Justin Korthof is the father of two and lives in the Dallas area, working as the Community Manager for Robot Entertainment. You can follow him on Twitter as @sixokay.
When I was asked to write this, I was told that the article should be about five hundred words. Really, though, it’s about two words.
When I was the tiniest of humans, I was an artist by nature. I was always doing something creative. As far back as I can remember, I wanted to be an animator for Disney or a comic book artist. Somewhere along the way, though, that changed. I’m not sure why, or when, but somewhere along the path that was my young life, I got a lot more serious about the idea of work. I want to blame Mr. Renwick for suggesting that maybe the advanced math course wasn’t right for me in 7th grade, thereby setting me in motion to push my way through multiple semesters of calculus in college, but I know better.
I think what mostly happened was that I wanted to live up to my dad’s grand expectations of me. It was never something he explicitly mentioned. Never something he thrust upon me. I just knew it – he imagined great things for me. Not artsy things. Great things. In fact, I never really heard his expectations until he said those two words.
As I mentioned, I’d pushed my way through a few semesters of Calculus, and a whole host of other general education. See, I was going to be a Civil or Aeronautical Engineer. Probably Aeronautical. Regardless, I was being smart with my money, going to junior college to get my general education requirements out of the way for a frugal thirteen dollars per unit. Then, as the plan went, I would transfer to somewhere – anywhere – and focus the rest of my college years on becoming an engineer. But the problem arose when I found myself spending my nights wide awake designing and coding websites for no other reason than a passionate desire to. At some point, I became keenly aware that my local state university had a pretty reasonable graphic design program, and that instead of becoming an engineer, I could become a professional artist. I was pretty good at math, but it bored me to tears. That’s when I made the decision. I called up my dad and told him that I was going to change direction and become a professional graphic designer.
I don’t think he meant for it to sound as dumbfounded and disappointed as it sounded. But it did. At least, to me it did. And with it came waves of guilt and disappointment in myself. I was not going to live up to my father’s grand visions of… well… me. My father had spent his entire professional career as a manager, and he found a lot of success in it. I was supposed to find similar success in a similarly business-oriented field. That’s what those two words said when I heard them. He was plenty calm. He heard me out. But I still felt like he never really believed. He didn’t understand, I think, that one could make a living being an artist. Hell, I didn’t really either, at the time.
But he trusted me. I’m not sure he really wanted to, but he did it anyway. My father is the master of his domain. The true patriarch. I’m sure that he wanted to take control of the situation. To tell me to be serious, and focus on something that would be more secure, but he didn’t. He trusted in me, even though it must have gone against every fiber of his being. He must have thought, at multiple points, that I was being irresponsible. But he trusted who I was, and how I approached life. I think it took a great deal of tongue-biting for him to do that.
I graduated from college and did well as a graphic designer. I was financially comfortable, won a few awards. Ultimately, though, I moved on. I built on that experience and found other crazy passions to pursue. Since that phone call, I’ve given my dad plenty of opportunities to say those two words to me again.
But he never has. I’ve abruptly changed careers. I’ve moved across the country and back again, only to move just as far in the opposite direction. I surprised him with grandkids. And with every tectonic life change I’ve made since that first phone call, he’s responded with three different words.
“I trust you.”
And that may very well be the biggest reason I’ve been able to do any of it in the first place.