On the cusp of his twenty-first birthday, my younger son, Cadillac Man, is finally giving me some gift requests. Let me clarify for readers new to my blog: His code name here is Cadillac Man because of his lifelong love of the car. Earlier this year he inherited his grandparents’ 1989 blue (the official color is “Light Sapphire”) deVille.
I might also have dubbed him Music Man for his other abiding passion.
I’ve written about his love of music developing long before he started school, how he can listen to songs and immediately replicate them on the piano. He gets interested in an instrument and teaches himself how to play it. He’s studying music and voice in college, the only degree he ever considered: “It’s either this or I’m not going to college.”
He does not, nor ever did, love academics. He’s intelligent, well-spoken, witty, dutiful, kind, generous of heart . . . and managed to get through his educational career reading and writing as little as possible.
So imagine my joy at his birthday requests:
“Mom, can you get me Brian Wilson’s memoir for my birthday?”
“Done!” I responded with glee. Cadillac Man has been researching—of his own accord—the history of The Beach Boys and their music; he has immense respect for Brian Wilson and his musical inventiveness, particularly with complex chord progressions. He shares things he’s learned every day and I revel in his allowing me entrée to this part of his world.
He relates how, when he was little, going to sleep in his bed at night, he could hear his older brother in the next room playing CDs of The Beach Boys.
“It was the vocal harmony that drew me,” he says. “That was the beginning of it all.”
Cadillac Man was hired as a church music director at age seventeen. He plans and leads every aspect, coaching instrumentalists, vocalists, and choirs.
“I think in music,” my son tells me as we walk together in the evenings, both of us having decided we need this exercise. “I hear a melody in my mind and I can hear different instruments coming in at different spots. Sometimes it’s so loud and clear that I’m not even aware of other things around me.”
I am riveted, for I understand this: I think in a loud narrative voice with the same effect. Words, words, words, always words, turning round and round, shifting, recombining . . .
Cadillac Man is still speaking: “Can you also get me some blank music notebooks for my birthday? I’ve tried using computer programs but they’re glitchy. I’ve lost stuff. I need to be able to actually write what I am thinking.”
Notebooks. For writing music. For writing in the way that he thinks, for capturing what comes to him inside of his own head . . . this is what writers do. I think of the brain research about the movement of writing generating more thought.
Yet he doesn’t think of himself as a writer. Not in the way he knows me to be a writer, or in the way he was expected to write in school. He’ll own that he’s a reader, as much as he looks up information. But never a writer.
This is about to change; I sense it just as I can sense a change in the seasons by the first subtle difference in the temperature, or a shift in the sunlight, or a by scent carried on the breeze. The portending of something significant taking shape.
I look at many notebooks online, thinking, What will he like best? Plain? What color? This one with a treble clef or this one with piano keys?
I finally have to ask: “Which of these music notebooks do you like?”
My serious-minded, turning-twenty-one-year-old examines the options.
“I like the one with the bears on it,” he says at last.
So whimsical. Who’d have thought.
And so the gifts arrive, waiting to be given on the big day, a celebration of this milestone in my son’s life, not just in chronology, but in the pursuit of his joy and passion. A celebration of the gift he is and the gift that he has.
Involving writing. Not the way, honestly, that I usually think of it . . . but in the way that he thinks. In his own profound way.
How my heart sings.
To every parent and teacher who’s struggled, labored, wept, despaired over that child who doesn’t want to write . . . do not give up.
Bear with your writer. There’s a way. Talk, but listen more. Banging on the door will never get you in, but the way that the child thinks will. What the child cares about will.
Meet the child at that portal and when it’s ready to open . . . it will.
Here’s to the blank pages and all our stories, all our songs, to come.
Cadillac Man’s surprise gift: Tickets to the Brian Wilson Pet Sounds concert this fall. Brian said of his career: “I wanted to write joyful music to make people happy” and that “music is God’s voice.”
I celebrate how this wove itself into a little boy’s dreams, long ago.