Good News, Dad News: Artistic Endeavors

Joel Oliphint
Joel Oliphint

As a kid, my worst nightmare was a poster board project. Anything that required a modicum of visual creativity would induce waves of panic. Research and write an essay on Nigeria? Sure! Make a pictorial timeline of my sixth-grade life? Don't inflict that kind of barbaric torture on me, you heartless monster.

In fourth grade, I had to invent something and then build it from scratch. The best I could do was cut up some baseball cards, Scotch-tape them to the lenses of my glasses and call it a rain guard—you know, to keep raindrops off. (Sure, you could use an umbrella, but why not affix baseball cards to your glasses instead?)

Even the act of cutting pictures out of magazines and applying coats of purple glue stick, which was supposed to disappear and dry clear but never really did, would stress me out.

I've learned some hands-on, visual arts-ish skills as I've aged. I can landscape a yard, hang drywall, build shutters and paint interior walls. But I still consistently end up with too much (or not enough) paper when gift-wrapping, and my kids gave up long ago on asking me to draw pictures for them. My attempts at sketching a horse or a dog or a cat end up looking like a preschooler's rendering of a Tim Burton creature reflected in a funhouse mirror.

My daughter, on the other hand, is crafty to her core. For years now, most of her birthday and Christmas gifts have consisted of artsy projects: design-your-own pillows, sew-your-own stuffed animals and the like. Recently, while all her friends were running around on the playground during a church picnic, my daughter kept to herself, lingering quietly a few feet away from me. I asked her what was wrong. “I just wish I was home embroidering,” she said.

The embroidery skills were taught by my mother-in-law, who lives with us for part of the year. It's an aspect of multigenerational living I'm grateful for and hadn't anticipated. My wife can make friendship bracelets with our daughter, and I can lavish praise on her art projects, but neither of us can teach her how to sew or embroider.

Both of my kids also recently started taking piano lessons. My mother-in-law has played piano her whole life. I, on the other hand, am a guitarist who never learned to read music and has been faking his way through songs since middle school. My wife gave up on the violin in high school. We can hold the kids accountable for practicing piano, and I can tell them when it doesn't sound right, but my mother-in-law can play along with them, correct their fingering and do other piano-y things.

I don't know if it takes a village to raise a kid, but it definitely helps to have a piano-playing seamstress on hand for arts-and-crafts time.

Joel Oliphint is associate editor ofColumbus Alive.He can draw a mean transparent cube.