Guest series :: Quilt + Dad = a winning combination for a creative parent

by contributor on July 12, 2012

in Guest series 2012, Quilting

Guest series 2012: I asked fellow bloggers, makers and creators to write on their creativity and focus their essay on one of four topics: creativity and health, creativity and business, creativity and parenting or creativity and process. I am very excited to have a wonderful lot of fellow creative folk guest posting here at whipup.net over the next couple of months. Please welcome…

John Adams is a husband and father of 3 who enjoys sewing and quilting in his spare time. Inspired by the growing number of crafting blogs and the emergence of vibrant, modern quilting fabrics in the textile industry. John convinced his wife to teach him how to use her sewing machine in 2004, he started his blog, QuiltDad, in 2008, since then, John has become very active in the online quilting communities and is a co-founder of the popular e-magazine for modern quilters, Fat Quarterly.

OK, it’s about time I ‘fessed up. My blog name – and, to be honest, the “handle” by which I am most widely known within the quilting community – came about as a total fluke.  I decided to start my blog almost on a whim, but didn’t realize that choosing a blog name would be the very first decision I’d have to make. It all seemed so … so permanent. I felt like I was making a big commitment.  It may be because I work full-time in branding in marketing that I felt that the title of my blog would be responsible for carrying such a burden, and that it would be a direct reflection of me and the voice I would be putting out there into the world through my blog.

So, in that short moment, as all of these things were flying through my head, I simply mashed together two things that were in the forefront of my mind, and that both represented things very important to me in my life: my budding passion for the art of quilting, and my role as a father to my three beautiful young children. And that’s how QuiltDad was born.

What has become evident (and most interesting) to me over the course of my nearly five years of blogging, however, is not how meaningful these two facets of my life are independent of one another, but what happens at the intersection of the two. I think I’m only beginning to realize how important it is to simultaneously embrace myself as both a creative person – on my best days, I might even use the word ‘artist’ – and as a parent. Because by doing so, I think I can be infinitely better at both.

First, allow me go back a bit and comment on my ability to follow a creative path as a child myself. I grew up in Brooklyn, New York and, as a student in the always-crowded New York City Public School system, I had to choose between receiving art instruction OR music instruction at a very early age. Although I would consider myself to have been a very artistic child – drawing and painting was something I both enjoyed and had some natural skill at – the lure of the music program and learning to play an instrument was too strong. Besides, all of my friends were joining the band. So, at age 9, I decided to learn to play trumpet and never again received a minute of formal art education.

Throughout high school, between sports and academics and music and college admissions and, of course, having a social life, it was way too easy to neglect seeking out creative opportunities on my own. And so, by the time I started college, it seemed like the time for doing anything of substance with my creative talents, sadly, had passed.

I soon embarked on a successful career in the business world, went back to school for my MBA, got married, and started my family. But the need to re-introduce creativity back into my life was too strong to ignore. Through a series of events following the birth of my third child, my son Sean, I discovered the rich online modern quilting community – a community that embraced this novice quilter with a most unexpected demographic profile with warmth and open arms. (This series of events and how I started quilting is a story – and blog post – unto itself!)  I decided to start a blog, selected the QuiltDad name, and the rest, as they say, is history.

I started QuiltDad when my twin daughters weren’t quite three years old, and my son had just turned one. In many ways, my blog and my identity as a quilter has grown up alongside them. And here are some things that I love about what I have observed:

My children have a role model to show them that your job does not define who you are. As I mentioned, I earned my MBA from a top school and work full time in Corporate America. I know from experience that there are many, many people in my situation for whom their work consumes their lives. We live in a society that too often defines a person by their occupation and, in the business world especially, it’s very easy to let your job eat up every free minute of every day. The notion of work-life balance can seem like a fallacy. And I’ll be the first to admit that it’s not always easy to fit your hobbies, pastimes, and creative endeavors alongside work and family commitments into a 24-hour day (just ask Kathreen, to whom I delivered this guest post late!). However, I force myself to maintain that balance, and to carve out time to do the things that make me complete. It makes me a better employee, crafter, and father.

My children have a father who is not ashamed of being creative. Let’s be real: being a “manquilter”, I’m a bit of a novelty in the online blogging and crafting community. I’m thrilled to see that other men have emerged as amazing talents and strong voices in the modern quilting world but, to outsiders, it’s still considered to be a strange hobby for someone like me to have pursued. I still choose who to share my hobby with very carefully. At best, people think it’s interesting and want to hear more about it — to a point. But at worst, it’s perceived as weird, unusual, and — to be honest — quite feminine. That’s why I think it’s important for my children to see that I am proud of my craft — not just in a flag-waving, “look at me” kind of way, but in a way that’s important enough for me to continue to pursue despite what others might think.

My son, especially, is learning to challenge gender stereotypes. Yes, among the uninformed, quilting still carries the burden of being something that grandmothers do. And even in the modern quilting community, I think it’s safe to say that it’s still largely a female-driven craft. Why is this the case? I believe, in large part, that this has to do with long-standing gender roles that have drawn (pushed?) women towards sewing, needlework, and the like. And really, I don’t have much issue with that except when society dictates that it’s not OK for boys to express themselves through the textile arts. I’ll be honest here: I am not sure that my own father, when he was alive, truly understood my passion for sewing and quilting. I have a heightened sensitivity to the remarks of others, the sideways glances of co-workers, the attitude of the ladies at the quilting shop when I tell them no, I’m not shopping for my wife — and I hope I can raise my son to develop a different perspective and set of values when it comes to art and creativity.

I am teaching my children to follow their dreams and their creative calling.  More than anything else, I hope I am exposing my children to a lifestyle in which creative expression is not only appreciated, but is present each and every day. All 3 of my children — my son included — have informed me that they want to learn how to quilt. I have helped each of them make a mini quilt for their dolls and stuffed animals, and seeing their sense of pride and accomplishment was invaluable. Recently, they all wanted me to teach them to hand embroider, which they picked up very quickly. Most importantly, I want to ensure that they aren’t forced to make a sucker’s choice that will divert them from the path of following their hearts and their passion.

I couldn’t have scripted the course of my life over the past couple of years – the formative years both for my children and for my artistic self – any better.  And I’m excited beyond belief to see what the years ahead hold for us.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Deepa July 12, 2012 at 12:33 pm

What a great post! I am always inspired to see others who work full time in Corporate America and still find time to make and create, and involve their kids. Even more inspiring that your entire family is breaking gender stereotypes. I would have laughed out loud if you’d said your wife’s hobby is repairing motorcycles or some such. :)

I want to learn to quilt!

2 Robin Correa July 12, 2012 at 8:02 pm

Sigh, what a beautiful post. Challenging gender stereotypes is a huge battle and one I’m happy to see being fought in the quilting world as well. Everyone can benefit from the thrill of quilting, not just half of the population. Glad to see you’re enjoying expressing your art through textiles. I love it too!

3 Lauren July 13, 2012 at 4:28 pm

I really appreciate your essay. My mother was a part of the women can have corporate America and families at the same time generation. It didn’t work well for us, though I had a lot of time alone to nourish my creativity. But you’ve shown me that you can do it all without sacrifice on your children’s part. My mom was a single parent mind you, so the comparision isn’t fully fair. But nonetheless I’m inspired. I am a SAHM and am very happy I took a different direction than my mother, though obviously this choice wasn’t up to her.

You mentioned your father and childrens perspective on your craft. What about your wife?

4 suesue July 17, 2012 at 6:53 pm

Love your honesty and obvious love of your family and your life. I hope more boys and men follow this direction and perhaps one day the world will stop judging. Thanks for sharing!

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