As boys, we are taught to dream big. To throw the game-winning touchdown, to fly the Space Shuttle, to slay the dragon.
The world is our oyster, we can be anything.
Over time, the probabilistic realities of life and our own limitations get in the way. We grow up and take the jobs that our families need us to, bringing home paychecks and healthcare. We take on different model of manliness: not athlete or astronaut or barbarian adventurer but provider, handyman, teacher, and companion.
No one says “When I grow up, I want to sit in a cubicle all day, listening to conference calls and looking at PowerPoint!” anymore than they say “When I grow up, I want a dead-end career hawking third-rate used cars to people with bad credit!”
So at some point in our lives, we each must reconcile the dreams of childhood with the reality of manhood.
Some sequester their dreams, forgetting them entirely, becoming sad automatons without imagination who, every day, do what they did yesterday and what they will do tomorrow. We all know some of these folks. They tend to be accountants.
We all also know the archetype who can’t let go of his dreams, who banks everything on one more try. If he ends up on the cover of Time Magazine, his success makes him a hero. He builds it and they come. Americans love stories like this, fetishize those few who succeed as justification for our own potential.
But more often than not the Time Magazine dreams are never realized; the Peter Pan who could not grow up ends up alone, disappointed, and probably nursing a bottle of not-very-good whisky.
There is a third way, a middle ground.
We men, we fathers, can hold to our childhood fantasies whilst still providing, caring, living in reality, manning-up.
I don’t know a man who doesn’t nourish some sort of secret collection or hobby. A colleague of mine chases down reunion shows by 80’s metal bands…and shows by bands that feature guys who were in 80’s metal bands…and shows by bands that feature guys who played in bands that had guys who were in 80’s metal bands in them.
A good friend of mine has every one of the Dragonlance novels perfectly preserved in a box. I think he periodically takes them out and re-reads them.
I collect aircraft manuals – something over 400 of them at last count, everything from the Beech Staggerwing to the Space Shuttle. Anytime I need a break, I can step into a cockpit and spend a little time imagining an aviation career I never had – flying or designing H-60s or F-16s or 777s or even Space Shuttles.
Periodically, we men go out to the storage shed of our mind, pull the protective tarp off our dreams, blow the dust out of the cracks, and give them some time in the sun. We polish them and maintain them, gingerly warming them up with every outing, afraid to let our ambitions over reach our abilities. But those dreams keep us going, give us a connection back to the limitless ambition of youth and a break from the perpetual tension and demands of manhood.
We visit the driving range, join fantasy sports leagues, drive riding mowers like we are turning laps at Daytona, lead our troops to victory in the virtual world of video games, or don fantastic alter-egos in massive multiplayer online roll-playing games.
Men, good men, grow up. We do what is necessary to support the hopes and ambitions and needs of the people we love. But we hold to our little boy’s dreams, our innocent vision of a time when all focus could be on the next pitch, or the trouncing of the enemy, or the solving of the riddle.
For Father’s Day, remind us that what we do is important, even if it’s not heroic. Tell us that we do a good job. And, even if only for a few fictitious hours, indulge us our secret fantasies, our escapes, and our dreams.