Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The Price of Genius

I finally got around to watching Walk the Line, the film biography of Johnny Cash. I'll do a proper review later, but what struck me was how hard it must be to be the child of a genius. While Mr. Cash was out playing his music and following his vision, his girls were at home. They could hear daddy on the radio, but he wasn't there to share the daily triumphs and tragedies that occur in every household. Even when Mr. Cash was home from the tour, he wasn't there.

The same could be said about Ray Charles and Albert Einstein. A friend of mine interviewed the daughter of a renown author for a biography he's writing and discovered the daughter had mixed feelings about her father because he was so wrapped up in his work, he often didn't seem aware that she was in the room with him.

I'm currently reading a biography about E.E. Cummings and he, too, had an awkward relationship with his daughter, although in his case there were several extenuating circumstances, including an ex-wife and a jealous wife.

What kind of effect must it have on a child's ego to hear, over and over, how great and wonderful and important your parent is? To hear that your parent is a genius? If your parent is a genius, the question that must come next is, "Why aren't you?" No matter how good you might be, you'll never be as good as mom or dad, especially if your talent lies in the same field.

The trick is, of course, for the parent to find a balance between the demands of their genius and the demands of their children. To learn to be really present for the child. To appreciate the child's own gifts and to let the child know that s/he is appreciated. But I'm not sure that can be done.

One of the mistakes (according to the movie) that Mr. Cash made with his first wife and family was to think he had given his wife "everything she wanted" when what he had given her were merely the material things: nice house, nice car, fancy clothes. She really wanted his attention. She really wanted to be the Most Important Thing in his life. And he couldn't give her that because, quite simply, Music was the Most Important Thing. At least, at that point in his career.

The price of Genius, it seems, is quite high.