When I was growing up, my father taught me to play Scrabble. Not by coaching me through a game, side-by-side as players on the same team, but by being a worthy counterpart in a back and forth exchange on the board. Through this methodology I too became a worthy opponent, a skill I am very proud to have today because it connects me to him, his strengths, his values and is a reminder of fond memories.
Throughout my life, some of the most meaningful and transformative moments I can recall were the conversations I had with my Dad. Some may call them “heart-to-hearts” but that would be underestimating the range and scope of what we would talk about. Similar to our Scrabble matches, he never “dumbed down” an intellectual conversation–not in his interpretations or his expectations of how I was to participate–which challenged me to meet him, or at least make a valiant effort to get there.
My Dad was the first to introduce me to Mozart, Bernstein, Goethe and Schiller. He encouraged my love of art, music, theater and poetry and taught me that being an artist and living creatively takes courage but it cannot be denied…if that is who you are and you run from it, it will find you. He seemed to speak from experience, but at the time, in my early/mid/late teens, I did not understand the specifics of his how and why. He helped me craft my definition of “artist,” which gave me leverage later in life (eg: today) to carve out space to be a creator, even though I did not pursue the arts in the way I initially thought I might. It is his example that showed me all this and so much more.
But when I was probably 19 or 20, I became curious about his “how and why.” I had made the decision to stop pursuing my theatrical dream. He was sad for me, almost devastated, and we once again had the conversation about “denying the artist that you truly are”… I just had to know, how did he know so much about this? What had he lost?
We were in his office, and he took out a folder of typed pages. They were meticulously kept, beautifully organized; he handed them to me. As I leafed through the sheets there I saw they were a bundle of short stories written by… Harry A. Kraus, my Dad.
And they were exquisite.
I was so proud… And then my heart ached for him. He knew because he KNEW.
This did not change my mind about my decision, but the bell had already been rung, and you know what they say about that: you can’t unring a bell. When I was finally ready, the curtain was pulled back and the light came back in–I went back to dance classes, I started writing again–but it was different, better, on my terms. My father gave me the gift of awareness and started a life-long appreciation of culture that lives with me today.
The other night I was talking to my daughter. She is incredibly talented, if I do say so myself…but it isn’t just me. She’s expressive and creative and passionate and like many people born that way, she questions herself and her instincts–essentially, hasn’t learned to trust herself yet. We were talking about a bunch of stuff and we ended up talking about how it’s a risk to put yourself out there and that takes trust… sometimes blind trust… but it’s more of a risk to stay isolated for fear of being hurt, hurt again even or looking foolish. I told her there is magic inside her, that I see it… Because I do, and a wave of familiarity came over me like I’d had this conversation before, but not exactly. And then I realized, the baton had been passed.
No time in the 16 years that my father has been gone, have I felt my father’s presence more than during that discussion.
And it was exquisite.