Once upon a time, a young boy moved to Medicine Hat, Alberta. He knew no one, had no friends and was joining the class in the middle of the school year, a daunting task for any newcomer. He’d grown accustomed to this, as he’d done it about six times by now, his step-father was prone to jumping jobs without any thought for the consequences on the family, and especially on his step-son, a chubby and intellectual kid that he never really understood – and I think secretly didn’t like all that much.
The boy meandered his way through the first few weeks of school, not making any friends, sticking to himself and reading alone for the most part. He was old enough to start showing an interest in girls, but they were a mystery to him yet (he was only ten at the time) and the boys all wanted to play rougher games than he was really interested in. His teachers liked him, he was quiet and attentive, without really causing any distractions in class (which of course counts for a lot at that age) and smart, but they could see he was very alone, and they did what they could to shield him from some of the inevitable bullying that chubby, smart and quiet kids suffered then, and still suffer today.
But one day, and very much out of the blue, everything changed. The boy met a classmate, John, who saw the book he was reading (David Eddings’s Pawn of Prophecy if I recall correctly) and asked him if he liked “dragons and stuff.” The quiet boy smiled and said that he loved them, and that The Hobbit was his favorite book (and remains so to this day). That day, he made his first friend in this new school, and later that week, he was invited to John’s house to play a game John’s older brother had just received, a game called Dungeons & Dragons. The moment he saw the cover, bright red with a roaring dragon being faced by a mighty warrior, he was hooked. They spent a while making their characters (he made a dwarf, because back then, dwarf was a class, not just a race) and then spent the rest of that weekend living the lives of noble heroes, mighty wizards, skulking thieves and ancient races. It was probably the best weekend of his life at that time.
When his mother found out what he’d been doing all weekend, her joy that her son had made a friend was replaced by concern about this game he’d been playing. She’d seen a young Tom Hanks in a movie about Dungeons & Dragons and was concerned. The movie portrayed the game as a brain washing exercise, and suggested that the players could be so caught in the fantasy of it that they would hurt themselves and others. She called some friends who all told her that it was the devil’s game and that her son should never be allowed to play it. She instantly forbade playing it. The boy begged and pleaded with her, using the logic that his family knew would drive him to law school later in life, and finally she accepted a compromise. She would come and watch a playing of the game and make up her own mind. It was possibly the first and last time she would ever compromise with this son, and despite all that happened before and after, he would forever remember this one act of generosity on her part.
She visited John’s house later that week and spoke with both John’s parents and his older brother. All assured her that there was no devil worship involved, and that it was not any sort of cult or brain washing experiment. So they all sat down (John’s parents both joined in for the evening) and set out to conquer the Keep on the Borderlands. Half way through the evening, the boy’s mother laughed and dusted the chip crumbs from her shirt front, loudly proclaiming that people could be very stupid about things they didn’t understand, and that D&D was certainly no more than a game. She left that night chuckling to herself about dwarves and elves. That Christmas there were two cardboard boxes under the tree for the boy – both the shiny red Basic box that had caught his attention, and a brand new one, the bright blue Expert set, complete with The Isle of Dread adventure.
For decades, he’s played these games and dozens of others. For decades they have brought out the best in him, and sometimes the worst as well. They taught him to act, and in that he found a passion for the stage. They taught him to communicate in different ways, and in that he found friends and family near and far. They taught him to examine situations from different angles, to look at things from a multitude of positions and in that he found a passion for the law and for critical thinking. They have brought him friends and lovers. They have helped him through dark times in his life, and brightened the good times even more. They have had a hand in shaping him into the man he is today, and that is no mean feat for a collection of papers and oddly shaped dice.
When my sons come to me with things I don’t understand, or hobbies that I believe are ridiculous, I will hold on to the image of that young boy, and I will remember how he changed when he discovered there are worlds other than the one we walk through every day. And I will listen to my sons, and I will not close my mind to their dreams and fantasies. I will do my best to support them in their choices even if, perhaps especially if, I disagree with them. Because dreams and fantasies make us who we hope to be. They give us the flying carpets that the regular world denies us. They let us imagine ourselves better than we are, and then, if we are lucky, the courage to make them a reality.