Discovering & Nurturing Our Child's Gifts

ImageHave you ever wondered how Michael Jordan ever became so good in what he did in basketball? Or how Elvis Presley became so popular that until now his widow is still earning a cool 40 million dollars a year from from the business he left behind? Or how the likes of Charles and John Wesley was able to get fired up in the bible that they were able to found Methodism as a religion which ultimately became the state religion of Scotland during their time? The answer to all these questions may be summarized in a few words: they had parents who were supportive of their talents.

The Jackson brothers' talents were known very early to their parents, especially to their father who did nothing but pushed and pushed his children to practice, perform at every opportunity and strive to perfect their singing acts. We can see the effect of that until today but most especially so when the Jackson five was hitting the charts or when Michael Jackson shot up in popularity to become the symbol of pop, or his other siblings like Jermaine and Janet who are still very much around these days. Father Jackson may not have been right in everything that he did to push his children as I've seen a documentary where he even had to whip his boys when they sang a single off-key note but the recognition of talent was there and so was the desire to nurture those talents and we can only admire the result.


elvis presleyElvis was born to a very poor family. To make both ends meet, the mother had to take on laundry work from other families. Elvis showed a keen interest on playing the guitar as a young child and it really broke his mother's heart that she could not easily provide him with one of his own. But it didn't stop her from aspiring and after taking in more laundry work, she was able to save enough money to buy him one at the Tupelo Hardware Store for $12.25. It was a birthday present for his 13th birthday. He would have picked a .22 cal. rifle in the store but his mother insisted on the guitar.

chuck mangioneChuck mangione of "Feels So Good" fame and a Grammy Awardee trumpeter had a similar story to tell but this time it was his father who supported him in his talent. The Elder Mangione brought the young Chuck wherever he could afford to attend live performances of good trumpeters. He even introduced his son to the artists if possible and told them about Chuck's playing.

These stories are just a few of the examples of how parents are instrumental in discovering, nurturing and supporting their child's talents. But sad to say, for every good story like the above, there are countless more that simply didn't even find a good beginning. Most parents look at their children and see nothing out of the ordinary. They may sense that their kid has some keen interest in things like a toy truck or crayons or how daddy's razor work but these interests are easily dismissed as natural curiosities inherent to childhood. When they grow a little older, kids may develop interest in playing the piano or drawing and many of them will only get their parent's ire for wasting paper with their silly stick figures or for creating all that noise in the piano. These scenarios are not far off in describing situations in most families and hardly warrant a careful examination by today's parents. While there may be cases where nothing is really lost when kids are being dealt this way, there may be some gems of hidden talents in our child that we are ignoring to their great disadvantage. Not that those talents will be totally lost as artistry will always find its own way though a bit late. But there is always a good argument for the early discovery and nurturing of our child’s talents.

Let me now launch on a story that is too close to me and have very recently made me feel very proud.

I have a cousin who is a year younger than me. When we were in high school, we were all bound by one hobby: drawing. Together with  my sister and my cousin’s brother who also like drawing, we usually find the four of us challenging each other as to who can make the best free-hand reproduction of some portraits in magazines. Many times, they had to bestow the honor to me as I could always get the best likeness of the faces that we copied. Aside from this, he had another interest: music. He didn’t really have a good voice to speak of and had to endure the ridicule of his two older siblings who were blessed with good singing voices. But this guy persisted and withered the insults, the teasing, even the outright discouraging words thrown his way. He also wanted to play the piano but they didn’t own one. So he had to travel to a friend’s house to play the piano, mostly by self-study. There were times when his mother would scold him as he could disappear for a day to practice and nobody knew where he was. There were no telephones in our town.

landscape by jose librodo
This is an example of my cousin Jose's numerous watercolor paintings.

Fast forward to this day. My cousin is very popular in Thailand as the trainer and conductor of the famous Jeremiah Singers that even perform in the palace of the king of Thailand. He is also an accomplished water color artist and had his own one-man shows of his work which finds their way around the world, purchased at no cheap price. He is also a multi-awarded photographer whose photos garner raving comments from fellow photographers and visitors to his online gallery. All these he accomplished even without the support of his parents. So does this suddenly negate what I have been saying above about parents helping to discover and nurture their kids’ talents? Not al all. You see, his talents were developed only later in life. His conducting, he achieved only when he already graduated and was teaching in an International School in Bangkok. His water color work, he also developed while teaching. His photography he only started a few years ago. I could only wonder how things could have been if his parents were keen enough to discover his potential early on. Could he have been a child prodigy then? Where could he be now had he started early? Like I said, artistry will usually find its own way however late and that exactly is what happened to him. For all his accomplishments, he may never be a Chuck Mangione, nor an Elvis. And maybe, just maybe, the reason could be that his parents failed to discover and nurture his gifts. Not that I could blame them for failing to do that because sometimes the more pressing demands of parenthood can drown us poor parents in this our primary responsibility. But I hope my cousin’s story will inspire us to try harder. Our primary responsibility includes the lookout for the best interest of our kids and their best interest does not begin and end on the kind of food we put on the table. It very much includes the hidden gems of talents God has bestowed upon them waiting to be discovered and nurtured to perfection.

 cat whiperer
One of the many photos found in Jose's gallery .

So what about me and my drawing talent? Sadly, I also failed to nurture them for my interests were turned to some other things. I discovered reading and writing and the Lord also found me to be used for His other works. Although I don’t have any regrets there is always that “what could have beens” somewhere lurking in the back of my mind.

When we discovered our daughter’s interest in drawing, we made sure there is always clean bond paper for her to use. And used them she did averaging a ream (that’s five hundred sheets about every two months at her busiest. At five, we enrolled her at an art summer workshop at UP. We didn’t get to keep most of what she did as mostly they were childish scribbles. But her later work was astounding in details and intricacy. The last work I saw was when her mother asked her to design costumes for school play characters. The designs were very imaginative.

Then a few years back, she discovered books and the wonderful world to which they lead. Since then, she couldn’t be stopped in her readings and we have spent thousands for her book collections. The result: she became too adept with words that at ten years old, she can write better compositions than I could at first year college. She also qualified to join “Merry Pens”, a Miriam School publication. She may or may not end up being a future Tolkien or Lemony Snicket but by the looks of things now, she is definitely showing very good promise.

The bible says “…stir up the gift that is in you…” and although it was said by Paul to young but nonetheless adult Timothy, when applied to children it automatically becomes the parent’s responsibility. So let’s do it and perhaps someday receive a pleasant surprise of our life as our kids’ talents blossom and become the thing that is truly a gift not only to us parents but to the whole world that is a little richer for the contribution that they have made. Then in the comfort of our old age, we can look back and smile knowing that we have never failed.