When I was boy, my favorite times were Saturday mornings. My father would sit down and ask me, “What do you want to learn about today?”
One Saturday, in the course of helping me write a poem, he compared it to making up a story.
My attention was galvinized. He knew how to make up stories? This seemed like an opening into a magical world! “Daddy,” I said, “You know how to make up a story? Could you make up a story for ME?”
I remember, to this day, the look on his face. For the first time, I saw an expression that suggested he wasn’t sure he could do what I was asking of him.
But I kept asking him to make up a story. So he began a story with a red, glowing “doorway” that carried him, as a child, up to Mars. Martian monsters were battling each other. My father was running and hiding from the monsters!
After a while, he said, “Okay, that’s all for today. I’ll tell you the second episode another day.”
I was disappointed not to hear the whole story right away. But I was still thrilled.
The Unfinished Story
The next day – and every day after that – I said, “Tell me more, Daddy!” But the second episode never came.
One day I said, “Why don’t you tell me my story any more?”
He said, “I tried, Doug. I tried to think up the rest of that story. But I just couldn’t make it good enough.”
What My Heart Knew
I didn’t have words for how crushed I was, or for what I would have liked to say back. But I knew in my heart that “good enough” had nothing to do with his story for me. I knew, without knowing the words to say it, that I simply wanted that sense of sharing an imaginary adventure with him.
And because he had been making it up for me, the story had felt like the most special story in the world. It was the best gift anyone had ever given me.
What could he have done when he got stuck? He could have just told me that same first episode again. Or he could have asked my help in adding to it. He could have said, “Doug, we need something else in this story now. Maybe we need another character. You choose one, and I’ll put it in the story for you.”
He could have said almost anything, and I would have been thrilled and nourished by it.
The Story Continues
It was a hard experience for me; I felt let down. But it was also a glimpse into a possibility that has fueled my professional life.
I have made a career of telling stories to people. Even more, though, my profession has been helping others know that they can tell stories. That everyone has their own way of telling. That you can tell better or worse, but the best way is your way, which is unique and wonderful.
If you have children – or even know any children – I encourage you to go on an adventure of the imagination with them. After all, it’s not about doing it right. It’s about offering a gift of love.
When those children are grown, they probably won’t remember the stories you told. But they almost certainly will remember that you told stories to them, that you gave them a few hours of playfulness, of special attention. That you found a doorway, together, into a magical world.