My Son Got a #Tattoo

Category: Weekly Columns

The title of this column probably brings shivers to parents of toddlers and kids under the age of 12. Many parents do not like or appreciate tattoos or any so-called “Body Art.” I am one of them plus it is against our religion and is expressly forbidden in Judaism. Nonetheless, we parents have to choose our battles and this is one I chose to lose.

My older son has been a passionate musician since he was about 11. His music of choice is good ‘ol Rock ‘N’ Roll, from loving Jimi Hendrix and Led Zepellin to all the newer bands, including Green Day, Periphery, and Incubus – and so many others whose names I can’t even remember. We’ve gone to concerts together since he was a kid, beginning with Bruce Springsteen at Dodger Stadium and most recently Dream Theater (his choice, and I LOVED them) at the Gibson Amphitheatre.

We saw Green Day on their “American Idiot” tour when I had to lift him up to see, since we were “on the floor.” He now towers over me. We bought scalper tickets to see Eric Clapton. We’ve seen The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Tenacious D, the Outside Lands festival (we’re going again in August), The Dave Matthews Band, The Foo Fighters, Kid Rock, The Black-Eyed Peas, and so many others that I’ve forgotten.

Arnie was not much of a student, in spite of his intelligence. Getting him through high school was quite the struggle because “everything is stupid” and he didn’t get the importance of doing well, though he cared enough to graduate. But, he never stopped learning his music. In his junior year, he decided he wanted to go to The Berkee College of Music.

The problem was he had no grades to speak of and no plans to even take the SAT. He finds out they don’t require the SAT, though it and grades factor into their acceptance process. What matters most to Berklee is your music – your audition. So, he set his mind to ace that.

Auditions are held all over the country, but I chose to take him to Boston so we could see the belly of the beast, the place where I would go broke should he by chance get accepted, and to audition right there where we felt he’d have the best audience.

We had an amazing 72 hours in Boston. Touring Berklee, I saw the Wonder-Eyes that my teen son hadn’t shown since he was a kid going to Disneyland. He was in heaven. He applied for early admission and thought he did pretty well on his audition, for which he’d practiced a ton.  The audition also included random music tests in which he had to sing back – in notes – random things played for him, copy rifts on the drums, jam with Berklee teachers, etc.

He got in. Early acceptance. I got a heart attack upon learning how much the tuition was (see The College Scam Hurts Us ALL). I was proud.

Now, he wanted his first tattoo. He had just turned 18. Our understanding, after several years of discussion, was that he could not get a tattoo before he was 18 and he had to pay for any tattoos with money he earned vs. his savings, birthday money, or allowance. He got a job. He showed up last month with his first tattoo. I say “first” because he plans several more.

Parents must choose their battles. I wrestled long and hard with this one. My son’s commitment to his music was evident. While we all know and say that a kid thinks one thing but ends up doing another more often than not, my gut said my son would end up in music – one way or another. Tattoos are part of the culture. His culture.

What is more important to me than his body art is his character and I’ve seen unbelievable growth from him the past two years. Sure, he’s still lazy with his chores, but he is thoughtful, cares about his friends, and even seems aware now and then that the world doesn’t fully revolve around him.

He’s growing up. That’s what I want. Tattoos are not important. Being a good person is.

Do I like the tattoo? An emphatic NO. Maybe he’ll keep them off his face and neck. I think I may have impressed upon him enough that those sorts of tattoos are very off-putting and may hinder some choices in his future. But ultimately, it will be up to him.

He’s going to Berklee in the fall. My requirement for his continuing there is maintaining a decent grade average and not reverting to partying or any mischief that would result in me getting a call from the school. I also require that he sign the authorization that I have access to all his school records. I’m paying for it; I insist on that.

Finally, since our family qualifies for ZERO aid – thank you very much – he got a loan from me for ¼ of his 4-year tuition expense because I want him to be invested in his education as much as I’m investing in it.

Tattoos? Not worth the fight…