Well summer is almost over, and those of you with kids might have noticed that they are doing their level best to not let on that they are starting to get bored with their daily routine. Whether it is sleeping in a little later each day or spending less time outside in favor of more time interacting with the multitude of gadgets that fill their lives, I’ll warrant that there is many a father out there who feels as though he is on the losing side of an asymmetrical battle. It is a battle between the hearts, minds, and souls of our families and the rapacious spirit of our times that demands more and more of the time and energies of the ones we love.
I had originally planned on writing a short article reminding fathers how important it is to take the initiative and carve out some time to play with their kids. However, since returning from my own family vacation, I now know that what I had planned on writing was insufficient for the point that I think needs to be made.
I recently went camping with my family in northern Minnesota, so I had some time to get some reading in during the long drive. A friend of mind recommended that I check out Anthony Esolen’s 2010 book Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child before I wrote this article, and I am glad that I did. Esolen is an English professor at Providence College in Rhode Island and is the author of several books such as The Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Civilization, Ironies of Faith, and is the senior editor at Touchstones magazine.
His Ten Ways book is somewhat sardonically written in the style of C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters, and references many of the great works of Western Civilization to point out how so many of the ideals we used to learn about what it means to be human, have either been discarded or were never learned in the first place. Instead he sees a world where too many people raise their kids to “pass their days with the regularity of a conveyor belt at an airport, which we duly get on, and make our way with bland uniformity” (Esolen, xiii) by quashing the one thing that enriches our humanity- the imagination.
Thus Esolen identifies what has come to be one of our contemporary culture’s peculiar problems, it’s inane worship of homogeneity in all things. Like a hedge that is continuously trimmed to the shortest plant in the row (and thus is never allowed to flower), any and every facet of our humanity that in any way reminds us that we are made in the image of God, must be smoothed over. In its place we get a flat two-dimensional world that marches to the temporal beat of a materialist drum, that offers us the illusion of prosperity, opportunity, freedom, and comfort but are really just fronts for rank materialism, consumerism, indulgence, and self-centeredness.
The Biggest Killjoy of Them All
For those of us who can see through the glass clearly, it is not hard to see why Esolen’s book is about killing off the imagination of children. From the moment they enter our lives, we intuitively understand that our whole world must be rearranged to give our kids the time and attention they require for healthy development. In essence it means we must, for almost two decades, use paths better suited to our family’s needs rather than the needs of society as a whole. From the point of view of the kind of society Esolen portrays, this sort of arrangement is unacceptable and it will literally fight to the death to keep its illusory zeitgeist alive. If the innocence, the creative potential, and even the very lives of our children must be sacrificed to keep the “dream alive”, then so be it.
Thus when we hear phrases such as “our children are out greatest resource” what we are really being told is that we need to raise kids who will not be capable of critically thinking about, let alone breaking out of, the kind of uniformity that keeps our societal machine running smoothly. This is why at all fronts, we are witnessing a continuous and concerted effort by certain elite segments of our society to use the schools or other public institutions to draw children away from their parents. Not to mention the entertainment produced for kids these days, whose story lines stress ideological conformity and group cohesion at all costs, as well as the barrage of advertising that goes along with it.
I cringe every time I see kids playing at playgrounds and acting out scenes from movies with the specific toys from those movies with no variation whatsoever. I have been told that marketers see this sort of imitative behavior as a sign that they have achieved “brand loyalty”, which of course makes me think of the branding of cattle and the herd mentality that goes along with it.
Resetting the Narrative of Our Children’s Lives
This site is here so that men can have a place to step outside the boundaries laid out by our secular world about what it means to be a man and especially a father. Thus, whether you are a father or not, it is incumbent upon us as men to make sure we are capable and willing of offering a more substantive and fulfilling narrative for the next generation to follow, than what the word has to offer. One that will point them in the right direction and give them the best chance to grow into mature adults who are capable of appreciating, defending, and passing on the blessings and richness of Western Civilization.
Moreover, if you are Christian and are baptized, then in a very real sense we have already been “branded” and thus our entire beings have already been spoken for. We have been marked with the sign of the Cross and belong to Christ, so let’s make sure we act like it and teach our kids what that means so they can do likewise. We can do this through educating them of course, but we all know how flighty children’s attention spans can be when it comes to sitting and listening. Depending on their ages, it can be hard to inculcate notions such as morality or critical thinking by just explaining it to them. So it wouldn’t hurt to learn how to incorporate the key tenets of our faith and culture into our kid’s playtime, because while I’m no expert in child development, I’m pretty sure that playtime is how kids learn.
What I and others have found is that if you make it a part of their activities, they can acquire both knowledge and wisdom that will stay with them for a lifetime. Thus when we play with our kids we should keep these words from Esolen’s Ten Ways book in mind,
“If we loved children, we would have a few. If we had them, we would want them as children, and would love the wonder with which they behold the world, and would hope some of it might open our eyes a little. We would love their games, and would want to play them once in a while, stirring in ourselves those memories of play that no one regrets, and that are almost the only things an old man can look back on with complete satisfaction.” (Esolen, xii)
So what follows in part two are five activity ideas for parents to do with their kids that I, or friends of mine, have had some luck with, along with the ideas or lessons that kids can learn from them. These are not original ideas, most of you have played them before, but it is the way that you engage in these activities that makes them different. And if your kids moan that they have already played that game before and are tired of it, just tell them, “Yeah but today we’re going to do it Maccabee-style!”
However, be forewarned, if you do these activities at a park or playground, be prepared to pick up a few stragglers from kids who have grown tired of trying to draw their parent’s attention away from their daily worship time on social media, and want to do something truly fun for a change. So bring some extra gear if you can!