“Hey, kids, come down from there.”

I’ve never been much for titles. I don’t have initials after my name, no epaulets dangle from my shoulders, and my children never call me sir. (In fact, when she was going through a particularly weird phase, my daughter Mandy called me “Brush Pile” for several months. Yeah, I didn’t get it either.)

The bottom line is that I’ve just never lived the kind of life that oozed sophistication or begged fawning acclaim. I’m not even particularly aware of my environment or how to act in public: I wear socks with sandals, carry a toothbrush in my pocket, and wear two pairs of glasses at once at the office because I need them both to see my computer screen. (This latter fashion faux-pas — which makes my eyes bug out — often stops co-workers in mid-sentence: “Um…I’m sorry, I just can’t talk to you unless you take at least one of those off.”)

I credit this sort of blissful self-unawareness to my mother, who always encouraged silliness and warned me of the stuffy perils of becoming a grown-up: “Not worth it. Life’s too short,” she would say. So, while I’m certain there is a fine line between childlike and childish — I’m just not sure where it is. I mean, here I am at the blisteringly decrepit age of 51, and my wife still says things like, “Honey, please come down from there” when we’re out for an evening walk down in the village.

The problem is that the world isn’t silly enough. We’re all so concerned with how we appear, how others perceive us, what kind of an impression we’re making (hence the right clothes, car, house, etc.) that we’ve forgotten that everyday life can be whimsical and a little goofy — perhaps is even meant to be. One of the saddest phrases I know is, “Act your age.”

We lived in the suburbs for a while when our children were little, and I remember one sweltering summer day when my son (about 11 at the time) and I and a bunch of the neighborhood hoodlums spent the better part of the afternoon in a scruffy overgrown lot, chucking rocks at cans, daring each other to eat grasshoppers, pig-piling ourselves into sweaty heaps, drinking soda and belching parts of the national anthem, and basically just goofing off in the kind of harmless way that will get the attention of passing adults, but not incite them to call the cops. When our moms finally called us in for supper, one thuggish boy in overalls sauntered over to my son. “That big kid’s fun, who is he, anyway?” he asked. “Oh, that’s my dad,” my son said, smiling.

My son is all grown up now (I know this because he’s shown me his 401K statements), but I bet he’d still eat a grasshopper for a quarter.

One of the perils of becoming a grown-up is the inevitable disconnect with our children. Just when they need us most, whether to splash around in puddles, climb trees, or just sit quietly and listen to them (“I wonder if maybe boys aren’t yucky after all…”) we so are so often unavailable: off playing golf, potting exotic plans, or reading the Wall Street Journal. We live as if the big-person things we do really matter when so much is just inane.

My wife and I have recently rolled up our sleeves to help plant a new church in a nearby town, and (for now) we all meet in school gymnasium. A couple of Sunday’s ago, while setting up chairs, I noticed my home-from-college daughter lying on the school stage with her feet on the floor. All I could see were her feet and knees — the rest of her was hidden by the folds of the thick curtain that spanned the stage. I went over, sat next to her, and wiggled my torso under the curtain. And there we lay for a good 10 minutes, shoulder to shoulder, hip to hip, knee to knee, staring up at the vents and ducts of the dark stage ceiling, talking quietly. Talking about nothing in particular. Just together.

As the time for the service grew nearer, we could hear the muffled commotion of people filling the gym. Gentle voices greeting each other. The soft sounds of hugs. And, when close to us, some polite giggles. “Whose feet are those next to Mandy’s?” we heard a lady’s voice ask. “Oh, that’s her dad,” my wife said. And my daughter smiled.

Please follow and like us: