alec golf“What did ‘play’ mean for you as a boy? What does it look like now?”

Those were the deceptively profound, seemingly innocent, questions posed to me, and a group of men, at a Brotherhood Adventure last week in the Poudre River Canyon, west of Fort Collins, CO. By the end of the conversation I thought, I wish Beryl and every woman I know could have heard what I just heard.

We were men from all over the country, meeting as board members and advisers for Restoration Project, a wonderful partner men’s ministry with Peregrine, started by Chris Bruno and Greg Daley. The question posed by Chris, opened up surprising responses, including my own.

My responses:
• Play was initially about dirt and mud. When I was 5 my dream career was to be a ditch-digger. I longed to be just like the men I saw tearing up dirt and laying sewer lines in the countryside of Glenview, IL in 1958. That eventually got “civilized” out of me. Boys in the northwest suburbs of Chicago aren’t supposed to get dirty.
• Play became about sports—dodge ball, softball, cannonballs in the local swimming pool, touch football, and “Red Rover.” That eventually got trained out of me. Sports became less about play and more about competition, performance and winning. I still wrestle to redeem the “play” of competitive swimming.

Other responses courageously offered by the men present:
• “In Junior High play with other boys was full of bullying and embarrassment.”
• “I learned that other boys aren’t safe. And, eventually, that men are dangerous.”
• “When I compete with men, I want to kill them.” (This from a guy who brought a handgun that afternoon to a 4-wheeling jaunt. Judging from past observation, we knew he was comfortable using it.)
• “I’m not sure I know how to play any more. Something got lost.”

There were more, deeply honest and revealing, comments from a room full of men who, by appearance, age range and by geography from across the country, looked like a typical male sampling. Almost invariably the comments revealed pain, embarrassment, uncertainty, loss, fear and shame. And we were talking about play, for Pete’s sake!

Of course, on the surface we all know how to play Texas Hold ‘Em (except for me; I re-learn the rules every 5 years, or just say, That’s OK, I’ll watch.); we all know how to recite the expected familiarity with the NFL, NASCAR, the NBA, NHL or MLB. We all have our selected few sports in which we will confidently engage.

But just beneath the surface “play” reveals the emotions mentioned above, and one more even deeper thought, “I’m not sure I really measure up as a man.” That’s what I wish women could have heard: the subtle, competitive, pain-tinged, and sometimes abuse-filled memories that the word “play” brings to honest men.

Even a sport as typically innocuous as golf is filled with both longings for the joy of nature and male brotherhood, along with abject fear of how that first drive on the first hole is going to go.

Men, does it do that for you? Me, too.

One of the men, whose “play” is both adventuresome and safe, more so than just about any other man I know, is my college friend and sister’s husband, Mike Anderson. Mike helped re-introduce me to “dirt” on fishing expeditions in Canada with our kids a number of years ago. I’m indebted to him.

Take a look at the pictures included here. They are of this same group of men mentioned above, having the time of their lives, fly-fishing on the Poudre River. To me they reveal what “play” ought to be: unbridled; slightly dangerous; safely inclusive; non-judgmental; accepting and supportive; joy-filled; communal; in harmony with creation, soul, heart and body.

JPaul and JesseCraig laugh

JesseBart and CraigCraig mentoredRestorationProject2013 group

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This great commercial from Guinness sets a new standard for communicating the joyful play of men being rough and goal-oriented, yet communal and inclusive. Good for them. That’s play I want to be involved in.

 

Women, I want you to know that this is what your husband, brother, son or male friend is looking for in play. But for many of those men it is endangered or entirely lost. Probably for most.

Did Jesus play? I don’t know. I can’t think of a playful moment in Jesus’ life. Can you? In the end, that wasn’t really the reason he confined himself to flesh and blood, crawled onto the cross and took on the sins of the world.

But I’m certain there will be a lot of play in heaven. Unbridled fly-fishing. Joy-filled golf. Shameless dodge ball, if there is such a thing. Mud-filled, sewage-smelling, ditch digging. Who knows, maybe even Texas Hold ‘Em. Heart-filled, fully expressive play.

Men, what does play mean for you?

8 Comments

  1. Craig, thank you so much for posting this very insightful message. We’ve experienced some of that pain in this family’s history but I had no idea it was so widespread. How incredibly sad. I feel like weeping for the pain/shame that boys and men have endured around…play. It’s one more beautiful gift of God that the devil has managed to twist and corrupt. Heaven, being free of bullying, abuse, perversion and disease, will be even more beautiful and joy-filled than we can imagine. In the meantime, we’re all better off, wiser, and I’m sure more compassionate for having read this post, and can help return the purity and joy to play by being mindful of what’s at stake.

    • Sue, thank you for your honest, eloquent comments. Your story is yet another very personal portrayal of the loss of genuine play. It’s sad, and I believe it will some day be redeemed.

  2. Craig, Thanks for this. Reflecting on growing up, the best play was on the huge natural ice rink at the park, where hockey was “shinny” — something like 20 against 20 and nobody kept score. More fun than the “real” games where it seemed a few of my coaches wanted to win way more than many of us on the ice.

    • I laugh as I picture this, Brian. Yeah, adults sometimes have a way of screwing up simple good ol’ play. I just added this Guinness commercial clip to the blog. Take a look if you haven’t seen it already. Manly, inclusive, playful community. Thanks for adding to the conversation.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xwndLOKQTDs

  3. Craig, thanks for your thoughts here and the link to that Guinness commercial.

    I have childhood memories of spending numerous Sunday afternoons playing football (soccer!) at a local park. What stands out is the way that for quite a long period my friends and I played adhoc matches most weeks against another group of boys who were mostly from our school but the two groups would never have mixed or hung out together at school.

    The funny thing is I can’t remember whether we would beat them or they would beat us; rather what sticks in my mind twenty-five or so years on is the fun of getting filthy muddy, playing for what seemed like hours until it was too dark to see the ball and the fact that playing football on a Sunday blurred the lines of who was in which friendship group at school.

    Thanks for bringing these memories back to the surface and for leaving me longing to develop great times of play with the guys I spend time with these days.

    • Thanks for this vivid memory and insight, Mark. Once again, mud enters the picture for boys at play.

  4. Well said, Craig. I believe there is brain science to back it up. It would be fun to discuss what is a legitimate level of “porn” aka enjoyment. Mike Hamel

  5. Love what Sue said- I second that!

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