“No one’s a loser,” I said.
“I am,” he replied.
By the end of the year he became unhappier and more disruptive. Jen and I began to worry as only parents can. We needed to do something. He was twelve years old, and it wasn’t long before what might get you a timeout in middle school could get you jail time in high school. But Sawyer was not some puppet on our parental strings. We felt at once wholly responsible for his wellbeing while simultaneously aware that his wellbeing was ultimately in his own hands.
That was when we found Happy Fun Time. This was Sawyer’s name for the thirty minutes we spent playing together before bed every night. The rules of Happy Fun Time were this: we had to have fun playing a game he wanted to play. Sometimes the game was thumb-wrestling, sometimes it was Sorry, and sometimes it was dueling with Nerf swords. It didn’t matter. The goal was for him to have fun with other people.
His mood at home that summer lightened dramatically, a change that was clearly traceable to Happy Fun Time. We’d done something. Yet the more we did Happy Fun Time, the more I came to understand that what Jen and I were really doing was trusting in the system. The system is that human beings A: have a freewill, and B: always want to be happy. Humans always use that freewill to choose happiness. Sometimes that means choosing to be unhappy again and again and again just to understand the difference – but no matter. At the end of their journey, no matter how rough and unruly the ocean, all ships go home.
Happy Fun Time helped remind Sawyer of the pleasure of being with other people so that he might choose it himself. Yet in the end we had to trust that he would choose it not because it was the right thing to do or the appropriate thing to do but because it was the pleasurable, satisfying, fun thing to do. That’s the system. Even as his parent, I have no control over the system, anymore than a gardener has control over a flower. The best I can do is create an environment where that flower can grow as it is meant to grow.
Hardly a day goes by where I do not say to myself, “Trust the system, Bill.” At such times it is not Sawyer I am remembering to trust, or me, or my wife, but life itself. It is easy for me to mistake life for an ocean hungry to drown sailors like me. What a cruel and meaningless journey. How hard I grip the wheel and strain against the tide. Yet to trust in the system is to release the wheel at last, and to watch the ship right itself and turn toward home.