded by stacks of unfinished works, classical music crackled on the radio while heady odors of oil paints and turpentine hung in the air.

Sometimes he began with a rough sketch of a schooner. Or rolling waves.

The angled walls were lined with grainy Polaroids. He captured the essence of his muse while perched on the granite boulders jetting against an angry Atlantic Ocean.

Often his paintings included a tiny silhouette of man fishing on the rocks or at the helm of a boat — not unlike Alfred Hitchcock, Dad said, of the legendary movie director’s cameo appearances in his own films.

Super-critical of his own work, Dad was personally responsible for sabotaging a potential career as the full-time artist of his dreams. Occasionally a painting of his sold — “but only because my wife pimped out my work.” (His words.)

His artistic abilities emerged early in life. As a young boy his talent earned him many awards and recognition which sparked his journey to become a famous artist. It continued into high school when his dream to draw for Walt Disney in California took flight. He had the desire and certainly possessed the ability. But it was not to be.

Growing up, I saw my father as a man without the confidence, drive and passion to go the distance and make his dream real. Perhaps had he declared himself an artist, which he never did, his mindset might have shifted. It’s possible a simple tweak in perspective would have led to other choices more in line with his dream.

However, as I got older (and wiser) I understood the obstacles he placed in his way; legitimate reasons and excuses for not sowing the seeds to allow his dream the chance to grow. The list is lengthy and noble. For an honorable man with responsibilities as a husband, father, son and brother, Dad put himself last. Always.

My Dad once told me that it takes a certain selfishness to become the person you know you are suppose to be.

Instead of painting becoming his profession, it became his hobby for life. Not a bad thing. The process to put paint to canvas and create something out of nothing brought him personal pleasure.

Still, well into his 80s, he spoke about the elusive Disney dream. In his eyes always, the glint of a missed opportunity. But no discernible regret or blame.

I’d often wondered what his story ending might have been if he hadn’t been so afraid to take the chance, make the move, and accept the offer to taste his dream.

Carl Jung once said: “Nothing has a stronger influence on a child than the unlived life of a parent.”

I often blame and praise my father equally for my stumbling as a writer. As a teenager, he burned my journals after reading of teenage sex experiences, the best way to roll a joint and declaring Mick Jagger as my God. It was the 70s, and well, it was the 70s. His criticism, that I highly respected, stopped me from going forward with my dream for many years.

And although my father didn’t fulfill his dream to draw for Disney, I thank him for showing a lifelong passion for his craft that clearly brought him a lifetime of great joy.

In the end it doesn’t matter whether you win some prize, award or recognition — a tangible something that you think will prove your success to the world. When you fit your dream into your ordinary day you get to enjoy the journey for a lifetime.


Image: Personal photo (my Dad in his happy place)




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  • Thank you for sharing your wonderful story about your Dad. You are a gifted writer! We remember your Dad inspiring my husband to attend his class reunion at GHS, even though my husband went to Was and did not graduate. Also many happy evenings at the American Legion Social events. He was always so positive and happy. Social interaction with him and Josie left us feeling good. Sending love and blessings to you. Virginia (Frontiero) McKinnon

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