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

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

He laughs hysterically as the game continues. 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 as a dad 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 he’s happy (so far) to just look at the toys.

We go for the simple pleasures a Pet Store and Toy Store can bring to a four-year-old. I like to give D 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 own 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 while realizing D hasn’t the foggiest idea what a heart attack is.

fishHe swipes his fingers a few more times. Okay, I stand in front of the birds, holding him back as he giggles and laughs maniacally. But this is a part of his joy. A father-son game we play in every visit to the Pet Store.

He pokes his fingers at the fish tank. They dart away. He lifts a handle to look at 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 up for adoption resembling one from our old neighborhood who used to follow us on afternoon walks.

“Blackie, 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 from aisle to aisle through the store like a concerto.


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

D is showing me how I need to follow my 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 his 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 famous lines: “Wisdom is a butterfly, not a gloomy bird of prey.” 

As I think of a early twentieth century Irish poet writing these lines, I follow D down another aisle, and as he squeezes a rubber chicken in a pink bikini, we both laugh at the squeaky sound. Yes, indeed, wisdom is a butterfly, not a gloomy bird of prey.

My dad lesson is to give D freedom to pursue an aimless joy, and to be more a butterfly than a gloomy bird of prey in my own life, even as the world beckons me to continually stay busy and to accomplish something.

The teacher is my son.

*Footnote: Yeats, W.B.  Poem titled Tom O’ Roughly in The Wild Swans at Coole.


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