Monday, December 5, 2022

The kid will be alright

                            Asher at (almost) 18

Back in 2004, when I was pregnant with our second child, I really wanted to name him Asher. I was still obsessed with Chaim Potok's My Name is Asher Lev. I had read the book post-college while in bed recovering from knee surgery. I fell in love with the sound of the name and the protagonist in the book.

The Asher in My Name is Asher Lev is a Hasidic Jew and a protege artist. As a young child he is compelled to draw pictures, and as he grows to be a famous and prolific painter, his art conflicts with his religion in very public ways. It is a precarious balance that often leaves his family and his community deeply ashamed of him. But he's determined to not compromise his art or forsake his religious tradition.

I am neither Hasidic Jew nor a protege in any shape or form, but his character spoke to me as someone who existed on the political fringes of their religious community and as someone who was determined to keep their faith while pursuing more worldly ambitions. It feels a little self grandiose now, but at the time I was in my early 20s and I still thought I was destined for greatness.

Ed had never read the book. He liked the name but was hesitant. There is no sh sound in Spanish and because it isn't a speech sound Ed's parents learned to produce as a child, their sh sounds like ch. This means Ed's parents and family would call him Acher. I felt some guilt but still lobbied hard for the name. We compromised. The baby's first name would be Asher and his middle name would be Victoriano, after his abuelo.

Asher Victoriano came into the world, and as he grew and my own faith evolved, I slowly forgot about the connection between his name and the book. Asher is no longer an uncommon name. No one ever asks us where it came from. 

My Asher is now turning 18, a senior in high school. He is dreamy,  creative, more than a little angsty. He attended prom last-minute in the spring but otherwise doesn't have much patience for high school drama and tradition. He is a strong student academically which I've come to realize is mostly for the benefit of his parents. And at his heart he is an artist. He wants to study music production. He's avoided getting typical teenage jobs by finding paid summer internships that he can work, mostly on his own schedule, and then he stretches those dollars through the school year by wearing thrifts, buying food from dollar menus, and making excellent use of his free Trimet pass. He is singularly focused on making his music.

If I'm really being honest, I don't really understand this music - "beats" as he calls it. I listen and give enthusiastic support, but I couldn't tell you if the music he produces is good or bad. Many others have chimed in. He's good. He spends a fair amount of time in his "studio" which doubles as his bedroom, with his laptop, his drums, his keyboard, experimenting with sounds and rhythms. He's a bit of an enigma to me. I was a lot more motivated by grades and money at his age.

I feel a little scared for his future and this nontraditional path while knowing deep down that following a well-treaded path is not necessarily a recipe for happiness or success. Often, it is quite the opposite. 

I was letting this fear drown me the other day when it occurred to me in a flash of insight that Asher had in many ways become his namesake. He is the new Asher Lev, artist and respectful rebel of his upbringing. He is trying hard to synthesize a path between his more traditional middle class upbringing, his Mexican heritage, and his art. He is determined to not let any of it fall wayside.

The name we had given him had more power than I ever realized. I had raised the child that I had fallen in love with in that novel, the child I had always wanted. The fear of an unknown, undrawn future is slowly dissipating. The kid will be alright.


Anonymous said...

He sounds like such a great kid!

Anonymous said...

Sorry didn’t mean to be anonymous…Marla

John Sudds said...

Such a touching tribute to the miracle of finding one's voice. To create music takes talent for sure, but first you have to discover the tonal language and then experience the emotions you wish to convey. Music, once understood, takes a lifetime to master.