“You don’t stop laughing because you grow old. You grow old because you stop laughing.” —Michael Pritchard
Laughter. It’s been a big deal since our daughters were small.
Maybe it was because I felt as though I had missed out on some of it when I was a kid myself. I don’t have any regrets about my childhood, mind you. We had a wonderful family, and lots of good things happened in our home. But I’ve looked back and decided that there just wasn’t laughter.
Maybe it was because I found how freeing it was during my late high school and college years and my early career in youth ministry. How it bound my friends and me together in very special ways. Regardless, I determined that it would be an important ingredient in the success of our new family.
So I got serious … about laughter.
This was not easy. I hail from a long and proud line of very serious men, especially on my father’s side. My dad grew up in a home where hard work and solemnity and consistency between beliefs and lifestyle were sacramental. Again, all these are good things, yet there was very little gaiety in them. Comedy and jocularity were not only AWOL, but in some ways these things were scorned as secular and worldyinconsequential, foolish, and nonessential.
I grew up as my father’s son. This nut did not fall far from the tree.
Hardworking, focused, serious, I was a good boy who, except for the time I shot three holes in the front picture window with a BB gun, did very little coloring outside the lines. Starting from the third grade, I was self-employed with a paper route of my own. I was also a master of precise yard mowing.
A surprising discovery
Like a youngster pulling a surprise five-dollar bill from his pants pocket or a dad finding a Joe DiMaggio rookie card in the attic shoebox, I discovered something amazing in the spring of my senior year in high school. It was something that was as foreign to me as if I had wakened one morning to find myself fluent in Spanish.
I discovered that I could be funny.
When Bobbie and I were dating, the fun was at an all-time high. Of course, we had plenty of serious times, talking about the future and deciding if it would include both of us living under the same roof. But we also did a lot of laughing … sparked by things like my leapfrogging over parking meters and walking down the sidewalk with a collapsible leg. Making my girlfriend laugh made me very happy.
The attention to intentional joy continued through our honeymoon in 1970 when we rented a motor scooter in Palm Beach and shocked the gray-hairs in the condominium where we were staying with our biker gear. They settled down when we took off our helmets, and they recognized us and laughed. It was all in great fun.
Then Missy and Julie came along. As it must be when a longtime dieter smells French fries in a mall food court, I was helplessly drawn back to the taste of somber fathering.
And for good reason. What can be more overwhelming and serious than becoming a dad right in the middle of trying to establish a career? A dad and a businessman who was focused and on a mission. A dad who was preparing his legacy and his portfolio for the next generation, for goodness’ sake.
It wasn’t that we didn’t laugh in those early baby years. We did.
Like most new parents, Bobbie and I made faces and crazy noises to get baby Missy to smile. And when we did, we thought we were more than amazing. Forget the fact that her grin was probably a little gas on her tummy.
Even though there was plenty of happy time with her daddy—sitting at the breakfast table together or kissing good-bye every morning as I was leaving for work—we could tell that, even as a little kid, Missy was as focused and intentional as her daddy. Early photographs of her show the kind of sober deliberation my father and grandfather would have appreciated. She didn’t look angry or upset in these pictures. Not at all.
Her face simply revealed that she was thinking about something. Like a college student touching a pencil to his lips, lifting his stare, and mulling over the answer to a difficult question on a test. Missy looked focused and purposeful. She also looked quite in charge. Because she was.
Getting fun again
And then the Lord gave us Julie.
If early photographs of her big sister were sometimes thoughtful and contemplative, we don’t have a single picture of Julie where she’s not smiling. She didn’t need to go to parties to have fun. Julie was a party. Missy loved having her along whenever she went to a friend’s house. Having Julie there meant certain fun.
As soon as she could speak, Julie made us laugh. In fact, her infectious spirit early on reminded me of something I had somehow forgotten in the ominous adjustments I had been making to fatherhood.
Gradually, this boring, no-levity dad started to get fun again.
It wasn’t easy. Those old father and grandfather grooves were deep. Imposing. Ingrained. But Julie was contagious.
Missy often said, “Daddy, read to me.” Julie’s request was almost always, “Daddy, let’s play.”
So I read. And I played.
Because the combination of these two daughters began to awaken this slumbering funny man, our house became a happy place.
Reprinted by permission. Adapted excerpt from She Still Calls Me Daddy © 2009 Robert D. Wolgemuth. Thomas Nelson, Inc. Nashville, Tennessee. All rights reserved.