“Marco!” “Polo!” - “Red Rover, Red Rover, send Andrew on over!” - “Ready or not, here I come!” - “Last one in is a rotten egg!”
These are the sounds of my childhood. Some of my fondest memories are the sounds of good old-fashioned play.
I’m heading out to go play again right after I finish this piece for the paper. I’m joining “The Plunge,” a group that for 35 years has gathered early one morning each September at Owen Beach at Point Defiance Park to plunge three times into the chilly waters of Puget Sound.
Most will have walked, run or rode a bike from either the Tacoma Center YMCA downtown or the Morgan Family YMCA on Pearl Street. This year we have a contingent kayaking and paddle-boarding over from Ruston Way.
We gather each year and dash into the water to reaffirm our commitment to strengthening spirits, minds, and bodies – a noble goal.
What I love most about this event, though? It’s playful. It’s 50 or 60 grown men and women and a handful of youth sharing a brief, invigorating, silly splash in the water. We’ll shriek. We’ll yell. We’ll make ridiculous faces and dance around on the gravelly beach and share breathless, briny-tasting conversations afterwards.
We’ll play, but, more important, we’ll build bonds with each other. We’ll share updates and tell old stories, not recognizing, most likely, that we just created a new story to share in the future -- but this is how communities are formed.
People participate in something together, then share those moments, repeating the cycle until a close-knit camaraderie forms. And what better way to do that than to play? Robert Baden-Powell, the father of the Scouting movement, understood this when he said “Scouting is a game with a purpose.”
I have on my desk a worn, yellowed newspaper clipping of my father and me. It’s from the Anchorage, Alaska newspaper and was taken in 1974.
I remember the day it was taken very well: I was six years old and he came and picked me up early from school. We went to the newspaper office and I stood on a chair in front of a shiny wood-paneled wall for the photographer.
My father and I were outfitted in our Y Indian Guides apparel: headbands around heads and beads around necks. I’m wearing a decorative vest, he’s holding a toy tomahawk, and we’re laughing and smiling.
The caption under the photo reads “’Too many little boys just grow up without their fathers being involved in their childhood,’ says Donald Homan, who shares stories, crafts and games with his son, Andy, age 6. They belong to a tribe of Indian Guides which is sponsored by the Anchorage Community YMCA.”
Many things have changed in the 45 years since that photo was taken. “Indian Guides” has become “Adventure Guides,” and we’ve made considerable progress in how we depict and interact with indigenous cultures.
The world has changed, certainly; when this photo was taken, President Nixon had just resigned and the war in Vietnam was drawing to a close.
What hasn’t changed is that it’s still important for boys and girls to share stories, crafts and games with their parents. What hasn’t changed is that it’s still important for adults to share stories, crafts and games with each other.
What hasn’t changed is that it’s still important for all of us to remember to play.
This weekend my family will sit down and let our 14-year-old son lead us through a Dungeons and Dragons campaign. This isn’t a game that interested me much in the 1980s, but I can tell that my sons love it.
School has just started and their heads will be full of math, history, science and other school-day activities. All those are important, for sure, but I want to pass along to them the same lesson I learned from my father: Playing is important, too.
Tag. You’re it.
Andrew Homan of University Place is a network administrator at the YMCA of Pierce and Kitsap Counties. He's one of five reader columnists who write for this page. Reach him at NoelNHoman@gmail.com and read some of his other work at www.andrewhoman.com