Resignation mingled with euphoria when I heard my daughter describe to her friends just what her Daddy does for a living. She and her little trio of chums were busily cluttering the kitchen table with colorful scraps of construction paper while I was cluttering the nearby counter top with discarded wheat bread crusts that would have rendered peanut butter and jelly sandwiches inedible to the quartet of 5 year olds.
It’s a conversation all children get around to and I was standing right there when the redheaded neighbor girl brought it up.
“What’s your daddy do? Mine helps sick people,” she said with estimable pride.
They went right around in a little circle.
“Mine fixes cars.”
“He builds homes.”
Then, in a matter-of-fact voice, my beloved Josie drove a stake through any remaining ambitions I’d nurtured that one day I might achieve something notable in my profession. What does her daddy do?
“He plays with me.”
My first thought was, man, that’s not going to look good on the loan applications.
I should have seen this coming. For the past few years, I’ve awakened nearly every morning and presented myself with a stark choice for what that dawning day would involve: Achieve or enjoy?
And during that time, the record is clear: I’ve never once failed to succeed during a day I’d designated to enjoy. I’d go golfing, fish, picnic with the family and revel in the simple joys of being a father. That meant I’d drop whatever I was doing the instant Josie marched down the stairs into my basement office with her Barbie dolls and said, “Daddy, let’s play,” with a voice that left no room for artful refusal.
There are few things more entertaining than fully engaging a wound-up 5 year old at play. In my basement office where I earn my living writing stories about unusual events, I’ve seen things too amazing for jaded editors to believe. For instance, I’ve seen my daughter fly. I’ve seen her slay dragons. I’ve seen her carry on intelligent conversation with the dog and even laugh at his stupid jokes -- and that dog’s not funny.
It’s an unstructured jolliness that begins to slip from the grasp of children even two years later, an age when chalk-wielding adults first begin imposing conformity on classrooms of fidgety kids.
On the other hand, my record of achievements is skimpy. I’ve toiled at my profession, contributed meager amounts to worthy charities, but have built nothing that will endure beyond my mortal years.
That’s the kind of self-assessment that ought to depress someone who, like most wage-earning adults, was born with a kernel of ambition that’s been culturally nurtured to grow so that by middle age we’re all on a uniform march to do better, earn more and build a legacy that others will admire.
Not me. Not since the day I read a prominent obituary about the passing of a man who’d certainly awakened nearly every day and opted to achieve. And he did. He did in ways that will forever enrich mankind.
This great man had developed multiple vaccinations that literally saved the lives of millions of people. Who knows? Perhaps even mine.
Yet, I’d never once heard his name. Though a selfless life of enduring professional victories, this man of greatness had never achieved the kind of notoriety that would land him a significant mention in the newspapers until he passed away.
Worse, I forgot his name by the time I got to the sports pages and immersed myself in the fine print box scores that detail how my fantasy league baseball team fared the night before.
And that’s the way it is with the deaths of prominent poets, soldiers and statesmen. Men and women of true greatness are forgotten with the turn of a page. The most they can hope for is that their life’s work will endure long enough to bore eighth-grade history students 25 years after they’re gone.
Who among us will be remembered by anyone other than our loved ones 25 years after our passing? In 50 years? 100?
Humanitarian rock god Bono -- and is there a cooler job description in the world? -- recently remarked the music he makes with the band U2 will be forgotten in 100 years. (He’s wrong. I love U2, but the churning pop culture will render their music irrelevant 25 tidy years after Bono’s demise).
The odds of us accomplishing anything are long and stacked against us. That ought not to depress. It ought to liberate.
A test: ask 10 people “Hey, how’ve you been?” Ten will likely respond with some variation of, “Man, I’ve been busy,” as if to be otherwise somehow violates the very laws of nature.
If that’s the case, then consider me an outlaw in every sense of the word. See, I’m a wanted man.
Just ask my daughter.
That’s her I hear coming down the stairs. She has her Barbie dolls. That means it’s time for me to end this silly little diversion. It’s time to shut the lid on the laptop, to disengage my brain from striving for coherent thoughts and structured sentences.
It’s time for me to get back to work.