Scott Nathanson is the father of Gunnar, 10, and Gus, 7. He has lived for 20 years in the Washington, DC area, working as a lobbyist, researcher and organizer on arms control and environmental issues. He recently stepped back from the saving-the-world gig to do more Dad stuff and is now developing two books, a how-to guide for backyard birthday parties and a work of fiction about a superhero who discovers he cannot use his powers violently even for the greater good. He blogs occasionally on parenting and conflict resolution at http://stophittingyourbrother.wordpress.com/.
Dear Gunnar and Gus,
If I’m to appreciate a single, essential element of being your Dad – that one distinctive quality that I took from both your Grandpa and your Zayde and tried my best to bring into your lives as well – it is this: Play.
When memories of your grandfathers leap to my mind, I see your Zayde laughing as he battled snow and wind to hit me pop-flies on a frigid New York morning in December, knowing that because I lived in Atlanta most of the year, his next opportunity to play baseball with me would be after the next season was already over. And your Grandpa taking me down to Murphy Candler Park on a “sick” day so we could play Mets vs. Phillies, teasing me with the prospect of facing ex-Met Nino Espinosa, yet serving up the game-winning home run to my hero, Mookie Wilson (you remember who our cat was named for, right?).
Those flickers of joy glint like gold amid the silt of busy careers and broken marriages. And as I look back at my life with you two, it is those times that we have played that I carry most with me now.
Playing with the two of you, whether turning an oddly-shaped pillow into a game of “Zombie Touch and the Artichoke People” or using whatever we could scrounge on the ground for a game of Coconut Baseball in the Keys, helped me relocate a simple, all-but-lost joy inside myself, and unearth those precious gems from my own childhood.
And when your birthdays rolled around, your love of play kept Chuk-E-Cheese at bay, and gave me the opportunity to be everyone from Indiana Jones to Professor Dumbledore to Super Mario (important note: always go a size larger when wearing spandex costumes) as we gave your imagination life in our backyard. I hope that some of the delight I felt rubbed off on you as well.
And so I urge you, whenever possible, to unbox those childish things that society insisted you put away. Play the way you did when you were five-years-old, beating on a box, a table, a cushion, anything you could get your hands on to mimic the rhythm of Animal’s drum duet with Harry Belafonte. Play for the best of all reasons: because it is the incarnate of joy.
If you do, let me make one more request. Go put a colander on your head and pay it – and play it – forward.
P.S. – Please see guest column from Halfdan Freihow tomorrow.