NOT ONCE did I ever paint with my parents, indoors or outdoors, as a child or as an adult. Even when my mother lived in two rooms downstairs, we viewed and commented on each other’s work but kept our easels to ourselves.
I didn’t take much notice of it growing up, and I could not have articulated it, but I took it as just one more sign of their emotional restraint. Maybe they saw their painting time as sacred, a break from the demands of parenting. Whatever the reasons, I never asked to paint with them, and they never invited me.
I have no doubt that my parents loved me. My father honored my boyhood passions, hitting fly balls to me during his lunch hour, and having the driveway paved and a floodlight installed so that I could play basketball on an even surface, even after dark.
But it was a passive love, and one-sided. He made little effort to interest me in what interested him, even as I grew older.
I know next to nothing about his time in Japan or Korea, or his decision to shut down the family orchard the year I was born. He set an example through his kindness, work ethic, and sense of duty. But he never talked about his love of painting or encouraged me to try it.
My father died at a relatively young age, and to this day I regret that I never got to know him as a well-rounded person, complex, even complicated, rather than primarily as an authority figure.
I THOUGHT ABOUT THIS while standing on a bluff overlooking the Connecticut River on a crisp September morning. It’s a place that I have visited countless times over the past two decades. The view of the river and the Holyoke Range beyond brings me great comfort.
This particular September day, though, was one of the few times this summer that I have been to the bluff by myself. Since early July, I have painted along the shore once a week with one or more other painters.
Standing there, it struck me that as much as I enjoy painting with other people, I don’t require anyone’s presence or permission to immerse myself in nature with my paints. I am used to working alone. I can just as easily pick up my supplies and return here by myself, at any time of any day.
That got me thinking about my parents; how frequently they painted outdoors but never in my presence, and how I find myself following in their footsteps, almost by chance, without experience.
Perhaps in such a relaxed setting, doing what he loved best, my father would have shared something intimate and personal. At the very least, I would have enjoyed seeing him paint.
How strange to find myself painting outdoors after all these years, without him saying a word.