Jamie’s dad, James Senior, was a commercial artist, so his home office was full of every kind of paper, pen, chalk, charcoal and poster paint that could be imagined. By the time he was two Jamie loved to be in there with him as he worked, always doing his own colorful sketches. As he grew a little older, it was clear that he had some of his dad’s talents, and he just reveled in drawing everything his eyes could see. A portrait of the family dog that he did in chalk at age six had a place of prominence on the refrigerator for over a year. He began school at a local public elementary school, but when it became clear that it was a fierce uphill battle to get him to buckle down and work, his parents transferred him to a private school that specialized in art instruction. This didn’t change his attitude toward math and science, but he did accept the fact that he had to do the minimum there to earn the right to all the fun in the art classes.
He was the youngest of three children with an older brother and sister who were twelve and fourteen. His mother was a teacher, and since his father had his office at home, he was the parent-in-charge during the hours when Jamie’s mom was at school. Jamie felt close to his mom and would have said she was a great mom, if asked, but he adored his father. From the time that he was a toddler he had spent most of his time at home in his dad’s office, peacefully doing his own artwork while his dad tended to business. The two were wonderfully companionable. They could work along together, sometimes not saying a word for an hour, yet feeling very close. Jamie was a child with very deep feelings, but he was reserved and quiet, and his dad was pretty much the same. It was a great surprise to Jamie’s mom when either of them ventured a comment about their emotions. When Jamie said one day, “Being with Dad makes my heart feel happy,” his mother was both surprised and touched.
The only conflicts with his dad arose when Jamie was careless with something in his dad’s office. Their living depended on the creations that his dad polished and completed there, and spilled paints or ink could mean a disaster. Unfortunately Jamie was a true Perceiver and, more than once when he was smaller, he had spilled or smeared something on a finished drawing. This was the only time he would ever see his dad in a rage, and it was really scary to him. So there were whole sets of rules about the room. He could not touch anything on his dad’s two drafting tables, nor could he look at any rolled-up drawings or take anything out of his dad’s big portfolio. He had his own small table and his own paints, charcoal, etc., and was absolutely forbidden to touch those belonging to his dad. His own supplies were to be closed and capped whenever he was not using them. Finally, the door was to be kept closed at all times to keep the family cat out. Sadly, Jamie broke several of these rules at once when he was about eight, precipitating a family crisis and the darkest period of his young life.
He had been working by himself on an ink drawing of the cat, from memory, while his father had run out on an errand. After a while he decided that he needed to have a good long look at her. He went out, leaving the door open, and found the cat. He picked her up out of a sound catnap, and tried to get her to sit up and pose for him. When he tried to move her tail around for a better view she took exception to the whole thing and ran off, with Jamie chasing her. She ran into the office, jumped on his table and swept the inkpot with her tail, getting ink all over herself. From there she leaped onto his dad’s table where a very important finished drawing was drying. Disaster. Ink everywhere. The drawing was ruined; and the carpet was smeared, as was the couch. In tears now, Jamie caught her and threw her outside. At that point his father came in and saw the wreckage. He was toweringly angry. Jamie was a very gentle child and his parents worked hard at staying calm when they had to discipline him, but this episode was simply over the top. The drawing that was ruined was the final page of a large project that was due in the morning. Jamie’s dad’s face flushed deep red and he yelled at the top of his lungs about what a crazy, irresponsible kid Jamie was. The boy ran and threw himself down on the bed and simply sobbed.
When his mother arrived she tried to smooth things over. His father stopped yelling, but he clearly had not stopped being angry. The family ate dinner in almost total silence, and then his dad went back to the study to begin redoing his drawing. Jamie went to the door and tried to blurt out an apology, but his father waved him away. About an hour later, he heard his dad cry out, and ran to see him slumped on the floor. His mother came, called 911, and they took him to the hospital. Jamie, at home with his brother and sister, was terrified. Finally they heard from their mother. His dad had had a heart attack and emergency surgery. In the morning they heard that he was out of danger, and that night they were able to visit him for a few minutes. Seeing his strong, capable father lying there so pale and quiet, and with tubes in his arms, his nose and just everywhere, Jamie felt sick.
Little by little, his dad made a good recovery and came home. He was still pale and seemed like a shadow of himself, but it looked like he would be completely well again. Everyone in the family was enormously relieved and happy, except Jamie. He was ever so glad to have his father back home, but he seemed to slip into a quiet sadness that didn’t go away as his dad got better. His mother tried to talk to him, but he just seemed embarrassed so she eased off. His dad invited him back into the office, but he showed no real interest in being there. Most evenings he would go to his room as soon as dinner and homework were done, and not come back out. Then one day, while changing the sheets on his bed, she found a whole stack of drawings under his mattress. As she looked through them she began to cry. Several showed a small boy—it had to be Jamie—huddled alone with his head in his arms. Another showed the same figure inside a jail cell. All were done in somber, black charcoal. When she came to one with a heart drawn in the center of the page and torn open, with ink spilled all over it, she finally understood what Jamie had been thinking all along—that his dad’s heart attack was all his fault, all the fault of his wicked, careless behavior.
She showed the pictures to his dad and then carefully put them back. They talked about it for a long time. If it had been one of their other children, the first instinct would be to simply talk to them about it. But Jamie was so reserved and private that they searched for some other way to reach him. The heart attack had been the result of a long buildup of plaque in James’ arteries. It had gone undetected because he was young for this and because he had neglected to bother with routine physicals. His health habits were terrible. He probably had not done a sit-up since high school and snacked on pastries, soft drinks, etc., all day long. When the heart attack occurred he was about 50 pounds overweight. Obviously Jamie thought it had happened because he had made his father so angry, but in truth it was simply due to happen, anyway. Finally, they decided on an indirect strategy. They would take up the subject of heart health with the whole family, and make it clear that diet and exercise were the keys. Hopefully, as they all began to see the things that James would have to do to prevent another attack, Jamie would begin to understand that he had not created the problem.
They held several family meetings making sure that Jamie was present, and discussed how James’ diet would have to change—no doughnuts, no cheeseburgers, no french fries—and how he would have to fit exercise into his day, like it or not. Jamie didn’t say much, but he took it all in. A couple of weeks later his dad walked into his office and found a new Jamie drawing on his desk. In the picture a small boy was walking hand-in-hand with his dad and carrying a bright beating heart in his other hand. His dad thanked him for the picture, but said nothing beyond that. Soon Jamie was back working happily in the office, and taking his dad for daily walks every afternoon. From there the two progressed to running together every day. Jamie is fierce about his dad’s snacking behaviors, too, and the two of them are just fine.
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