Never Give Up, No Matter What

I basically “outted” Santa Claus when I was 4 years old. Hold on, Let me explain. At Christmas time when I was 4 years old, I climbed up on a bar stool and leaned into the breakfast counter. The twinkling Christmas tree was behind me while my parents were both in the kitchen. I propped my elbows up, looked them square in the face and said something that sounded like this: “Cut the crap, there is no Santa Claus. You can stop lying to me.”

My parents looked at me in horror. They looked at each other than turned back to me and the only thing they could come up with was, “Whatever you do, do NOT tell your brother!!!”

My brother was 7 years older than me. Shish, boom, bah!

A couple of years went by, more shenanigans of this type came and went……..I figured out every lock in the house so my favorite hobby was to run away. I bluntly outted an affair between our neighbors, much to the shock of everyone at my parents cocktail party, I learned how to start a car ( I would’ve figured out how to drive the damn thing had I not been stopped), I redecorated my room, moving furniture pieces around resulting in a bi-lateral hernia at age 5.

To make a long story short, I was a handful. My parents were just baffled on how to deal with me.

But it wasn’t until the Buffums incident that my father finally figured it out.

I was shopping with my mom for back to school clothes at Buffums one day when I started complaining that the lighting was terrible and it was making me sick. My mother was so annoyed with me she actually threatened to put me up for adoption if I didn’t knock it off. We kept shopping but the lighting was really getting to me. We were in the cosmetics department, she had one more thing to buy for herself now, when I turned away from her and threw up all over the floor in front of the Ralph Lauren counter.

That was it. She dragged me to the car, embarrassed and fuming, threw me into the car and screamed at me the entire trip home. This was it. I was doomed. I was definitely going to be sent to an orphanage where I would sit until some desperate couple might possibly want some precocious brat to take home with them. When we got home, I was sent straight to my room while my mother got on the phone with my father. Her high pitched rant slowed down to a passive “uh huh” and then there was silence.

When my father came home, my parents sat me down in the living room and my father explained calmly to all of us that the light sensitivity was a clear sign that I was probably very artistic. Why this one particular character trait was the tip off that I wasn’t just being a brat , that I might be more attuned and sensitive to the world around me, I’ll never know. But I’m grateful for the Buffum’s incident because everything changed after that.

At this point, my father took a real interest in developing my eye. Long hours were spent in his library, pouring over books on Andalusian architecture, Irving Penn photography, Bauhaus text books. My father showed me a world of color and light, of texture and form. It was a world I understood and took to, like peanut butter and jelly. And thus, an artist was born. I remember one night he made me listen to 2001: A Space Odyssey with the headphones on. I was to sit there and listen to the entire album without interruption. Afterwards there were lectures on the meaning of the music in correlation to the movie. Yeah, I had to watch the movie as well. I was a mere 6 years old.

My father was delighted. My father was delighted because my father was an artist too. My father had been deemed a retard in grammar school and made to sit in the back of the class until one day an angelic teacher tested my father for dyslexia and realized that he wasn’t mentally retarded. He was then tested for his IQ. He got a whopping 182. My father understood being sensitive to light, to seeing the world in a different form, to being acutely aware of his surroundings and the people functioning within those surroundings.

God bless him, my father GOT ME.

My mother, on the other hand, did not. My mother thought I was an annoying, belligerent kid who just did things to piss her off. My father understood when I asked my parents for sunglasses because the light was too harsh. My mother just rolled her eyes and told me to grow up. My father let me get away with a lot. My mother would take advantage of her distaste for me whenever he wasn’t around. It was a weird childhood, to say the least.

My mother wanted me to become an accountant or a nurse. I failed math from about the second grade until the end of high school. She also thought that nursing could be a wonderful back up. A nurse? Working in one of those poorly lit hospitals?

So how does a kid who grows up in this kind of push/pull situation deal with it as they get older? Because the sensitivity doesn’t change nor do the people they start to become friends with, or partners with? I’m not going to lie, it isn’t easy. Especially when you’re young and struggling and you need that support from your loved ones. I did some heavy reminiscing on this in order to write this post. I just remember sticking close to my father and asking him for advice and I just simply stopped engaging with my mother. I guess I could honestly say that I somewhat disconnected from her somewhere in my early twenties because she just wasn’t supportive at all. She didn’t believe or she didn’t understand photography at all. She didn’t understand that fashion photography could actually be a job and that I could make a living from it. I know she was concerned for my welfare and just wanted me to be self supporting. But she could never see outside the little box she had carefully created in her head on how life should be lived. She wanted me to marry a doctor, settle down in a suburban town and do a little nursing on the side so I could at least afford to buy a dress for myself if I wanted to instead of asking my husband for the money. I mean, this was an actual real conversation we had.

It was heart breaking at the time, to realize I had a parent who just didn’t get me. I guess when I was younger, I was rebellious against it because I was hurt. I see it a bit differently now that I’m older, my mother was just afraid of my well being. But it’s taken me a lifetime to figure that part out. While I was going through it, in the beginning of my career and getting zero support from her, it just hurt like hell. I remember really struggling in the beginning and seeing that triumphant look in her eyes, saying, “See! I told you so!” That was the worse.

But the whole point of this post is to tell you that no matter what a parent thinks or says, you can’t listen to them if you have that fire in you to create. It sounds harsh but, well, they kind of gots to go….you know what I mean? And that goes for friends, wives, husbands. I mean, you only got one life and it’s yours and yours only. It’s not your parents or your husbands. It’s yours. And if you have that fire in your soul to create, you cannot distinguish it in order to make those unsupportive loved ones feel more comfortable. Nobody has the right to kill off an artists spirit. It can mean life or death to us. Choosing nursing over photography would have been psychic suicide. Who knows what would’ve happened to me, but I can guarantee you it wouldn’t have turned out well.

My advice or suggestion isn’t an easy one to hear but it’s the one that worked for me: clip those who don’t get you or support you. They don’t have to fully understand the road you’re on but they damn well be supportive and happy for the tiny steps of success that come your way. Because otherwise, one negative person can pull your entire light down to a dark shaft of self-doubt, self-annihilation, self-destruction……you get my point.

You must stick close to those that see your potential and route you on your journey every step of the way. People who pick you up after the umpteenth rejection, brush you off and tell you to keep going after your dream.

My father did that. Every damn step of the way. My father had a few lines he used often with me. One was, “you gotta’ keep getting back on that horse” and “keep going after your art. Eventually you will make it”. And the best line of all? “Never give up. No matter what”.

I carry in my wallet a little note he wrote to me that he put inside a Norman Parkinson book he found for me. It said, “I am proud of you. Never give up. That’s the only way you’ll ever make it”.

My dad ruled.

Melissa Rodwell