Visit to the Studio


May 24th 2022

This was a very impromptu visit. With the trip to DC only days away and having my father top of mind, it had been a while since I had been able to stop by the studio and see the painting and talk with Charles about the progress.

When I walked in the door, there was a distinct temperature drop of at least fifteen degrees and the smell of oil and turpentine graced my nostrils. It is a smell I have come to associate with the story of my father and this grieving process. Charles and I shared kind greetings. Charles from behind the canvas and I from the bottom of the steps into his studio. It always takes a moment for my eyes to adjust to the light in the studio. I walked over to see the progress. And there sat Charles on this little chair, paintbrush, and pallet in hand. The wood canvas was on a new easel, and he was working on the painting for the American Flag. To see some of the colors added really starts to bring the whole project to life.

Charles was explaining to me that these are thin layers of paint and there will be many layers to come. You can still see some of the wood grain through the paint. I was just surprised to see the depth starting to show.

Another topic that was on my mind recently is– does this painting have a greater story to be told for families and veterans? I am thinking in terms of sharing the painting with others before it comes to live with me. Are there shows, museums and other locations that would gain value from Charles and I showing the painting? Charles has some ideas and I am going to explore some options while I am in DC. It continues to encourage me to work on the name of the painting and the story.

As for my own grieving process and the recent thoughts and feelings in connection to this project. Recently I have been in touch with a new perspective on this project. Part of it doing this and being involved in TAPS and VREC is being connected to the best parts of my father. Without this project and those two groups, it would be easy for me to start to really take my father’s inventory on how I may have judged him as falling short as a father and parent. His demons were so large and there was no way to hide from them. They got all over us as a family.

This project is about finding the best of him and celebrating that. Isn’t that what we all want at the end of our life, for those that loved us to celebrate the best of us and heal from the worst that we threw at them? Right now, that feels like the answers that are coming my way and the focus that I am directing.
It is easy to focus on people’s shortcomings, the places they were less successful and there is healing needed in those spaces, but there is also space in the grief to focus on and celebrate the best of a person.
This is about the continued rehumanzation of the man that gave me life, put a roof over my head for eighteen years and instilled in me many of my values, and encouraged my moral compass. In the journey to adulthood, I had to dehumanize him to keep my own sanity. I couldn’t find explanations for why a person would do and say the things he would say to me. They didn’t feel like love, they felt more like bullets and by the time I launched into the world, I was pretty shot up from those word-bullets. The human mind is not designed to understand a person that loves you and shows that in some ways and equal demonstrates hating you all at once. As a child you can’t make sense of that. In those years I spent mad at him, not talking much, I missed the loving parts of him I just couldn’t wrap my head around how to love the whole package of him and not wind up being crushed by his demons. Since I was in my early twenties, I have been working to understand PTSD and figuring out how to answer that question. I found the answers in pieces in many places. Places like Al-Anon, in lots of books, counseling, conversations with Vietnam vets, conferences, landmark, religion, Forgiveness by Iyanla Vanzant, TAPS and now in this project. Through all of my searching I have been able to integrate the healing, the joy, the pain, the learning and the love into my future and my soul. With help from my brothers and their kids my father and I found our way to our own special relationship of love, kindness, memories, and pain. By the time of his passing, he had chosen to lean on me to help him with his final journey.
I hope when people look at this painting, they are able to see that having a service hero in your family, means the whole family is part of the service. We are all touched by their experience defending our freedoms. The veterans’ families have stories to be heard too. Those families have a voice and need to be validated and supported too.

As a child of a parent with severe PTSD from the war, the dynamics of family, love, trust, and honor are confusing at best and disastrous at worst. Untangling that intertwining of fear and love is integral to not passing along the pain you were taught. I want this painting to show the best of him and the boundaries that were needed to love him and protect my own fragile sanity. Mental illness is passed on from generation to generation both through genetics and through training. I want the worst of that war, the parts we all relived over the past forty years to be buried with him in the ground, never to rise again. I fight for all the other families who are walking this walk to know they don’t need to continue passing along this pain. Healing is possible. Love can be found and you can love and find the best of your family member.