In a casual moment recently, I asked my son, who just turned seven, what he wants to be when he grows up. (I anticipated an answer like "A Ninja space warrior" or "A pro baseball player" or something mawkish: "Just like you, Daddy.")
"Well, what do YOU want to be when YOU grow up? You tell me first," David responded, always the little negotiator making counter offers or setting the terms of the deal.
"I want to be famous, rich, and powerful," I blurted playfully.
"Is that all?" he asked, in apparent and complete innocence.
"Oh, yeah," I added, "I want to be totally wonderful, too."
I thought better of leaving my flip remarks go by taken so seriously. Words have a way of being recycled in a child's mind, finding expression in not-always salubrious fashion.
"Yes, I want to be famous," I started to explain. "But just among my friends and family. I'd rather be a celebrity in my own back yard than on the front page of a newspaper. When you're that kind of famous, nobody leaves you alone. And everything you've ever done or said becomes other people's business.
"And I do want to be rich. But just rich enough to pay the bills, buy a few more model trains, and not have to worry about tomorrow. Any richer than that and you start thinking too much about money."
David's brow wrinkled.
"I want to be powerful, too," I went on. "But I want just enough power to be able to make some good things happen. And to be able to control myself and not overdo things. Power, especially power over other people, is like a big heavy box. Carry it around long enough, and you end up dropping it on your own foot or on somebody else's."
David's eyes blinked on that metaphor, but I liked it.
"What about wonderful? You wanted that, too," he reminded me.
"All right. What I meant by that is, I want to be full of wonder. Full of wonder over life and dreams and love and everyday things like the sky and flowers. And you know something, David? You and your sister make me full of wonder most of all. What do you think of that?"
I could see in David's eyes that he was trying to take all of this in and figure out if my ideas were really better than being a Ninja space warrior after all. What he decided I don't know—he answered with a hug—but I look forward to seeing him find out for himself.