I want to have a word with dear old Dad. Not mine. Everyone else's. In 1967 He sat one of my authors down for a talk, when the then-adolescent was going through a particularly writerly phase that in those days involved wearing turtlenecks and playing guitar as well as scrawling his deepest feelings in notebooks. Dad said that writers starve, and He advised His college-bound son to major in something that would get him a job. Even though son eventually switched his major from Dad's choice, accounting, to his own preference, history, and even though he succeeded in graduate school, became an assistant professor, and eventually earned tenure, every fricking time he sits down to write he re-lives the scene from 1967, with my author's scruffy hair, the scent-memory of Dad's annoying aftershave and all.
Dads have "counseled" their offspring into fields for which they are poorly suited, while steering them away from that which could have made them famous, since forever. Songwriters, painters, dancers, actors all hear the same drivel from Dads coast to coast. Moms are guilty, too, but for that echoing voice that just won't go away when you're trying to go for it as a writer, there's nothing quite like the tuneless horn-honking of dear, old Dad to really lock things up.
In 1982, another Dad told one of my authors she should use her writing skills for something practical and go to law school. She did, and now she is a law professor (I'll bet if you scratch a thousand of those you'll find someone underneath who compromised between family expectations and inner pull a different way). Dads have told my authors that writers don't earn money, even though of the Forbes top 100 earning celebrities, 12 are writers.
Much of my job involves doing battle with a succession of Dad-voices from ages and places past. (Does that make me a kind of superhero?) I'm not saying that all fathers give bad advice. I'm just saying that many fathers push their kids away from the arts and toward business, and that is often not the right thing for the kid.
There are a number of quite successful strategies for making His voice go away, and they don't involve either electroshock therapy or drugs. My personal favorite is self hypnosis, but there are also good books you can read. Can you change your mind and your thought patterns? Absolutely! Here is my reading list of effective Dad silencers for 2009:
Loving What Is by Byron Katie. She is the queen of helping you shrug about what you can't change, and living fully in spite of it.
The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron. Kinda heavy on the righteous anger and the twelve steps, but she'll help you figure out who you really are. I love to work with her book in groups, and I have led five to date.
Hypnotherapy recordings by Lyndall Briggs and Glenn Harrold. You can find these at audible.com. In my heyday with the self-hypnosis I was listening to one or another of these every afternoon for over a year, and they did a remarkable job and changing the internal chatter from negative to positive. Both authors have fascinating accents. Briggs is a strong variant on Australian, and Harrold's possibly comes from within the sound of London's Bow Bells (I'm no Harold Higgins and can't quite tell). To me that's charming, but it can also be something to adjust to if you're used to listening to the BBC. I love both of them.
And yes, I realize that the man above speaking to Ben Braddock in "The Graduate" is Mr. McGuire, not Mr. Braddock, but it's just such a perfect image for this post.