“A truly great man never puts away the simplicity of a child.”–Confucius
A few weeks back I celebrated Father’s Day. There’s nothing special about that. Many of us have embraced the idea of this holiday, which is—like all holidays, made-up. The day exists, but it is made important through arbitrary methods that are completely disconnected from the rubric that, on all other days, we consider reality. This year I had the most challenging time trying to embrace the holiday while remembering that it was a farce. We went, as a family, to a place called The Great Wolf Lodge which is located on an Indian Reservation an hour or better to the South of my house. The Great Wolf Lodge is an indoor water-park/hotel that is built to accomplish two things: 1) See to it that kids never want to leave without dropping five (5) to six (6) dollars per every pound they weigh, and 2) To flabbergast parents/guardians into a state just north of a coma so that they comply with thing one (1). To describe this place as “overwhelming” would be as big an understatement as describing being hit by a Pterodactyl egg that had been laid mid-flight as “an unfortunate mess”. But, despite all of its pitfalls, I learned something very important about Fatherhood there, a lesson that had less to do with being sophisticated—or what I’d thought being grown-up meant—than I ever would have imagined.
My first clue that my understanding of Fatherhood, and its relative pertinence to Father’s Day, had left the rails was finding myself feeling more and more annoyed by my kids. I was annoyed by the fact that they needed so much care that day and by the fact that I was going to a water-park to celebrate a day that was invented to make me feel important. I don’t like water-parks…I did once…I don’t know what happened to that affinity, but it is gone. That is neither here nor there; the thing I want to convey through this paragraph is this: If you are being annoyed on Father’s Day by the very people that gave you the title, you have made some mistakes in discerning the border that divides reality and fantasy. Stop what you are doing, and turn around. Mistakes concerning borders have been known to land folks in Iranian prisons for vague lengths of time. Borders with relation to realism are no less dangerous. As important as existential conundrums can sometimes be, it is not the larger point I want to make.
I had a struggle with going to The Lodge from the moment that I’d heard it was on the agenda. I did not want to go. But reluctantly, I agreed to this plan. My friend Chris once gave me advice with regard to commitment. I don’t recall the exact context, but he told me that if I were to commit to something noble, having never truly considered the sacrifice, and once having come to a point where-in the situation takes a turn for the untenable, I choose to give up—I’ve become like a man who agrees to have all of his fingers cut off to resolve an hostage situation and after feeling the pain of losing the first digit gives up—I essentially become a man who walks the earth with nine (9) fingers for no good reason. Go ahead and read that again, it’s not just you, that was a convoluted premise. I agreed to go on this trip with my family, and then tried to spend the weekend straddling the fence between martyr and asshole…poorly.
The lesson that I learned while at The Lodge was not one of sophistication, as I mentioned earlier, but one of whimsy. In my self-centeredness I forgot that regardless of all of my logical generalizations, and well-reasoned objections to this place, when my girls first beheld this monument it was as cool as anything they’d ever seen. There were slides and pools and sprinklers and a huge bucket that dropped hundreds (100s) of gallons of water on unsuspecting passers-by for no perceivable reason. It was the illegitimate love-child of The Cat in the Hat, and one of The Wonder Twins…the one who could turn into water. There was an arcade and some restaurants and an ice-cream parlor and a game room and a craft room and these magic wands that you could wave toward inanimate creatures on the wall, and they’d magically re-animate. This was all in one building. The same building in which we slept…poorly. For a kid, there are few places that compare, I imagine. But for a self-centered dad it was nothing but cartoon dollar signs dissolving into the ether for reasons long forgotten. What the fuck do I know about whimsy? For a guy who struggles to recognize it, I sure am proficient at stealing it from those who know how to enjoy it. I remember as a young adult never wanting to rob my children of a chance at whimsy. I remember what it is like, vaguely. I can sort of remember how it feels to be robbed of it. As I recall, it is none too pleasant.
I remember as a child watching Sesame Street when I was very young…it may be my earliest memory and one, of a very few, that precedes my eighth (8th) birthday. One of the puppets was looking at the camera…and in my mind, at me, and inviting me to come to his house, which was something like: “Look I made a special party for you, and decorated the place for you, because you are special.” I remember I wanted to go there…just through that thin piece of glass into a world that was so much better than the one in which I lived. I knew it would happen one day…I was sure of it. But as life dragged on, it became apparent to me that I was never gonna make it to that barrio, it mattered little how impassioned the invitation or how thin the window…the passion was always a little too thin, and the glass a little too thick to make it happen. That was disappointing, but it did not take away my whimsy. What took away my whimsy was the first time I saw a T.V. with the screen smashed in, this was shocking for two reasons: 1) The violence that was required to break said screen, and 2) The contents of the television. It was just wires and glass and powder. It was an insufficient carpet on which to take my magic ride. Sorry, Ernie.
As a parent I know that I can do little to guard against this sort of reality-check. It is good for kids to figure out that they’re not going to fly through the T.V. screen to a magical place. However, I do find that there are lots of opportunities to encourage real whimsy and thus make the sillier facades seem less traumatic when they melt away. Things like embracing a moment of joy in a water-park as being no more or less valuable than the look in your child’s eyes. Things like making your child believe that they (not you) are the most important person in the world to you, every now and again. And…I don’t know…maybe not complaining about the price of an ice-cream cone every time they ask for one, because it’s not as though your kids are on the take…and besides, in the long-run, who really cares?