awakening identity

What are you going to be when you grow up?

Try as he might, he just could not sway us.  We all turned out to be true creative people.  My brother, sister and I all turned out to be creative types in advertising, music, dance and photography.

My Dad (and to a lesser extent, my Mom) tried to brainwash us kids to all be doctors, lawyers or engineers.  In fact, I didn’t even know I had a choice other than that.  It was that deep.

People would ask me, “What are you going to be when you grow up?”

“A doctor, lawyer or engineer.”

It was automatic and I didn’t even think about it.  It was a given.

Then, one day, after experiencing a 2nd guitar lesson, I blurted out,

“Dad, I think I want to be a rock star!”

It was crazy.  My Dad turned red, no, even purple.  He was besides himself with anger.  Apoplectic.

“Where did you get this idea?”

I was 14 and had just caught the rock and roll bug.  I was so moved by the music, especially blues and rock guitar.  Because money was tight in our house, I had to figure out how to get lessons myself.  I dusted off my Mom’s old nylon string guitar and bought a book, the Lennon McCartney Guitar Course.  But it was slow going.

Then, one day I happened to come across a place called the Youth Development Association.  It was in the little prefab building that used to house our  town library before it moved into a grand building.  There was a guy there.  Young, hippy with a beard and long hair.  Cool looking.  He was playing the guitar as he sat behind the desk.

“Hi, my name is Jim.”

He said he could teach me guitar.  And we could even start right then.  For free.  He showed me a barre chord and how to play the Rolling Stones, “Jumping Jack Flash.”

I loved it.  I said, when can we schedule the next one?  He said come by next week.

Exactly at the same time next week, I arrived with my guitar.  Jim seemed surprised.  He didn’t seem to work with a calendar or anything.  Luckily he was free and he taught me my second lesson.  I was learning blues scales and really cool chords.  I was super excited.

Somehow, in the lesson, he asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up.

“A doctor, lawyer or engineer.” was the automatic reply.

He looked at me strangely.  And then said,  “Really?  What do you really want to do?”

It was strange feeling.  I was off balance.  What?  Do you mean I have a choice?

“Well, do you mean anything?”

“Anything.  What would you do if you could do anything in the world?”

“Well I would be a rock star!  I’d play guitar in a band!”

“Well why don’t you do that?”

It was like the craziest thought.  It cracked open my mind.  I had a choice!

That night was when it all happened.  My Dad was prone to massive bouts of rage at this time of his life.  He yelled,  “Who told you this?”

“Well…I…It’s… this guy.  His name is Jim Petrungaro and he works at the YDA.  It’s the Youth Development Association.  He’s giving me guitar lessons for FREE!”

I thought he would be calmed by this.  How clever, I had found a way to get free lessons.  Didn’t he see how important this was to me?

“You are never to go there again!

“What?  But, but why?”

“That is a place for drug-addict kids.  Kids in trouble. You are not allowed!”

I was crying and struggling to get a word in edgewise.  This didn’t make any sense!  I’m not a drug addict.  I was being resourceful.  I had found a way to study guitar.  And he was giving me lessons for free!

But in my house, Dad’s word was final.

After that, I never saw Jim again.  I used to think he would be disappointed in me – that I had broken my word that I would come for that third lesson.

This incident was the beginning of my awakening to my self-identity.  It’s probably my first major turning point.  A pivot point.  It also began a long dark period between my father and I.