Austin Bureau Chief Caren Jeskey's moving tribute to her father yesterday made me wonder what I had done to honor my own dear dad, this being Father's Day. I found this effort from 2011. I wouldn't call it a "moving tribute," necessarily. But like all sons, I did the best I could with the situation I found myself in.
A father is far more important than his children, according to the Bible, someone worthy of automatic respect and complete obedience.
My father, who turns 79 next month, is certainly more important than I, since I am a mere newspaper columnist, common as dirt, spouting our little opinions in every city and town, while he is an artistic genius who has created a radical new form of art which the world would have noticed long ago were the art community not in the thrall of charlatan dealers and flashy but untalented frauds.
Today is Father’s Day, and since one should give his father the present that he really, truly wants, I thought I would pen a few paragraphs of recognition — or indulgence — that I’ve resisted writing for years.
Is this perspective true? Heck, I don’t know. I have one of his paintings in my living room, and another in the dining room, and another in the hall. I don’t display them out of filial duty, entirely, but because they’re pretty and I like them and enjoy, when guests compliment them, saying, “My father painted that.”
Whether that makes him the non plus ultra talent of the art world is another matter, one beyond my judging. I am biased and, as with most children, the bias cuts both ways. It isn’t always positive; like most children, I sometimes scoff. Perhaps this represents grudging acknowledgment of reality as I see it; perhaps it is my own mediocrity manifesting itself as jealousy of a greatness beyond my ken. I remember when my father wrote a paper on his art published in Leonardo, the journal of art and science — you can read the first page online by Googling “Robert Steinberg” and the title, “Self-Similar Structures that Amplify Natural Patterns within Paint, and the Feelings They Awaken in the Artist.”
A mouthful, I know. But Leonardo is a prestigious journal — M.I.T Press publishes it. When that was printed, I turned to my brother and said, “Is it possible that we’re the idiot sons? That someday they’ll drag us in front of a camera for the NOVA special and we’ll have to admit that we sort of sniggered at him the whole time and never understood the important stuff he was trying to tell us?”
So it is possible. Anyway, if my father taught me one thing in life, it is relentless pursuit of your goals. The man doesn’t have an ounce of quit in him. He was that way when he was 17 in the Bronx, writing certified letters to David Sarnoff, the head of RCA, trying to get himself aboard a ship as a radio operator, and he’s the same way now, hectoring the Museum of Modern Art to drop the scales from its eyes and stop obsessing over obvious fakes like Jeff Koons and turn its attention to the first dramatic advance in the art world since prehistoric men smeared images of bisons inside caves and urging his son to stop canoodling over meaningless drivel and focus on something significant, for a change.
Credit where due. I could not be 51 years old and still rolling this stone uphill, still doing the shambling, groveling dance that a writer must do to get anything in print without having inherited his fierce, salmon-up-the-river-to-spawn ambition and stick-to-it-ness.
So thanks Dad, and Happy Father’s Day. I hope this works. Though, as I told you previously, many times, I do not believe the doyens of the art world, whoever they are, read my column regularly, nor will they rush to elevate you to your rightful place in the pantheon of glory, wherever that is. But I didn’t want it to be because I didn’t give it my best shot, which is all a man can do in this life. You taught me that, Dad, and I appreciate it.
—Originally published in the Sun-Times June 17, 2011