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Sins of the Father

by John P. Weiss on 11/26/2016 11:13:51 AM

This post is by regular contributing writer, John P. WeissJohn is a landscape painter, cartoonist and writer living in Northern California. He studied painting extensively with Scott L. Christensen. He served as editorial cartoonist for various newspapers, and his cartoons appear in several volumes of Charles Brook’s “Best Editorial Cartoons of the Year.” John is also a police chief with 26 years of law enforcement experience.



The day she left I was busy finishing a huge landscape. It was an epic canvas. The piece de resistance for my upcoming one man show. I remember talking to her from my studio. Telling her all about my painting. How thrilled I was with the tension in the piece, and the vibration of colors.


Of course, I was talking to an empty house. While I was immersed in myself and my art she had been packing and then quietly left.


Sometimes life makes no sense. Especially the perverse contradictions. Like when one area of your life is blooming beautifully, but at the expense of another part of your life.


It's an old and familiar saga. The collision between love and creative passion. Look no further than Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Art and love can fuel a tortured alchemy.


Having it all


There's a sign hanging in my studio bathroom. It says, "Having it all doesn't necessarily mean having it all at once." I always figured it meant I could piecemeal my happiness. You know, have the art success now and work on the love thing later.


I phoned my father and invited him to join me for a beer at our local brewery. I figured a few IPA's were in order, to help me untangle my relationship mess.


Dad doesn't mince words. "It's your own fault, son. I love you, but let's face it, your first love is art. How can she compete with that?” 


The short answer? She can't. Who wants to compete with an all consuming passion. God knows she tried at first. Staying up late until I finished a piece. Going to all those gallery openings. Helping me update my website. But I guess hope doesn’t spring eternal and her patience waned.


I missed her terribly, but stayed focused on the upcoming show. Everything was set in place. I finished all the pieces for my one man show, shipped them to the gallery, and made my travel arrangements.


And then the phone rang.


“Mom had a heart attack!” my sister Heather said. “We're at County General. It's serious. I called Father O'Malley." I could hear the fear in Heather’s voice, I grabbed my car keys and raced to the hospital.


Father O’Malley was the local priest in our Catholic church and a friend of the family for many years.


Sins of the father


Dad and Mom divorced when I was thirteen. I think I cried for a month. Dad was an entrepreneur and completely immersed in his work. Mom was always ushering us kids to school and sports and play dates. Dad? He was like a kabuki theater actor. Flitting around in the shadows of our lives. Periodic appearances but never really present. I was mad at him for many years but in the last few we started to reconnect.


Father O'Malley spotted me at the nurse's station and pulled me aside, saying, "Your Mom is sleeping right now, and your sister went down to the cafeteria. Let's talk."


We strolled over to the chapel and sat down. Father O’Malley faced me, held my hand and said, “Heather told me the doctors stabilized your mom. She’ll require four stents but should be okay.” I breathed a sigh of relief. But then Father O’Malley continued.


“You know how close I am to your father and mother. But I have to tell you, your father fell victim to his work. It always came first. It’s why he’s so financially successful. It’s why you guys had such a beautiful home on the west side. Let’s face it, your Dad thrives on the trappings of success. His BMW. His impressive home. But here’s the thing. I don’t think he’s happy. I think he bypassed the simpler things, like family and small pleasures, for his business success.”


I looked at Father O’Malley and said, “Why are you telling me this, Father?”


“Because you’re just like your father. Sins of the father and all that. You’re consumed by your art. And I worry that you’ve put all your eggs in one artistic basket. It seems to me you wouldn’t be alone right now if you found a bit of balance. A space in your life. For her.”


Of course he was right. Father O’Malley was always right. I had driven away the only woman I truly loved, because my art was more important to me.


“How did you know about our breakup?” I asked Father O’Malley. He smiled and said, “I’m a priest. It’s my job to pay attention to my flock.” Then he lowered his head and said, “I just worry that once the gallery openings are over, and after the reviews and adulation, you’ll have no one to share it all with. Just like your father can’t share his success with your mother anymore.”


We are what we do


One of my favorite authors passed away recently. Dr. Gordon Livingston. I feel kind of stupid because I’ve read all his books but obviously didn’t absorb anything. Dr. Livingston once wrote, “We are what we do. Not what we think, not what we say, not what we feel. We are what we do.”


What I do is paint. And drive away the people that love me. Maybe Father O’Malley and Dad are right. I’ve put my art first and everyone else second.


I remember when Dad and Mom got divorced. I was angry and sad. I felt like Dad let us down and I hated him for awhile. But then Father O’Malley told me this, “There’s one thing that evil can’t stand. And that’s forgiveness.”


Those words hit me deep and began a thaw in my heart. Before long I reached out to Dad and started a new relationship. To my surprise, he admitted his own mistakes and regrets.


What is essential is invisible to the eye


My one man show was quickly approaching and I was getting excited. I knew some influential art dealers and journalists would be there. A few days before the show I sent an email to my girlfriend. Well, former girlfriend. And part of what I wrote was this:


“My family priest told me the other day that, ‘What is essential is invisible to the eye. The things that are center stage are rarely the most important.’ I’ve made my art center stage for a long time. Everything else was second. But I’m beginning to realize that I need more than art. I need love. I need someone to hug me when I come home. Someone who knows my history. Someone to care for me when I’m sick. Someone to share in my successes and failures.


What I need is you.”


Finally, the night of the one man show arrived. To my great surprise, Mom recovered enough to attend. Heather and Dad helped her into the gallery. “I’m so proud of you, son,” Mom told me. I hugged her for a long time.


Father O'Malley was there. He told me my work must be divinely inspired. God bless him.


There were photographs and interviews and conversations with patrons. It was an amazing night. A night any artist would kill for. Except, something was missing. The woman I most wanted to share it all with.


Near the end of the evening, as the crowd thinned, my agent came over and handed me an envelope. I opened it carefully and read the words:


“I need you, too.”


My agent smiled and said, “Look above you on the second landing.” So I looked up and there she was. Clutching a bouquet of roses and smiling broadly.


I bounded up the stairs and wrapped my arms around her. Told her I loved her. Told her I was sorry. And as Father O’Malley smiled at us from below, I realized that it was possible. I could balance my life between the woman I loved and the art that defined my life. And I felt deeply happy.



How do you balance your artistic passions and the people you love? Share a comment below.



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Topics: advice for artists | creativity | FineArtViews | inspiration | John Weiss 

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Pat Fiorello
Thanks for sharing such a heartfelt story. A good reminder for us all. It's easy for work to consume us, especially when we are passionate about it and it gives us joy. Glad you reached out to your love before it was too late and that she was open and caring enough to come back for a happy ending.

What a beautiful and inspiring account of the importance to balance one's deep passion, in art or work, with the nurturing of relationships.

Mary B
Balance has always been difficult for me. Being a type A individual, I've always immersed myself head first into whatever project currently has my attention. However, that all came to a screeching halt a few years ago. My body couldn't handle it any longer and I found it necessary to slow down and re-examine things. I'm still on the road back to health. I can't say that I've enjoyed the last few years, but I've learned a lot along the way...and one of the things I've learned is balance.

Joseph Napolitano
Brilliant as always.

John S. Hockensmith
Thank you for your thoughtful writing and insights. ~jsh

Mark Brockman
'You must give it your all. Let nothing stand in your way. Nothing, no one is as important. If success is important to you, artistic success and financial, you must do nothing else.' I was told, perhaps not in those exact words, and indirectly, that was how to be a successful artist.

I can't do it, even though I love painting beyond anything else, I hope to die outside painting or at my studio easel. But I have a wife I love, and family that I love, they must and always have come first. If that means I will not reach success, so be it. I will know in my last minutes that I did what I loved, but more importantly, I loved my family more.

Thanks John.

Nancy Hughes
While I was in the throws of getting an art degree, our printmaking instructor gave this advice to his class, "no matter how much you love art, always make sure your family and others that you love come first" .
I have never forgotten that advice and it has served me well.

John, this is one of your best. It reminds me of the old song, "Cats in the Cradle". Thanks.

Gil York
Congratulations in being a wonderful writer as well as an excellent artist!

I can't believe the selfishness of your "letter" or rather email, to your girlfriend. All you talked about was what YOU needed. How about what you can offer her? Wake UP!!!

What a wonderful honest post John, thank you for sharing it. Let those that have ears hear. My husband"s job was number one in his life also so I understand completely . He has since retired and I have gotten more into my art, painting and sketching and know how easy it is want to immerse yourself in your art . I have had my own struggles with balance and what works for me is God , Family and Painting . Sometimes the best answers are the simple ones .

John P. Weiss
Pat- Thanks so much for reading and commenting. The story is fictional, but clearly you understood the message: to not take the ones we love for granted.

Nancy- Well said. Balance is so important. Thank you for commenting.

Mary- Wishing you a complete return to health. I'm a type A as well, but I try to listen to my body more now. Thanks!

Joseph- I love that quote! It's perfect. Wish I knew about it sooner! Many thanks.

Mark- Well said. Our passions are important, but family should be our highest priority. Continued joy with both!

Nancy- Your printmaking instructor sounds like a wise person! Thanks for reading and sharing here.

Ernie- I've always loved Harry Chapin's classic song "Cats in a Cradle." Quite a compliment. Thank you.

Sue- Ouch, but point taken. My intent was to have the letter be the artist's acknowledgment that he needed his girlfriend. Better to have acknowledged his own selfishness, and that she deserved better. Thanks, I always learn from readers.

Diane- So true. Sometimes we complicate life unnecessarily. My wife put up with 26 years of my law enforcement career. Being married to a police chief means many intrusions on our lives. Which is why I'm retiring early. So we have more time (as well as time for my art!) Thanks.

Doug Mayfield
A good article. Someone once said "In order to say 'I love you.', you first have to be able to say 'I'." The implication for me is that if you're happy, then you bring more to any relationship. I'd also ask that if someone loves you, don't they want you to be happy? If success in your work is essential for your happiness (and only you can determine that), then it may mean that a certain kind of relationship is simply not possible. But certainly a very difficult issue to sort out. I'm reminded of reading about Ross MacDonald and Margaret Millar who were both, after much hard work, highly successful as novelists. They were married for many years and apparently it a very difficult marriage because both were absorbed in their work (as writers tend to be). Perhaps only the two individuals involved, with their individual needs, can determine if the relationship will work.

John P. Weiss
Doug- Well said. Years ago I dated an emerging novelist, but we realized that my small town life was incompatible with her bigger dreams. She lives in Los Angeles now, involved in the movie industry. Your line "Perhaps only the two individuals involved, with their individual needs, can determine if the relationship will work." I agree. Thanks for your insightful comments.

Mary Jane
At 65 now I remember being 19 in the Worcester Museum Art School. As in spiritual awakenings, I was born again while a student and changed profoundly. The first lesson I had to grapple with was that people would always be more important than paintings.
It is something I still speak to myself "people are more important than paintings. " After all I have eternity.

John P. Weiss
Mary- I love being an artist and feel blessed to have the creative spirit within me. But I agree with what you wrote. My wife, son, family and friends-they enrich me beyond my artwork. I guess the trick is to find balance and never forget the ones we love. All the best to you!

Roger Dowse
I too have been consumed by my Art ,working full time raising children and loving my wife ,I still painted 4 nights and part of weekends for four years then this year I cut back to one night and sometimes a Sunday to paint .it helped my relationship with my wife and kids ,and now I am painting better pieces and more focused with less time .i will always be a Artist and a father and husband for my family .

John P. Weiss
Roger- Sounds to me like you found the perfect balance. Continued happiness with your family and your art!

Terry Gay Puckett
You are such a great writer, as well as artist. It must be hard to achieve balance with a family also needing your time and attention. Do you sell your short stories as well as share them on line? Seems there would be a good market for them.

Many of us love to paint and make art, but it can never replace those who we love, when push comes to shove. A paint brush will never be able to say "I love you," give us a hug when we need one, or check on you when you are sick. Your character did say in his note mostly about what he needed, and little about what he would do to get his girlfriend back. A normal girlfriend would have been looking for what he intended to do to change in the future. Oh well. In real life, I wonder what would have happened.

Cristina Del Sol
Wonderful story!
Yes, this is a great story that happens too often.

When I was single I could paint till 3 in the morning. But when I got married I had to prioritize. It helps if your other half is also busy with his career. But you always have to plan weekends getaways, at least one holiday a year, send a short email during the day or a quick phone call to keep in touch and tell them you love them

Your family or loved one should also understand that there will be times of high demand, when you have to finish a commission or prepare for a show...then, they can be patient and support you in all they can.
Family comes first always.

Now I am single again, but besides my creative passion, I have pets to spend time with.
I always balance my work life with nature, yoga, meditation and my close family.

Thank you again for sharing such a well written story!

Parks Lowe
As I am reading your blogs (on a communal site) I can tell early on it's one of yours, always well written and insightful with a clever concept, and this one is no exception. What prompts me to comment is the observation that the consumed artist in the piece remains consumed with what he needs and wants. Great story but I come away feeling really sorry for the girlfriend...thanking him with flowers for letting her, love him, hug him, know his history, and care for him when he is sick. Personally, and very fortunately, I have never felt that my passion for art could be separated from or compete with my
passion for life and love, but are one and the same. With a smile, I must say, I'm not as blunt as Sue. Enjoy your articles and look forward to the next one.

joyce snyder
A reminder to everyone that strives for excellence. We often work toward a goal we hope is for the good of those we love, not even just for ourselves, with the same sad result. BALANCE is the key word and taking time to look UP to see what that other needs.

Sandy Askey-Adams
Hello John..

Wow..this is an amazing story of truth. Thank you! Those I love are very important to me. Yes, people are more important than my art. That is one of the reasons I try to bring comfort and peace to others through my work.

My sister, a few months ago, told me that all I think about is my art. I took offense with that because I highly disagreed and did not know what she meant or where she was coming from. Actually, she pays No attention to my art anyway, but she knows that it is something I have loved doing since I was a little girl.

And I have tried to balance the art with family. It can be a busy schedule because it is what I do or try to do as a living too. AS working artists, most of us do.

It is a two-way street though too. There have been those times when family did not show the respect or take me serious with the art. It seemed as if I had to fight to be able to say I have a right to do my art just as you have the right to follow your passion.
Or also in reality, because I am an artist,some of the family treat me as if I am not as smart as they are.
(I have been thru panic attacks,therapy, anxiety and depression, among some other things, so I do not need to be made to feel less by family for doing my art. I do the best that I can to balance it all out.)

My mother is 90 and my sister does not work so she was quite able to move in with her and take care of her. They live a couple hours away. (My father died last October.) My two brothers with their families live in the same area they do but work. It is easier for them to be there when needed.

My husband and I went to visit there this past Thanksgiving weekend and will be there at Christmas which we always do, and we do visit besides then.

It is hard keeping up a balance. Luckily, our daughters and their children live near us for now.

Gosh, do not know why I went on with all that. It was not necessary.
I guess perhaps I feel guilty at times. (Actually always have when I do my art.)

There are always struggles in life as there always will be with the art.

Thank you for a wonderful article. Sorry I went on.

My favorite thoughts on this subject come from a delightful poem by Kenneth Koch, "You Want a Social Life, with Friends"

Koch describes the dilemma in a way that's easy to understand and is my test for deciding how much time I spend on my art or my writing and the people I love. (Of course, the people we love who love us back are usually willing to share us with our passions.)

Lori Woodward
Wow John... Beautifully written, and it's got me taking a look at my relationship to my career. I sure don't want to gain success at the cost of being lonely. Thank you!

John P. Weiss
Terry- In addition to Fine Art Views, you can find more of my stories on my website. To get the latest, click: As for the artist in my story, I unwittingly made him sound like a selfish jerk! I think Sue made note of that most pointedly! But hopefully, folks get the main message, which is to find balance and never overlook loved ones! Many thanks.

Cristina- Sounds like you've got a well balanced life. And you're right, loved ones should accept that sometimes your career or art will present demands. I think it was Stephen Covey who wrote about the "emotional bank account." If you do kind things and acts of love for people close to you, then you're investing in that "emotional bank account." Which is important, because sooner or later you'll have to make a withdrawal! Glad you enjoyed the story.

Parks- Thanks for the kind words. I agree with your assessment. In crafting this story, my aim was to promote balance over selfishness. I meant to show that the artist realized his relationship, with all that a strong relationship brings, was vitally important. Unfortunately, I unwittingly made him sound self absorbed. Fortunately, the main message is not lost on readers. I must say, I think I learn more from my readers than they learn from me! Thanks.

Joyce- Well said indeed! Thank you for reading and sharing here.

Sandy- I once wrote that being an artist is a blessing and a curse. The creative compulsion inside us is real. Ignore it, and you'll be miserable. Tend to it, and sooner or later it will compete with other priorities. Like loved ones and family. I've been there, just like you. Staying up late, avoiding social functions to pursue my art. It took time to find that sweet spot of balance. I think we've all felt guilty at times for our art. Also, as far as caring for family members go-quality matters more than quantity. I'm glad you shared so much of yourself, it helps the rest of us to appreciate that we're not alone. We all face many challenges! All the best!

Molly- What a delightful poem. I loved the allusion to Michelangelo missing out on parties. What losses Michelangelo must have suffered for his genius! Thanks.

Lori- None of us want success at the expense of loneliness! Fortunately, wise time management can allow us the balance we need for family and creative passion! Thank you for reading and commenting here!

Final note: If readers have time, take at look at all of your websites! I'm impressed by the diversity of art and talent out there!

Seth Foley
Enjoyed your story, John. Well done. Kind of funny, earlier during the week, Cray and I watched the movie."Planes, Trains and Automobiles" John Candy plays a character named Del Griffith. He says this phrase to Steve Martian who plays a business man in marketing. "Like your work, love your wife" Reading your story reminded me of his quote.

Thanks again for you wonderful writings

John P. Weiss
Seth- Thanks. I remember that movie, but it's been a few years since I saw it! Hope you had a nice Thanksgiving!

Mark Brockman
Sandy, sometimes family does not always see what our art is to us. For many of us it is our job, just like being a doctor, policeman (thanks John) or plumber, but it is a passion as well. My mother did want want me to be an artist. When I could go full time on my art some thought I was retiring, ugh. Some family members won't talk about it, ever, so I never bring it up. Be strong in your convictions of what you do. Those who are jealous or uneducated or whatever the reason are of little importance when it concerns your art. They are not unimportant but their opinion is.

That was beautiful! Thank you for writing it:)

John P. Weiss
Mark- Thanks for your words of encouragement to Sandy, and the rest of us. We artists have to stick together!

Sonja- You're most welcome. Thanks for reading and commenting! All the best!

Sandy Askey-Adams
Thank you John for your reply back to what I had written.
AND, Mark....thank you. Your words meant a lot.

After I sent what I had written, I felt foolish and even woke up this morning wishing I had not done so. I was trying to explain how I felt. Perhaps even sharing too much. (Have to say....I am grateful for family members who do care and appreciate what I do.) and Mark made me feel better. It takes other artists to understand...and help with the strength to do what they love.
Thank you!

Such a wonderful article though...and I always enjoy the other comments from the other artists. Can learn so much i many ways.

John P. Weiss
Sandy- You're most welcome. I'm glad you shared what you did, it let's others know that we all face similar struggles, doubts, joys. All the best to you!

Rachelle Lima
Yep, how lucky are we to have people who love us and want to spend time with us, care for our well being, or meet for an IPA just because. I am drawn to your comment about retiring early, we just attended a retirement party for a dear friend/police officer who just retired safe and sound surrounded by fellow officers, family and friends who love him. Hugs and tears, music and tequila got us through the night. Balance in your line of work leans towards those who need help, so thanks to you, and to your family for sharing you with all of us. I now imagine every officer as a closet painter! ha ha Thanks for sharing such a thought provoking article.

John P. Weiss
Rachelle- I enjoy writing for fellow artists and creatives. I find that I learn a great deal from readers, whether they praise my articles or criticize them! The party for your retiring police officer friend sounds wonderful. Maybe you should invite him into your studio and encourage him to paint?! Thanks for reading and sharing your comments!


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