Fatherhood: The Death of Fun?

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My father taught me to work; he did not teach me to love it.

– Abraham Lincoln, Working Dad

Dads give up great deal of things as they mature and one of those things is play. “Freud himself argued, back in 1908,” according to Psychology Today, “that adults do not play, and his adherents have been trying to explain the gaffe ever since.” But many adults wouldn’t consider it a gaffe at all. Fun and play are not synonymous with the life of a grown-up, a parent, a member of the working world. For every Homer Simpson Dad there are countless hard working, long working, devoted fathers and husbands in the world. To be fair, there are probably twice as many mothers, but, hey, it’s Father’s Day.

In 1995 Adult play researchers, who understand the value of fun, found themselves struggling to prioritize it or find the time to frolic. Even further, they “were quite pessimistic about the likelihood of any significant improvement in the quantity or quality of adult play in America. They note that leisure time for most Americans continues to decline” to a rate that may be as low as 10 hours per week (2012).

We willingly let go of fun for the sake of education, career, family and children as our priorities rightly shift. Dads, what have you let go of? Keep it in mind as I share my experience, not with letting go of childish fun, but of recapturing the adult version.


Less Time, More Fun?

A Jenga tower? Really? That’s got to be the worst mechanic I’ve ever heard of. Nothing like killing a character because the player is physically clumsy…

– Scott Schimmel, RPG Authority

I loved playing table-top roleplaying games (RPGs) from age seven until age 37. Thirty years. I never stopped loving it, actually, I simply could no longer find the way to prioritize the hours of dice rolling as a working dad. The same was true of my core RPG group. One guy, who actually still makes a living as a game writer and developer, started to talk about table-top gaming dying off in most of his coworker’s 30s.

diceMy RPG backpack is in the back of a closet now. Maybe your golf clubs lay dusty, fishing gear is tangled, crochet needles discarded (no judgement, here). In recapturing adult fun, we must first look at ourselves, and the words we use. Our belief that “there is a problem with fun,” is a big part of the problem, said Adam Naylor, Assistant Professor of Sport Psychology, and director of Northeastern University’s Sports Performance: Mental Game division. “It is the wrong word that creates the wrong idea…Words matter. They create cognitive schemas and shape behaviors. Fun is the right idea, but the wrong mental message.”

Look to the Heart: A great way to re-examine our pastime and find a new word for “fun” is to look to the heart of why it is so enticing and rewarding. In terms of RPGs, the draw for me is the progression of character, the feeling of having the right tactic to surmount a challenge and the joy of creating a shared story.

Look to the Barrier: The biggest barrier is that all those things take time.

Find a Possible Solution: One of my old RPG gang pointed me towards a game that has the key element of shared storytelling, with an awesome timer, Jenga®. “Dread is a game of horror and suspense,” as advertised by Impossible Dream, the company who developed Dread. “Those who play it participate in a mutual telling of an original…story that is only as compelling as it is hostile…In play, dice, cards, or other more-traditional randomizers are replaced by a tower of blocks, such as the Jenga® game. Tension builds as the tower becomes more and more precarious.”

It sounded very interesting as a prospect. But when finding a solution we must look to other opinions. “The game system is very light,” agreed RPG aficionado Scott Schimmel, “and can be summed up this way: When you try to do something, and it’s not clear whether you should succeed you ‘pull’ by taking a block out of the Jenga tower, and placing it back on the top level. If it falls, you fail, and…it’s game over for you.”

I was intrigued, but Schimmel’s review was ultimately not favorable, specifically in terms of the other draws, character development and accomplishment. Even though the aspect of time was conquered, it was at too great a cost. I wasn’t spending hours rolling dice, but I might just waste an hour “playing Jenga® and telling ghost stories,” (Schimmel, 2008). My “fun” still needed a better word and solution.


Enjoyment is the Cornerstone

After an enjoyable event, we know that we have changed.

– Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Author of Flow

Pr. Naylor (2012) provided the perfect reframe for any dad looking to re-prioritize their past time at an adult level. “At the foundation of play is ‘enjoyment,’” he said. “An activity that engages dread_standard_front_cover2-193x300interest and challenges the individual appropriately. Enjoyment involves effort, both mental and physical. It does not occur during trivial endeavors, but rather as part of a purpose…” Enjoyment, that’s it! Especially in light of Csikszentmihaly’s description of the value of enjoyment—that it changes us. That was what I was seeking, the feeling of leaving the table top changed by the power of shared storytelling and how as a character I build “grew” I could re-examine my own growth.

My issue with Dread was that I needed to feel fulfilled at the end, and I was afraid that the system would not do that, especially since “It’s fundamentally unfair. It ties the character’s life to the player’s physical capacity. When we needed to pull, we were thinking not about the character’s success or failure, but about our own” (Schimmel, 2008). That is not enjoyable or fulfilling. I adjusted my plan. Dread became the cornerstone of a system in which I hope to play any of the games left unloved in my RPG backpack, but not the sole answer. I have a system of character development and tactical achievement in my head. I’m returning to my ol’ RPG pal to talk it through, which hits on another enjoyment, sharing games with fellow enthusiasts.

That’s what I’m doing today, as a gift to all the Dads out there. No matter the thing you enjoyed as a lad, I encourage you to use this system to recapture it as an adult. Keep your responsibilities, but prioritize the pastime, find a solution that overcomes the barriers, and recapture the heart of what you enjoy.




Schimmel, S. (2008) A Butterfly Dreaming Zen and the Art of Roleplaying Dread: Worst Mechanic Ever? Retrieved from: http://abutterflydreaming.com/2008/10/03/dread-worst-mechanic-ever/

Impossible Dream Website (2015) Retrieved from: http://www.tiltingatwindmills.net/games/dread/

Naylor, A. (2012) The Forget Fun, Embrace Enjoyment Sporting Life. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-sporting-life/201210/forget-fun-embrace-enjoyment

Psychology Today (2012) Are We Having Fun Yet?:The cultural abandonment of play. Retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/199506/are-we-having-fun-yet

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