I recently asked my mom what inspired her and my dad to give me piano lessons around the time I was six years old. She told me I was singing all the time as a little kid, so they determined I was very musical and wanted to cultivate that.
And so it went with so many areas of life: I liked to draw, and so I got art lessons; I took an interest in chess, so I went to chess school and was driven to tournaments; I discovered my freshman year of high school that I was good at cross country, and the following summer I was sent to a running camp; sophomore year I wanted to learn the guitar, and so I got guitar lessons (though, to the chagrin of my poor parents, much of those sessions was spent more on discussions of religion, since at the time I had taken a special interest in the subject and my teacher was super Christian).
Every little interest I had, however impulsive, was fostered.
When it came time to consider colleges, my parents encouraged my many applications to various art schools. These were immigrant parents, mind you, with a justifiably deep concern for financial well-being and security in life, yet they never pushed me in a direction they felt I had no interest in and nevertheless considered the potential viability in an art-related career such as animation or graphic design…none of which I ended up pursuing.
Ultimately, I wanted a “regular” college experience and chose a non-art school where I would just major in Fine Art. To this day nearly every wall of my parents’ house is adorned with all the various artwork I churned out in my classes.
During my junior year, I spent a semester studying art in Rome. I recall an episode one evening when I called my mom to check in; I suddenly felt so racked with guilt over the blissful life I was experiencing compared to my parents’ struggles*, and for feeling like I wasn’t honoring all that I was given because I didn’t put my full effort in my education and opportunities, and I began to cry as I told my mom that I hoped they were proud of me. She assured me that they were, but I wasn’t sure I deserved it.
After college, I began to follow my dreams as a performer by going to standup comedy open mics and handing out flyers for two hours in exchange for five minutes of stagetime, while simultaneously working as an unpaid intern at a tiny production studio in the Bronx in my pursuit of filmmaking. Again, my parents did not discourage me.
Within a year at the production studio, I felt I had learned enough about shooting and editing to start my own one-man operation. My parents bought me my camera and editing suite, and I was off to the races. To this day I remain self-employed, and I feel very grateful for the freedom it gives me in life.
Several years later I began to get paid gigs doing standup and started focusing more of my energy on that. I started hitting the road and traveling all over the country, and sometimes beyond. My parents didn’t try to stop me.
When I was 28 years old, I sat my parents down in their kitchen and delivered them a piece of news that I was scared to tell them because I knew they would have a hard time receiving it: I would be moving to Los Angeles. My mother cried. My father, ever the stoic, showed little emotion but clearly did not want to see me go. But they didn’t get in the way…even though I didn’t have much of a plan, other than to take what little money I had and hit the ground running.
Within half a year in LA, I was given an amazing opportunity: I was booked on a comedy tour of New Zealand and Australia. It turned out to be the biggest setback of my comedy career and my morale, as the “booker” turned out to be a very damaged and deceitful person who only posed as a comedy booker, and I got wrapped up in a long-lasting drama that set my life off course (but also gave me a much needed learning lesson).
Afterward, I found myself back at my parents’ house and had my 30th birthday. It was only then that my father finally sat me down for the first time in my life and explained that I was now 30, no longer a kid, that I tried the comedy thing and had my fun, but it was time to get serious and start considering my future. I understood where he was coming from, and I felt bad that my parents were worried about me.
But still I went back to LA. My parents were not happy about it, but what could they do? Sometimes I wonder if part of the reason they “allowed” all my crazy pursuits is because they knew that I was going to do what I was going to do, and to try to stop me would be futile, so they just hoped for the best.
I feel so lucky to have parents who poured so much into me and, while at times naturally concerned, ultimately allowed me to lead whatever kind of life I wanted to lead. My life is so rich due to the childhood I had, and now that I am an adult and have a better idea of the value of money and all the many hurdles to life and to what must go into raising children, I’m especially grateful that they spared no expense in my development — even for the many things that were not directly applicable to getting a “good job”, but just for being a well-rounded person with an appreciation for the fullness of life.
If and when I have a child, I will give them the exact same treatment that my parents gave me. And if said future child ever reads this, you now know that you have your grandparents to thank.
And I thank you too, Mama and Papa.
*Their only time in Rome up until then was in a refugee camp while waiting for admission into the United States.