My 10-year-old son Sean has a character trait that I greatly admire. He is perpetually enthusiastic. No task is too mundane for Sean. The other day I told him I would pay him $5 to pick up the dog poop in the backyard.
“5 DOLLARS?” he said, incredulous at his good fortune. “You betcha.”
And he went out into the backyard and did it too. When I gave him a crisp new fiver, he was positively beaming.
People that know my personality probably giggled when they read that, because in this regard I’m the anti-Sean. I’m openly enthusiastic about nothing. I was raised by Germans, and we tend to keep our happiness properly restrained. Even when I’m joking around, which is virtually all the time, I do so with a deadpan delivery. My two older sons are more like me when it comes to our dispositions.
Sean is totally different than us. When something good happens—he revels in it. When something bad happens—he shakes it off.
He has completely changed our lives. Now when we visit people, they are often happy to see us because we brought some sunshine on a cloudy day. This kid is perpetually happy, and that has a tendency to rub off on others.
Last weekend we had a little getaway vacation with a few other families. One of my buddies had never really spent quality time with Sean before, but ended up seated next to him at dinner time. The two of them got into a discussion about baseball, and by the time we had to leave, my buddy was ready to adopt him.
“I love this kid,” he said to me. “We just got into a discussion about the five greatest Yankees in history.”
On Friday afternoon, Sean stopped by his friend’s house after school. He called me up.
“Dad, can I stay over here and play?”
“Sure,” I said. “What are you guys going to do?”
“Noah’s playing a video game I don’t like, but I just wanted to talk to his dad about music. Did you know that his dad loves Badfinger (Sean’s favorite band) too? He’s got one of their albums!”
I could hear his friend’s father in the background, identifying the faces on the album cover. I’m guessing he hasn’t met anyone he could talk to about Badfinger in forty years. I could hear the excitement in his voice too.
Now, as you might imagine, this perpetual enthusiasm can also be a bit much, especially if you’re not wired that way. Sean’s brothers, for instance, consider his every utterance to be fingernails on a chalkboard. I also occasionally find myself begging him to please stop talking—some things just aren’t worthy of perpetual enthusiasm.
“I understand that you think the Garfield comic strip is funny,” I might mention with a hint of aggravation in my voice. “But I don’t need a complete recreation of it.”
And while you would think it would be incredible for a huge baseball fan like me to watch a game with my enthusiastic son, you would be wrong. He simply talks and talks and talks and questions and questions and questions, and sometimes all I want to do is listen to what the play-by-play man is saying.
On the other hand, I had a bit of an epiphany the other night when we were watching the Cubs together. Sean was asking one of his usual questions about ridiculous hypothetical rule violations that will never occur (“What if a pitch bounces off the catcher’s head and the batter hits the ball before it hits the ground, and it’s a home run? Does that count?”) while I was trying to hear Len Casper explain what was actually happening in the game.
I suddenly realized that whatever was happening in the game didn’t matter nearly as much as what was happening right in front of my face. This happy enthusiastic ten year old boy is more than likely going to turn into a surly teenager in just a few years, and I will be reminiscing about how fun it used to be to hang around with him. Why am I getting annoyed because I can’t hear Len Casper?
Ever since that moment, I’ve been forcing myself to do something I’ve never done before.
I’ve been getting enthusiastic. And the first object of my enthusiasm is my son’s enthusiasm.
You know what? I should have tried this years ago.