FatherSon Ventures

Building a Relationship through Adventure

The Pet Store and Toy Store

Written By: Scot Butwell - Aug• 12•12

It’s a Saturday, and D and I are at the back of the store at Petsmart, looking through a ten by twelve foot glass window, where there are fifteen to twenty dogs in Doggy Day Care.

Big dogs, little dogs, shaggy dogs, white dogs, black dogs, tan dogs, black-and-white dogs, some dogs sniffing each other you know where, and one dog getting sprayed with water for trying to you know what.

D and I watch a Petsmart employee in a blue polo and a Pit Bull play tug of war over a purple ball. The employee lets go, and when he reaches back for the ball, the Pit Bull yanks it away, and D breaks out in peals of laughter.

He laughs hysterically as the game continues several rounds. True, it’s not Disneyland or Knott’s Berry Farm, but it is hard to argue that D isn’t having as much fun, and it will save me from spending two hundred plus dollars.

Petsmart and ToysRus—D calls them The Pet Store and The Toy Store—are two places he likes to regularly visit. We do not own a pet and, thankfully, he’s happy just to look at the toys.

We go for the simple pleasures a Pet Store and Toy Store can bring to a four-year-old. I give D the freedom to roam and to linger as long as likes at whatever attracts his attention.

birds (2)

The freedom I grant is my gift to him: a chance to be free to explore. So much of his life already is a parent or teacher telling him what to do. I believe he needs time to follow his impulses.

His insatiable attitude reminds me of a line from a W.B. Yeats’s poem: “An aimless joy is a pure joy.” And this is what I see on our most recent trip to The Pet Store and The Toy Store:

D flicks his fingers on the glass window of the bird cages, giggling as the finches fly around crazy. I let him enjoy this aimless joy a while before I tell him to stop scaring the birds.

“You are going to give the birds a heart attack by making their hearts beat too fast,” I say, scanning the aisles for blue polo shirts and realizing D has no clue what a heart attack is.


D swipes his fingers a few more times. Okay, I stand in front of the birds, holding him back. But this is a part of his joy. A father-son game we play in every one of our visits to the Pet Store.

He pokes his fingers at the fish. They dart away. He lifts a handle to look at the crickets. He fingers fish tank accessories while I hold my breath, hoping he doesn’t break anything.

“Hey, there’s Blackie,” I say, referring to a cat resembling one from our old neighborhood.

“Blackie,” he says. “What are you doing here?”

He jabbers with a yellow parakeet, spins a hamster wheel, swats a cat toy on a scratching post, climbs inside a dog kennel, stops to look at hamsters, moving seamlessly through the store like a concerto from aisle to aisle.


I watch as he interacts with pets and pet products. And I realize how seldom I take pleasure in an aimless joy, how I need time to wander and to explore, to have more spontaneity in my life.

I realize I need to follow my own impulses more often by taking a hike in the woods, getting lost in the pages of a book, or recalibrating my mind on a long cross-country train trip.

Watching D’s attitude, I see how my life is ruled by busyness and work. No time for fun. As D takes a whiff of a dog biscuit, I think of another one of Yeats’s lines: “Wisdom is a butterfly, not a gloomy bird of prey.”

I consider how Yeats’s image offers me wisdom in developing a father-son relationship with D, as if he were Glinda the Good Witch advising Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. 

I follow D down a dog toy aisle, past a white poodle and D squeezes a rubber chicken in a pink bikini, and we both laugh at the squeaky sound. Yes, indeed, wisdom is a butterfly, not a gloomy bird of prey.

My dad lesson? To allow D to pursue the purity of an aimless joy and to do the same in my life, even as the world beckons me to stay busy and to work hard: to accomplish something. And to strive to be more like butterfly and less like a gloomy bird of prey.

I want to think less about work–ringing school bells and teaching students– but to find a way to reenter into my son’s timeless word and to abandon my awareness of time.

To fly and be perfect a second or two, rise above this hard world by hopping on a railroad boxcar at five miles per hour and zooming into the night, to dark crevices of mountains, to float so stands still, away from encyclopedias of rules, and be like a wisp if wind.

The teacher is my son.


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