FatherSon Ventures

Building a Relationship through Adventure

Wisdom is a Butterfly

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, dogs sniffing each other you know where, and one dog getting sprayed with water for trying to do you know what.

We watch  a Petsmart employee in a blue polo and a Pit Bull play tug-of-war with a latticed purple ball. The employee lets go, and when he reaches back for the ball, the Pit Bull yanks it away. birdsD convulses into giddy spasms of laughter every time the Pit Bull jerks the ball away, and I enjoy watching D laugh hysterically as the tug-of-war game continues for several rounds.

True, it’s not Disneyland or Knott’s Berry Farm, but it is hard to argue D isn’t having as much fun, and it will save me from spending two hundred plus dollars at an amusement park.

Petsmart and ToysRus—D calls them The Pet Store and Toy Store—are two places he likes to regularly visit. We do not own a pet and, thankfully, he’s happy so far 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 freedom to roam and to linger as long as likes at whatever attracts his attention.

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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 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 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 simple joy for 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 polos 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 part of his joy. A father-son game we play in every visit to the Pet Store.

He pokes his fingers at the fish. They dart away. He lifts a handle to check out 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 talks to a yellow parakeet, spins a hamster wheel, swats a cat toy on a scratching post, climbs inside a dog kennel, moving seamlessly like an orchestra 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 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 follow D as he goes down an dog toy aisle, and he squeezes a rubber chicken in a bikini, and we laugh at the squeaky sound. Yes, indeed, wisdom is a butterfly, not a gloomy bird of prey.

That’s the lesson for the day: a small reminder of the beauty of freedom and a call to pursue it when the world around me wants me to be busy and to work hard to accomplish something.


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