Continuing the conversation about whether we’d support our (real or hypothetical) kids.

Hot Pot is a weekly thing where we gather around a topic that happens to be on our minds, talking to each other and readers alike. If you’ve got a take of your own, you should join us in the comments below.

This week: kids (real or hypothetical) and the arts. This is a continuation of the conversation begun by Jay Zhu and Sunny Samuel.

  • James Smyth

All the way past college I thought I wanted to be a novelist, but eventually I realized that I didn’t have any novel ideas. Fortunately, the search for inspiration had led me somewhere more suitable: international relations.

My parents had handled my futile artistic aspirations pretty well, by steering me to keep getting through school but declining to say I’d never make it as a writer. My father had far less patience for my childhood dream of making the NBA: I clearly remember him telling me in a Wal-Mart that I was never going to be 6’6 (coincidentally the exact height of my NBA Live ‘95 create-a-player) and more importantly, that if I really wanted to be a pro basketball player I’d be spending all my free time outside not inside. Both of these things were true. But it’s a lot harder to disprove the idea someone will never be a novelist.

Trusting me to figure it out worked, and I plan to take a similar route with my own children: getting them through college, helping them realize what they like most and study it, and then in principle having them make their own way after graduation. Something I’ve learned from growing up with a friend who became a real writer is that plenty of us have strong feelings about becoming artists, but to do it for real you have to be on another level and practice full time like Charlie Parker did. If you can stand to do that, you can make it, and if you realize you can’t and it’s just a hobby, there are plenty of other great jobs you can have. Back then I kept questioning my ability when I should have been questioning my effort, but I still had time to find something great after all.

  • Jean Zhou Smyth

Because dance is my career, I could speak to my children about this from experience, and what I’d want them to know is how hard a road it is. You won’t make much money unless you’re one of the few who do get famous, and even then your career will probably be short. You’ll still have to work hard, but you won’t get as much respect for it, especially if you’re male. You’ll sometimes be tempted to do something you feel is morally wrong in order to advance your career, and you’ll see some people around you face the same choices and take the wrong way.

So it’s very important that that career be what you really want to do. If it isn’t, you won’t enjoy it, and you won’t make it either.

That doesn’t mean I’d prefer my children do something “safe” like become doctors. I think every career comes with its own moral and emotional difficulties, and I do want them to follow their passions. Besides, what I most want from my children doesn’t have to do with their careers. I want them to be good people.

  • Sweet Potato

Would I support my child pursuing a career in the arts? The idea of “following your dream” kind of appeals to me – I really enjoyed Mia and Sebastian’s story in La La Land! However, do I want to learn to ride a motorcycle? Yes. Would I let my kids ride a motorcycle? No. While I’ve probably only started thinking about my future seriously in the past 4 years or so, I would imagine that my tolerance for risk would be low when dealing with my own child.

My Chinese parents’ mentality is still pretty firmly rooted in my psyche, and I probably wouldn’t support my kids unless it was readily apparent that they were some kind of virtuoso. I would also expect that if my kid planned to go out on a limb like that, there would be a lot of preparation and thought put into it. Financial independence or lack thereof would have to be considered – my continued financial support in them would depend on how well thought out their plan is. I would also want it to be clear to them the distinction between pursuing their passion and pursuing their career and whether or not they actually want the two to be the same thing. Kids owe it to their parents to not screw up 18+ years of effort to establish them as an independent adult with a future.

  • Randy Chen

No. Just kidding. It depends, but to be real, probably not. I think their proficiency is pretty important here. If they’re in their twenties and even I, a hypothetical father, can tell that they’re not very good at the art that they’re into, then I’ll probably sit them down for a talk about how it’s time to move out of their studio in Flatbush and pursue Plan B. If law schools still exist then, I might float that as an option. Their failed pursuit of their passion will make for a solid personal statement, and should fit comfortably within two pages. And because the normal distribution is real, this is probably the most likely outcome.

BUT if they’re actually pretty good, I think I’d be willing to go along for the ride, at least for a few years. I would probably set a few parameters, though. Jay, I think you bring up a good metric–if they’re going to pursue their passion, they should be prepared to suffer. So the parameter will probably be something like “no financial assistance, but pep talks over the phone are okay.” Ideally, I’ll be able to hit that sweet spot between tough love and maintaining enough goodwill to, in the event that they end up making it big, retain a 25% interest and a few shout-outs on national television (“I’d like to thank my dad for always believing in me!”). I hope I can pull it off, fatherhood sounds hard!


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