I recall the late toddler years of my son when my wife would plan a play date with other kids at the park. She would share the news with him about where the clock hands would be so he could know when to prepare to leave the house. He would go about his business and frequently check to see if the hands were in the right spot so they could jump in the car and head to what he built up as the best day ever.
On one occasion I specifically remember plans had to change at the last minute, and trying to explain why the play date was no longer possible was gut wrenching parenting. How do you explain the reality that life just happens sometimes and you roll with it, to a five-year-old, only-child who depended on his friends for companionship? Sometimes the only answer is that is just didn't work out. In this situation, that was the easiest way to avoid a long, drawn-out, adult-level rationalization of her choosing to cancel the play date and attend to a more pressing matter. His reply echoes in our memories even today.
"This is the worst day ever!" he would stutter through tears streaming.
We remind him from time to time of his Oscar-worthy performance of disappointment at only five years old. He smiles and bolsters support that it truly was. We all laugh.
Dealing with disappointment in life is a rite-of-passage for all of us. How we process the situation and cope with moving ahead defines our character at times. In the music industry, this character definition is a regular routine.
Spencer turns 18 on October 26 this year. It hardly seems possible that the same little boy with crocodile tears is shaving and being mistaken as me on incoming phone calls. Pardon the nostalgic tangent. Even though his physical presence demands that he be respected as an adult male, his eyes speak volumes when he stares at my wife and I when disappointment hits. We still see him struggling to understand why things have to change. We still struggle with explaining "life-happens."
During a recent lull from touring and being constantly busy with his career, we have been able to resume a semi-normal home life with evening dinners and play dates for older teens. It's different now. His friends have lives of their own while he normally is absent from the community. He is a third wheel now when he's back in town. He reaches out to find teen companionship, and for the most part, the texts and phone messages go unanswered.
The choice to pursue the entertainment field has its price. Local community members either find it admirable or just odd. He's either seen as a boy-does-good local celebrity, or as an outsider who is a dreamer who thinks he's too good for accepting rural life in our farmland part of Indiana. It's a difficult reality to face at times. Being on the road is fast-paced and exciting while exhaustingly hard work. Being at home is slow-paced and leaves your adrenalized engine sputtering out of boredom. Add a dash of A.D.D. and antsy teen angst to the equation, and you have the formula for some interesting moments.
During his recent return home, his school varsity coaches inquired about his availability to play basketball and baseball for his senior year. Of course, the lifelong athlete in Spencer that left team sports in 2011 to pursue music found himself in a predicament. The appeal of playing one last year for the school that wanted him on the team was a powerful cocktail that he quickly gulped down. Having been in online school for a few years made his student status non-traditional for participating in team sports. There were hurdles to overcome with the state sports legislative body and his eligibility to participate. Beyond that was the reality that he's smack dab in the middle of a rising career in music that required him to travel and have late nights on occasion. Like the past, he was faced with making a choice because there's only so much time each week to do school and music, and possibly sports on top of it. Had Spencer not been a very skilled athlete in the past, this decision would have been easier. But the fact he was talented enough to play varsity as a freshman and letter in both basketball and baseball made the lure all the more difficult.
Like most careers that have any modicum of success, devotion and full-attention are required. Sacrifice is a major part of anything worth pursuing, and having watched him set aside a traditional student life as a teen in order to pursue a professional career at such a young age has been emotional for us as parents. We see him observe his community peers engaging in fun teen moments and activities and have watched him adjust his focus back to his career so as to not lament his path. He's been a remarkably mature young man when it comes to trusting the path he chose as the best for his future. But at moments like these when we see him gravitate toward "normalcy" for a teen life, we are pierced in our own heart with compassion for his fleeting youth. We know all too well the moments we've looked back and wished we had more calendar days to experience life without heavy demands and responsibilities.
After nearly six weeks of investigating the potential road-blocks to returning to a life of high school sports, the verdict was handed down that he would be considered ineligible to qualify for team sports because of his unique status as an online student at his high school. He had been participating in pre-season conditioning and scrimmages and when faced with the reality of the decision from the state organization, all I could see is that 5 year old face of disappointment (minus the tears, plus whiskers) struggling with understanding why things had to change from what he thought would happen.
Every turn of his music career thus far has seen similar results. Doors closing, opportunities changing, twists and turns in the journey that cause perceived motion sickness, and periods of no activity have all left him wondering, "Why?"
Early on in the process of building his music career, I sought advice from an industry veteran who is also a faith-based family man like I try to be. I asked him what I could do as a father and manager of my son to help him most. His advice was simply three words.
"Protect his heart."
It had nothing to do with business maneuvers or specific strategies to gain momentum in his career. It had everything to do with what he knew to be the truth in the music business. The road is extremely difficult and not for the weak. It is the path to destruction for so many who have given their heart to the wrong things. A young person is highly influenced by their environment and what is deemed as acceptable and normal in the music industry. But more than the lifestyle being an influence is the consistent disappointment that can lead a person to depression and misappropriated emotions or choices.
As a parent, we do our best to protect our children from harmful things. We are like hawks watching every maneuver around our child to make sure they aren't hurt or blindsided.
This is our role.
But we also know the value of experience teaching our children how to overcome disappointment. The balance is difficult at best. Protecting his heart goes well beyond the simple guardianship we esteem ourselves to have. It goes beyond human wisdom.
It goes to ensuring he finds his own personal relationship with his creator so he can rely on the ultimate guardian of his heart and soul. In that reality, as a parent, you can sleep at night when you see the fruit of that spiritual life blossoming in moments of struggle and disappointment.
Protecting your heart in the music business goes beyond behavioral adjustments. It goes to having a strong foundation of faith that will guide your steps when no one is around, all seems hopeless, and the eye sees nothing but dead ends before you.
I'm not talking religious rules and hypocritical judgmental people calling themselves holy. I recognize that not all musicians respect the faith view in things, but for us, in the most basic form of pure belief in God, it has made all the difference. It continues to prove to be the settling factor in helping the heart stay strong and emotions balanced while we sojourn into the unknown future.
The Bible shares a passage where Jeremiah asks "Who can know the heart of a man?" I reflected on that before writing this blog entry. I journaled and watched my typing unfold a litany of faith and human experience in the words on the page. My conclusion.
I didn't make Spencer's heart. God did.
I have just been appointed for a season to watch over him until his maker becomes his primary voice of direction in his life. I'm proud of his learning how to rely on that relationship beyond the people around him. I tremble that I make a mistake in guiding him, but also know that God is more vested than me in helping Spencer fulfill his purpose, whatever path that involves.
The music business is a big challenge and affects the heart. God is bigger, and made the heart.
* Spencer Kane is a teen music artist and actor on the television sitcom iShine Knect (TBN Network).