on this afternoon’s oprah…

A week or so ago I mentioned that a 20-year old Crimewave reader by the name of Chuck was setting out from Michigan to California with some friends in hopes of working his way into the film industry. At that time, I wished Chuck and the rest of the gang luck and linked to the site where all the members of the group would be chronicling their adventures. Well, I just went back and visited their site and happened to come across a note written by Chuck’s father. Here’s what he had to say:

Every time I read this web site I get more depressed. Of all the people commenting here, I am the one with worldwide traveling experience. You all think I am just a killjoy, trying to keep everyone from enjoying life. Far from it. I have always encouraged my son to experience new things. He was traveling by himself on airlines when he was 16, with my blessings and support. BUT it was planned out with the proper resources and contingency plans. Chance favors the prepared individual. Am I the only voice of reason among the blindly optimistic? Sometimes I wish I had never bought him that first issue of “Crimewave”…

Obviously that last line caught my attention. Apparently, Chuck’s father holds my magazine, and thus me, at least in part responsible for the fact that his son is leaving home against his wishes. As that’s the case, I feel compelled to jump in and interject my two cents worth. What follows are my thoughts on the matter. Given the fact that I have a cold, it may not be an incredibly lucid argument, but my hope is that it sufficiently explains my position on the matter.

By way of background, I should tell you that Chuck’s father, since he was first told of Chuck’s plans a few weeks ago, has not been supportive. I think it’s safe to say that he thinks their plan is ill-conceived, and that ultimately it won’t be good for his son… He very well may be right.

Apparently, Chuck’s dad bought him his first copy of Crimewave years ago from a newsstand in Ann Arbor. Chuck read it for a few years and then, right after high school, began publishing his own zine, which contained, among other things, references to his dream of one day making films. It was around this time that I met Chuck for the first time. I had just moved back to Michigan and he interviewed me for the first issue of his magazine. I suppose, during the course of that and other subsequent conversations, I might have encouraged Chuck to pursue his dreams. And, I think that in part is what Chuck’s father was referring to when he cursed the day he first brought Crimewave home.

For me it was a film called Athens, Georgia: inside out. For Chuck it was apparently Crimewave. Different things resonate with different people. For whatever reason, Crimewave sparked his imagination and made him start to think that perhaps he could create something too, and not just consume corporate entertainment. That was certainly what happened when I was 19 and went back to see Athens, Georgia: inside out three consecutive nights, by myself. As much as I appreciated the work of Warhol, the Velvet Underground, Andy Kaufman and lots of other very brilliant people, that film was the one thing that I’d say was the tipping point for me. It wasn’t the best film in the world but it got to me at the right time and it changed my life. Maybe this happened to some degree with Chuck and Crimewave.

So, that’s the context. Chuck’s read our magazine since middle school, and now that he’s an adult he wants to leave home and make movies. His father, who I’m sure is a great guy, however, doesn’t want for him to go, at least not without a more solid plan. Understandably, he doesn’t want for Chuck to make mistakes, and he apparently sees me, and the guys that Chuck wants to go off to California with, as less than positive influences.

So, here are a few thoughts on the matter.

First off, although I’ve only met Chuck on half a dozen occasions, my impression of him is that he’s a good-hearted, very bright, and ambitious person with interesting ideas. And, it’s clear to me, from the interactions I’ve had with him, that his parents did a great job in raising him.

Second, I’d like to say that I completely understand where Chuck’s dad is coming from. I can only imaging how upsetting it would be to have a child who is determined to go out into the world and experience it for himself, even if it means a high likelihood of failure. While I won’t be a parent for another four months, I have been giving a lot of thought to the kind of parent that I’d like to be and I know that it will be a constant struggle between these two opposing impulses – one that wants to protect and another that wants to foster independence. My hope is that I’d trust enough in my own parenting to let my child take risks within reason. With that said, though, I still know that if and when that time comes it’s going to be difficult. No one wants to see their child take unnecessary risks, especially in these times, when the risks are so great.

Third, I happen to know that Chuck thinks very highly of this father. If he didn’t, this decision of his to leave Michigan for California would be an easy one. As it is, Chuck is torn between his family and this dream of his to make films (a dream that his parents most likely helped him to discover). Like I said earlier, I don’t know Chuck extremely well, but it’s clear that he’s agonizing over this decision of his to leave.

Again, it’s easy for me to say this as someone who doesn’t have much of a vested interest in the outcome of the situation (if Chuck fails it will most likely be his folks bailing him out and not me), but it seems to me that his parents need to step back and look at the facts objectively. The facts are that Chuck is an adult and that he’s most likely leaving, with or without their consent. My concern is that by denying these realities they might be adversely effecting their relationship, when, instead, they could be using this opportunity to make it stronger. Again, I don’t speak from authority on matters of parenting, but it seems to me that this situation might best be handled by saying, “We don’t think you’re doing the right thing, son, but you’re an adult and we love you.” Instead, at least from an outsider’s perspective, they seem to be telling him that they don’t feel as though he’s capable of assessing the risks for himself. In my opinion, there’s no upside to that course of action.

Chuck and his friends had a big going away party a few days ago. Linette and I stopped in for a few minutes and dropped off a little gift, some food for the car trip out west. Chuck’s folks didn’t attend. If they had gone, they would have seen how happy and supportive the other parents of these kids were. There were well over 50 people there, giving them constructive advice and wishing them good luck. It was painfully obvious to me, and I’m sure to everyone else, that it disappointed Chuck that his parents didn’t stop in. You could tell that it made him sad to see his friends being hugged by their family members while knowing that his had refused to attend on principle. Now, it seems to me, even if they win, they lose.

Let’s say that they are able to keep him here when his friends leave for California – What will it get them? If they’re successful in keeping him here, he will hold it against them forever. He will always be thinking, in the back of his mind, “What if I had gone and tried when I was younger, before I got married, before I settled down, before I had a mortgage to pay?”

Chuck’s family can take or leave my advice, but here it is:

Trust in the fact that you’ve done a good job in raising Chuck. Be confident in the fact that he’s a good person and that he’ll make the right decisions. Be sure that he knows that you love him and that you support him, regardless of what he decides about going to California. Let him know that you trust him to make the right decisions. And be sure that he knows he can come to you when he needs a Greyhound ticket back.

And keep in mind that California isn’t the end of the earth. I’ve lived there and I came back to Michigan, with my wife, to settle down… If it makes you feel better, tell him that you’re planning to come and visit him in three months to see how things are going.

So, in conclusion, I’m just asking that you accept Chuck for the bright, talented person that he is and be thankful that through his website he’s giving you all a window into his world. It’s something that a lot of parents don’t have.

Oh, and as for being upset about my influence, either through the magazine or directly, I just want to be clear that it wasn’t my idea that Chuck go to California. My only contribution to this whole endeavor was convincing him to start a website so that the people who cared about him could know how he was doing. (And my wife and I do count ourselves among the people that care about your son.)

Be proud of Chuck. It’s not easy for him to stand up to you and it’s not easy for him to leave behind everything he knows. He’s doing it because he’s got talent that can’t be realized here. That’s a good thing. That’s the kind of thing that should make you proud.

Take care and good luck working this out with him.

(A note to my regular readers: Sorry for turning into Oprah. It won’t happen again. I’d just hate to see this friend of mine and his father stop speaking. It makes me really sad, especially because I can see that they’re both right. Chuck’s right to want to go and his dad’s right to raise these objections. It’s just frustrating to see it playing out like it is. It’s like they’re running straight toward this cliff that neither one can see.)

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