Who Is This Man?

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” George Bernard Shaw

He sits quietly with his daughter and listens to her as she cries over some slight inflicted by another child. I watch from behind, at a safe distance. His arm is around her, her body tucked in close to his. I can’t hear their whispered conversation, but whatever he has said has reassured her. His daughter is soon playing again with her perceived transgressor. All is forgiven or at the very least put into perspective.

The other day while planning an outing with other family members, he negotiated going on a hike rather than a bike ride because his wife didn’t have a bike and wouldn’t have been able to go along. He spoke with every family member, made his case and eventually secured agreement. Everyone enjoyed the hike, no one more so than his wife.

This reminded me of other times. Out for dinner with family, his wife at work, he ordered, and then delivered a meal to her. Why hadn’t I noticed his generosity?

In the past, I’ve overheard conversations he’s had with a colleague or supervisor. In these situations, his voice and mannerisms seem alien to me. Where did he acquire such confidence, that ability to listen to what must have been one problem or another and then come up with such ready self-assured solutions?

At a reunion this week, he played with six children, his own and others, as though he was one of them (all six foot, two inches of him). He’d made up a game that involved running, jumping and splashing. The screeches of laughter came from all, but his were the loudest. His face exuded such unabashed joy. Where did this ability to let go and enjoy come from?

He didn’t grow up with this sense of play. In fact, he was raised to be serious and driven and focused. This was the definition of success set for him. Yet, there were so many times he tried to make others laugh, tell them not to worry so much. As I write this, I realise these efforts of his to lighten everything up were mostly directed at me. Fool that I was, I was too stubborn. I had no time for play.

No, he’s not perfect. Sometimes he is too loud, particularly in a crowd, too eager to belong and impress. It is then that I see that little boy who desperately sought the attention of his success-driven mother. Who among us is perfect?

Still I marvel and wonder: how did he acquire this balance, this ability to be anything he needs to be given the situation? I couldn’t tell you. All I can do is watch with envy. Oh, to be like him. The man I see again and again in a different light and admire. My son.

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