Do adults ever play?

Calvin & Hobbes
 Source: Calvin & Hobbes 1

Last weekend a bunch of dads and daughters ventured into the great outdoors, endeavoring to build lasting memories together while camping, eating, s’mores-ing, fishing, playing, giggling, et cetera. The thing is, each of the fathers had to at one point recognize their ambitious plans for a great weekend had to step aside for the joy of whatever their daughter(s) wanted to do at that moment.

Plans that would need to be as fluid as the changing weather. And they were.

We didn’t catch any fish, though some newts became instant pets (before returning to their marshlands safely). Meals and bedtimes and dietary restrictions were merely guidelines, not rules. We had a ton of fun.

When the rain subsided, a beloved activity of this group of giddy girls was riding razor scooters and bikes around the campsite loop, with some rolling hills. It was a challenge to maintain speed all the way around. At least one of us dads needed to accompany, and I’m glad to say most of the dads joined in with their daughter(s) at one point or another. Since I’m no use in food prep nor in cooking a large-group meal, I instead volunteered to join these impromptu wheeled adventures.

Daddy-Daughter Campout

The biking and scooter-ing were way more fun when it wasn’t raining, and that’s when one of the girls asked me how long the loop was. “I don’t know,” I responded, “how long do you think it is? Definitely less than a mile; maybe a half mile?”  She then asked if I had my GPS watch to “keep track.” Yep, it’s in my bag as usual. So I put on my Garmin, and we all started out again on our loops. There were the inevitable bumps and bruises when one of the riders did a yard sale over the scooter bars, yet those girls are tough and within minutes each time were back at it.

Later we figured out each loop was about a third of a mile, and one girl noted she had done twenty-five loops. A bit of math scratched out in the dirt led her to realize that day’s bike riding added up to more than eight miles around that campground. Whoa. Solid effort. That is active play.


I took a little flack from some of the men for “measuring” the play time. I quipped back that I had been the one running the loops with the kids, gathering the wounded, and bringing them back, while (some of) the other dads sat around. (Men can take jabs at one another like this, and still remain friends.) Yet the remark about not measuring has some merit, because an unmeasured life has significant qualities to it.

Like the Calvin and Hobbes comic above, we grown-ups don’t often go outside and play. Our lives are rigorously measured, with many goals and timelines, so when we get some down-time we seek out other ways to set aside responsibilities for a breather. (Ahh. Let me just sit here in peace.)

I wonder what happens to us adults as we lose our “childlikeness” (not childishness, which is foolish and immature, and many keep). Rather, like a child, when we do give ourselves permission again to be overwhelmed with a sense of awe and wonder when out and about in nature?

Why do we glue ourselves to gadgets to be amused, rather than go muse about out in creation?

(I’m not talking about the difference between using an exercise tracker versus playing “free” of any devices.)

When I think of my kids playing I recognize they are accomplishing significant things. They’re not just doing ‘nothing.’ My kids hum and sing and make all sorts of noise while playing in the dirt, mud and building forts. All make-believe worlds involve active imaginations. There’s significant physical activity, even brain activity, at work! There may be a game or an invention being tinkered with, and progress is being made. It’s supremely active. That is what kids do when they play in unstructured space; they bring the creativity with them.

Yet adults tend to pick up the habit of being entertained (amused2, instead of musing) as a way of play. But this practice backfires because the passivity of sitting with “screen time” (as my kids call it) rarely renews a person. We give up the fight to be and grow and start settling for feeling nothing.

A while back I asked a group of early twentysomethings what they did for fun in recent weeks. Anticipating a spark would ignite about adventures and some shared experiences to push the conversation forward, I was met with mostly blank stares. Then one after another they mentioned going out to eat then heading to the movies, or staying in and binge-watching episodes of their favorite TV shows. Not surprisingly, each was tired and sapped of any enthusiasm. (And thus soon bored of our gathering.)

Our comforts have led us down the road of apathy. Play can lead us out of that dead end. Let’s put down the gadgets, or trade it in for another gadget to track our outdoor adventures. Whatever you choose, go for it.

Exercise has many benefits; a chief one for me is allowing for time to think and reflect.

Exercise has many benefits; a chief one for me is allowing for time to think and reflect. It turns the world upside-down for a brief time, to make sense of it all when I get back.

I’m grateful we were able to get outdoors for a couple days, to connect as Daddys and Daughters, to play without an agenda, and accomplish the significant milestone of building lasting memories together. That’s worth tracking.

You’ve invited to play along with me in a fun fundraiser for clean water in East Africa.

  1. Calvin & Hobbes by Bill Watterson, May 12, 2015
  2. amuse means to not think, as in a-muse

One thought on “Do adults ever play?

  1. Awesome insight!! I seem to need to be reminded daily of my need to play more, or often to just play at all. Left to my own devices I allow the weight of my real (and mostly perceived) responsibilities, and my subsequent failures, steal the joy that I am commanded to live in. I believe that joy is commanded, not as a goal, but as a symptom of a life well lived. I love your words on our tendency to trade being entertained for being happy. Truly impacted by this. Thank you!

    Thank you for sharing this. It was good to see you and Heidi there.

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