How Embracing “Silly” Taught this Newly Divorced Dad How to Live.
Nobody ever has or ever will write a fairy tale about divorce. Just imagine Cinderella telling Prince Charming that they need to spend some time apart. Or Beast informing Beauty of his plans to dissolve their marriage and divide their assets. Such musings are not merely comical, they’re inconceivable. Mostly because ugly truths are as incongruent to fairy tales as square pegs are to round holes. They don’t fit. According to recent estimates, neither do more than fifty percent of married couples.
There’s an incredibly good reason the word ‘divorce’ makes people uncomfortable. The vast majority of them tend to bring out the absolute worst in its participants. Couples without kids, however, can purge any and all trace of an ex from their lives and walk away clean. Whereas those with them are like members of a chain gang that have no choice but to co-exist as their better angels often yield to their lesser demons. Strange how the ultimate object of affection can inspire such scorn.
I’d always considered myself to be a good father without ever stopping to think how I could be a better one. That question first came to mind when I got divorced and was answered many months later at a birthday party.
It was at an indoor playground in celebration of a preschooler, making the guests young enough so that their parents stuck around for its entirety. These kinds of gatherings had the habit of playing out with predictability. Kids frolicking with reckless abandon. Parents socializing with casual indifference, each intermittently displaying their own style of parenting. I can’t say one was superior to another. But I can say that the father I saw running amok with his daughter changed my perspective on what it means to be both a parent and an adult.
While the rest of us played with our children we maintained a conscious composure that kept our inner child in check. Simply put, on some level we either couldn’t or wouldn’t let it all hang out because we cared about the shadow we cast and how others would perceive it. This guy, however, did not. He unleashed his silly with a vengeance by being a goofball. A ham. A spectacle. Not immature. Not inappropriate. Silly.
Whether or not you have kids, appearances are pretty much all you need to gauge their mood. Based solely on those, that man’s silliness resulted in he and his daughter having more fun than anyone else present.
The math seemed simple enough. If I wanted to inject that extra dose of happiness into my children’s lives, I had to get silly with them. So I tried, only to discover my desire to please my children was outweighed by my desire to avoid embarrassment. Apparently, the same conscious control I exerted in situations that called for genteel civility had, at some point, eaten its way into my unconscious. Like a parasite, it fed off the thoughts and feelings the majority of us associate with childhood and childish things until any trace of them was a distant memory. I was fun. Spontaneous. And, at times, downright entertaining. But not silly.
The realization wasn’t as vexing as it was perplexing. Surely I had been silly as a child. At what point did I lose that? Unlike a wallet or a set of keys, it wasn’t something I was going to find if I retraced my steps. And it wasn’t a long-term goal that would take years to accomplish. The people in whom I’d witnessed the ability were like masterful actors who could slip into character at a moment’s notice. They didn’t think. They didn’t practice. They didn’t study. They just did.
I’ve always been a “doer,” but reserved the right to overthink and overanalyze anything I did in advance of doing it. That all changed when I saw my little boy literally stop and smell the flowers.
We were walking our dog in the park. He and his sister paused to admire a cluster of birds of paradise. After asking what they were, my son leaned in and took a deep whiff. I knew the flowers had no scent and waited for him to reach the same conclusion. Instead, he exclaimed: “These smell great!” And he said it with such gusto that it compelled his sister to mimic his action. “Mmmmmmmmm!” she squeaked with glee.
They both looked at me, uncertain as to why I was depriving myself of a heavenly aroma. And it was such a beautiful sight that I felt like the Grinch when he saw all the Whos in Whoville gather around the tree to sing. Yet it wasn’t my heart, but my consciousness that grew ten sizes that day. So I didn’t think. I didn’t question. I didn’t hesitate. I just smelled before echoing my daughter’s glorious sentiment of “Mmmmmmmm!”
That simple act opened the floodgates and released a torrent of silly. We spent the ensuing hour smelling every flower we came across. For their entertainment I took it a step further and smelled the bark on trees and the leaves on their limbs, marveling at the fragrances as though they were intoxicating perfumes. I even imitated the dog by getting down on all fours and furrowing my nose through the grass. Their laughter silenced my conscious control, whereby it packed up its things and took off for parts unknown. I haven’t seen nor heard from it since.
Forget funny faces and ridiculous dances. Silly is an attitude and an outlook. It’s losing yourself in a place or a moment. With kids. With friends. With yourself.
It’s not something that has to be learned or remembered, merely appreciated. And saying that it has the singular ability to transform lives and relationships is no understatement, because it did precisely that for me and mine.
If you’re in touch with your silly, consider yourself lucky. If not, I’ve found a few activities conducive to cultivating this very specific frame of mind. Owing to the fact that most of us face budgetary and time constraints, it helps to have reasonably priced road map. A budgetary guide to getting silly.
At last count, there were 181 parks in Los Angeles County. Most have playgrounds. 15 have splash pads. Don’t play a game of pick-up basketball. Forget going for a nice run. And for God’s sake, don’t just sit and watch others having a good time. With or without kids, forget carpe diem. Carpe monkeybars. A frolic through the fountains will definitely suffice. There’s no age limit on either.
Despite getting a pretty good bang for your buck, museums aren’t cheap. LACMA is no exception. Unless, of course, you bring a child. Anyone under 17 gets a free membership along with free admission for one accompanying adult. That includes access to the children’s gallery and the opportunity to explore your creative side by brush painting as many pictures as your heart desires. Nobody cares how good you are, or aren’t. The only thing that matters is that you participate, not spectate.
Considering this is Los Angeles, home to glamorous stars of stage and screen, there’s no better way to get giddy than by taking a photo with one. Or, at least, with their wax doppelganger. Madam Tussaud’s on Hollywood Boulevard regularly rotates the figures on display by the box office. No need to buy a ticket, just gawk unabashedly at your favorite celebrity’s star on the Walk of Fame before snapping off a few selfies with the paraffin persona of the week.
On most Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings, the Original Farmer’s Market in the Fairfax District offers live performances by bands in any number of genres, from jazz and bluegrass to rock and country. Not many people shed their inhibitions and dance along to the music, which is why I highly encourage it.
Few escapades allow us to lose ourselves more than singing aloud. Not at karaoke. Not in the shower. Not in your car. Try it on a walk. At your desk or the gym. In the grocery store or a shopping mall. I used to look at such individuals and see shameless extroverts, now I see kindred spirits. And that is why, despite being tone deaf and musically disinclined, I sing to my children in public as often as I can.