FatherSon Ventures

Building a Relationship through Adventure


Written By: Scot Butwell - Aug• 15•12

Sometimes, the best father-son adventures can be a trip down the street. D’s favorite places are the Pet Store and Toy Store, the Music Store, Barnes & Nobles, Target, the Mall, the Bee and Lady Bug Park (D’s name for Emerald Park) and Wilderness Park, a nature preserve near our home.

He frequently asks to visit these places, and I suspect their appeal is the familiarity. Whether it’s animals, toys, drums, books or plush animated characters, D likes seeing his favorite things and knowing everything is in the same place as in our last visit.

The Mall, where he’s asked to go on this afternoon, really means The Disney Store, and there’s no mystery why this is his favorite store at the Mall (although he likes riding up and down the escalator, too).

Where else can he see stuffed versions of Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Captain Hook, Donald Duck, and Goofy, Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Fozzy Bear, Gonzo and Beaker from The Muppets, and Mater from Cars?

D rushes over to greet the plush versions of his favorite animated characters he watches on tv at home; it’s like he has bumped into old friends who he hasn’t seen for several years, although he sees them every day on tv.


“Miss Piggy!”


“Fozzy Bear!”

latest 004He grabs all four Muppets, lies on the floor and shows his unbound affection with a tight squeeze. His mom would be mortified at seeing this scene unfold, but I see no harm in this hug, so deep is his devotion to the Muppets.

“The Muppets” was the first movie D saw at a theatre. He has taken to calling me Gary and himself Walter, the two main characters. He loves their wacky personalities and has memorized nearly every song from the movie soundtrack I bought him.

His devotion to the Muppets is like the passion of a sports fan. He knows the name of every single Muppet, from the least to the greatest, just as a sports fan knows the name of every player and their stats on their favorite team.

Telling him to stop this hug would be akin to asking a football fan to quit celebrating after their favorite team scored a game-winning touchdown on a Hail Mary pass against their arch rival as the game clock expired.

No one would dare ask 50,000 screaming fans in a football stadium to stop cheering. That would be utter nonsense. Fans would not tolerate it. So neither do I tell D to stop this indulgent hug with the Muppets.

Yeah, okay. I admit I should probably say, “D, the floor is dirty and the store doesn’t want the Muppets to get dirty,” to introduce him to proper store etiquette, as I know L would do.

That is what I should say, but I don’t say anything. Maybe, I will when he gets to be five or six years old.

latest 005Maybe, I should be self-conscious at the sight of my son hugging four Muppets on the floor. His behavior does stand out, but this is a rare day when there are few customers, and frankly, why should I care?

So I let the hug continue and my parent instinct thinks: A child should be free to be themselves and to not have their every move monitored and critiqued for appropriateness.

Autism, especially in the aftermath of a diagnosis, can become an all-consuming thing where a parent observes their child 24/7 for stimmimg and any other atypical behaviors.

I have looked at D mostly through an “autism” lens in the year and a half after his diagnosis, being fixated at times more on analyzing his behavior than interacting with him, looking for the “autistic-like” characteristics.

Perhaps it was his self-stimulatory behaviors or the shock of the autism diagnosis. But I am reaching the point where I have come to see autism as just one part of the whole, one piece of the 1,000 word puzzle for who he is.

Robert McKeee, a screenwriting guru, says in his book Story that as movie-goers we want three-dimensional protagonists, not characters marked by one dominant trait, but complex personas full of contradictions:

Consider Hamlet, the most complex character ever written. Hamlet isn’t three-dimensional, but ten, twelve, virtually uncountable dimensional. He seems spiritual until he’s blasphemous. To Ophelia he’s first living and tender, then callous, even sadistic. He’s courageous, then cowardly. At times he’s cool and cautious, then impulsive and rash as he stabs someone hiding behind a curtain without knowing who’s there. Hamlet is ruthless and compassionate, proud and self-pitying, witty and sad, weary and dynamic, lucid and confused, sane and mad.”

This is how I want to see my son. Not as a one-dimensional person, but full of complexity and contradiction, a character like Shakespeare’s Hamlet, with a diverse array of traits, who is three, five, ten and twelve-dimensional. I’m learning I just have to look to see the layers.

So this is my parenting philosophy: Let a kid be a kid. I have not articulated it yet to the Wife, but it’s common sense to me: a child is not an adult and they should be allowed to be a kid in all their wonderful wacky weirdness.

They should be able to act on their impulsive whims (within reason), for example, jumping into big and soft, black-and-white pillows, in a furniture store, as I allow D to do on the way back to our car in the parking lot.

They should be able to laugh at a pool of urine spreading across the floor at the Pet Store, or as D and I love to do, to run from house to house under the street lights on Halloween night.

I could go on, but you get my point: If D wants to run around in his underwear and a cape, pretending to be Captain Underpants (this is D a few years later), he should be allowed to creatively express his imagination.

He should be free to express himself, to be allowed to be his own idiosyncratic self and to interact with the world in whatever way is the most conguent with his native personality.

Who knows? D could be the creator of wacky characters like the Muppets or write action-packed stories with characters like Professor Pee-Pee Diarhiastein Poopypants for the next generation of fart-loving boy readers.

I rest my case.


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