Father’s Day and Drawing

The Gunslinger - probably my favorite sketch so far.

The Gunslinger - probably my favorite sketch so far.

Recently I began drawing again. I'm not sure what inspired this; one day I simply decided to go to the local used bookstore and burn some of my spending cash on a sketchbook and some "How To Draw" books. They sat on my bookshelf collecting dust for a few weeks, and then eventually I cracked them open and stayed up late one night sketching a dwarf face from the book.

When my daughters woke up the next day I left the grizzled bearded man's face on the kitchen table. They were amazed, astonished and impressed.

God bless kids with bad taste in art.

I guess it's a natural response for kids at their age to think most things their dad does is pretty awesome. My daughters are ten, eight and seven respectively. Even though I occasionally embarrass my oldest, I don't think she's full on into the I-don't-want-to-be-seen-with-my-smelly-old-father phase of life. She's on the brink sure, but I haven't quite managed to push her off.

Yet.

As the days progressed, I sketched more and the girls began looking through the books I had bought requesting specific pictures to draw for them. I would stay up late at night and sketch in bed, leaving the drawings on the table for them to find. Each morning they would wake up and do me the favor of exclaiming that I was the best "drawer" on earth. (By the way, that's pronounced DRAW-ER, as in the child's incorrect description of a person who draws, not DRAWER like the wooden box in your dresser that holds your underwear.)

One of my earlier drawings. I've always liked gargoyles.

One of my earlier drawings. I've always liked gargoyles.

Eventually my daughters would pick things for me to draw, the two oldest would sneak into my office, grab the sketch book I bought for them and they would draw the same thing. Then we'd sit and talk, praise one another's work and for the briefest of moments share some common ground that didn't involve cartoons, princesses or cartoon princesses. As a father it's become a pleasant bonding experience. As a man it's been a relief to find something to share with my daughters that doesn't make me feel I need to kill some woodland creature to balance out the high levels girliness I am surrounded by.

Though Father's day is now weeks past, it got me thinking about drawing, and my odd history with it. After posting pics of my sketches on Facebook, polite folks in the circle of my life have come up to me and told me how much they enjoy the drawings, how good they are (yes I appreciate their lies) and ask how long I have been drawing.

That's a hard question to answer.

I remember loving to draw as a child and young man. Through middle school I can recall times in art class where I would draw and color pictures. One such picture of a shelf with oddball items like plastic fruit and a wine carafe hung in a frame in my mother's house for years until she realized how bad it looked and took it down.

God bless moms with bad taste in art as well.

The early dwarf face. It's scary, mostly cause of how bad it is.

The early dwarf face. It's scary, mostly cause of how bad it is.

I used to have a sketch book that I bought from my favorite art supply store in a local mall. I still remember walking into that store and looking at all the paint supplies and brushes, boards of canvas, colored pencils and oil crayons along with sketchbooks of every size and shape. I don't remember how old I was when I drew and painted a watercolor picture of a deer resting in the grass as a gift for my mom for either a Christmas or birthday. Clearly, I was cheap back then too.

One time I went to the Cincinnati Children's Museum and I believe it was around the time of the original "Jurassic Park" movie release. I loved the book and the movie, and for a while dinosaurs were all the rage. They had a special exhibit on dinosaurs and I bought a pack of dinosaur cards that looked like a poker deck. But instead of Jacks, Queens and Kings, each card had a picture of a random dino on one side and a small list of facts on the other. Obviously with the popularity of the Jurassic Park films, my favorite was the Velociraptor and I sat in the floor of my bedroom for hours sketching the picture over and over in my sketchbook until I had it just right.

At some point, I stopped drawing. Throughout most of high school and all of my adult life, I never drew anything again until just a few months ago. As best as I can figure, for between 15-20 years I didn't use a pencil for anything except standardized tests, playing pencil break, and to relieve the occasional itchy inner ear.

A "Last Night On Earth" inspired Zombie Head.

A "Last Night On Earth" inspired Zombie Head.

While talking with my sister-in-law last week, she asked me why I stopped drawing for such an extended period of time. The moment the question left her lips, my conscious mind had no answer but I had one of those inexplicable moments of epiphany that comes from either the subconscious mind sending an instant message upwards, or a bizarre reaction to something I ate. At that moment a picture flashed into my mind's eye, and I had the answer.

It was a painting actually. A framed painting of a carousel horse. I can still see it clearly. The heavy light-colored wood framing a finely detailed horse complete with a red and white swirled pole running through its abdomen, the horse painted in vibrant, bright colors on a brilliant sky blue background. In one corner in black paint were the artist's initials - J.S.

Jim Sanders - my father.

It's bizarre really, looking back. In that flash of insight it occurred to me that up until that point in my life, I had thought that drawing was sort of "my thing". Shortly after he gave it to me (as a gift no doubt, which reveals where I got my cheap artsy gift genes), I stopped drawing. Now looking back I am struck by the sheer coincidence of it all. I loved to draw, he gives me a painting that no doubt took him many hours of time and effort, and suddenly, I no longer love to draw. Seems a bit too much of a coincidence to me.

Thus my Father's day contemplation of drawing.

Father's day has always been a bit challenging to me. It's a yearly reminder of the fact that my father has never been a positive influence in my life or the lives of my two half brothers. It's a reminder of something missing, some inadequacy, some means by which I do not measure to all those around me from "traditional-two-parent" homes. As a young man, I was afraid of someday growing up to be like my dad, I hated anything the two of us shared. I'm tall like him. Folks say I look like my mom, but that's only because they've never seen my dad. Me and my younger, middle brother bear the burden of looking much like him. Father's day is a yearly reminder of how much I share with him, whether I want to or not.

On the other hand, it's one less holiday that I have to worry about getting someone a gift.

So there's a win!

A hair braid sketch from a drawing book my wife got me.

A hair braid sketch from a drawing book my wife got me.

But Father's day is also a time for me to ponder the kind of father I am to my own children. One time, years ago, I was talking to my Pastor at a church I attended when I was in high school. We were talking about being a husband and a father, and he said to me (rather derogatorily I might add):

"Jeremy, what are you ever going to know about being a husband and a father given your own father's example as a criminal, alcoholic and drug addict? With an example like that how are you going to know how to build your own house?"

"Well," I replied - rather snottily I might add, "I got a good example how not to do it, so I guess that's something."

What can I say? I have a way with people.

Suffice it to say I never went to that Pastor for advice again.

In a way, it's rather ironic that something I stopped doing at one point in my life because I associated it with a father I was terrified to be anything like, would be the very thing that I share with my own children nearly twenty years later.

I can only hope I will leave them with better memories and fonder associations with drawing, than I had as a child.

JSS

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