A dad’s job: do hard preparation for play
If there’s an outdoor “play season” for most of us working stiffs, it has now begun in earnest. The indicators are all there.
First of all, we’re still in Wisconsin, as best as I can tell, and that means each week from now until well into harvest time will bring dozens, if not hundreds, of daily festivals and concerts and picnics and gatherings in each and every community throughout this most lovely of states.
For those of you trying to keep score, that adds up to something in the billions, our Badger State variation of the old angels-on-the-head-of-a-pin riddle: how many celebrations can we squeeze out of a single cheese curd before it stops squeaking?
Second, we reached and went past Memorial Day.
I almost talked my wife, Yami, out of a celebration this year, but then we went to a graduation party on Saturday at Iverson Park.
There she caught the “tiki virus,” which means we have to bring out the torches and invite everyone within earshot to our backyard patio. A Monday gathering resulted.
That meant mowing the lawn, planting flowers, adding rocks to our minimal landscaping, spreading the sand between patio bricks, cleaning the patio furniture, and carrying out dozens of other pre-relaxation tasks, including the ritual testing of the fermented beverages.
It’s hard work to play. So, as we head into Father’s Day, and I survey the summer coming up, I have a couple of thoughts on doing it the right way.
Don’t plan too much; don’t plan too little
As I write this, I’m about to head out on my first camping trip of the summer, a short one in Minnesota for which I am utterly unprepared and which combines both work and play.
I have little idea what I’m going to do besides show up, camp in a city park and interview some folks. The more I think about that, the better I feel.
Perhaps it’s because of an assignment I got last week – an extra task requested of me, the asking of which ended with the suggestion that if I didn’t “have fun” doing it, I was doing it the wrong way.
Such directives are likely the world’s most effective enhancers of appreciation for the ritual testing of fermented beverages. Because I am technically unemployed and unpaid for the summer, except on my personal writing projects and whatever extra I choose to do for my nine-months-a-year employer, I am not inclined to have fun except on my own terms.
As much as I would like to have figured out my upcoming trip fully, it didn’t happen, because the spillover from a long, hard school year is still around. My situation is, of course, not unique.
Most of us working-class folks find ourselves with ever-increasing labor and less time to enjoy its fruits. That has led me to actively lobby Yami, who is of course my real boss, to schedule less formal activity for the kids in the summer so that we can get away more.
To a certain extent, that has worked this season, but even now – preparing for my Minnesota pseudo-getaway – I am reminded of the delicate balance between planning and not planning.
In fact, because I had to plan to not plan, and that plan worked, I may see some of my plans become reality. Planning point number two: prepare yourself to get outside, especially on Father’s Day, but also on other holidays.
And on every sunny day. Also the rainy ones. And don’t forget every other day.
Rain at the House of the Drover
The setting for my Father’s Day last year might cause hesitation for some folks.
It was at times drenching and mostly mist-filled. The open shed and stock pen where it was held was full of hay bales, lariats, feed bags, engine parts, and old pieces of tubing, metal and other items that in many places would be discarded.
Here, they were awaiting some innovative use by folks who can’t afford to throw away anything that could have some small value. Room for people was limited by parts and livestock.
Anyone wandering behind the shed – which nobody did, at least as far as I know – would encounter a precipitous drop-off into the dense tropical foliage tumbling down to the rocky bed of a small creek and the Rio Caño below.
As piglets and a cow watched us from mere feet away, we devoured their relatives. That could be a little unsettling to sensitive folks, and some of the liquid refreshment came from an old bleach bottle.
But there we were in San Cayetano de Venecia, Costa Rica, eating excellent barbecue from two upright oil drums welded together and tended by Yami’s cousin Rodrigo.
A large sign against a fence said “Casa Del Boyero,” or “House of the Drover,” a nod to Rodrigo’s love for taking part in local parades with his oxcart, a traditional symbol of Costa Rica.
The tables were plywood, lumber and sawhorses, and we sat on plastic stools and an occasional carved hardwood chair under the high tin roof as the typical Costa Rican afternoon rain came in fits and starts.
The showers muddied the long driveway that ended at the shed and that was filled with pickups and dilapidated Asian subcompacts.
Like many Wisconsinites, Ticos (as Costa Ricans are called) are hard-working Catholics, often with large families like my wife’s. Yami’s parents came from families of 12 and 14 children, so it’s easy to imagine how a gathering of cousins could quickly fill a community rodeo arena.
We ate beef, pork, sausage and chicken, rice, plantain picadillo, tortillas and several varieties of cake. The kids drank pineapple and orange soda while adults drank Imperial (one of three major labels of Costa Rican beer, all made by the same brewer) or contrabando, a homemade sugar liquor that somehow found its way to the party in an old bleach container. It was tasty.
Through the course of the afternoon, some four dozen relatives and neighbors from the village on the river came by to enjoy the family conviviality.
Although my kids and I still speak only rudimentary Spanish, it never matters among Ticos, who are consistently ranked among the world’s happiest and friendliest people – as if we need rankings to figure such things out.
We laughed and joked and played for several hours. It was a grand afternoon, probably my favorite Father’s Day to date, and all it took was showing up with a cake, a little family and room enough outside for everyone to gather.
That’s not much planning at all, but I hope that I – and all of us – can keep those gatherings happening, whether it’s summer or not. A little time outdoors together always helps keep families and communities strong, and there’s never a bad time for working on that.