The years before the Civil War were rough on Ulysses S. Grant. His army career had ended. He was struggling to make a life for his family and to stay sober. He was stuck working at his father’s store. We can imagine he was depressed, questioning his worth, his manhood, his future.
There was a sadness about his life, an endless drudgery of frustration and disappointments that was interrupted by only one thing. And that was what happened when he opened the front door to his house each day after work, where Jesse, his young son, waited to challenge him to a fight. The second Grant entered the house, Jesse began to taunt him, boasting he could beat his father. Grant, with faux-seriousness, would look at the tiny boy and answer the provocation, “I do not feel like fighting, Jesse, but I can’t stand being hectored in this manner by a man of your size.” At which point, Jesse would hurl himself at his father’s legs until he brought him down. On the ground, Grant—who had trained in hand-to-hand combat at West Point and fought plenty of men just to break up the boredom in army camps—would pretend to be beaten and beg for mercy, shouting that it wasn’t fair to attack an opponent who had fallen.
In just a few short years, Grant’s bulldog tenacity and toughness would shock the nation. Many in the North did not believe their cause could be won—it was Grant who grit his teeth around one of his trademarked cigars and broke the back of the Confederate army, fighting brutal battle after battle. But those who knew him best, knew that at heart he was a softie. That he loved his family more than anything.
It doesn’t matter what you do for a living, it doesn’t matter how bleak things might look outside—playing with your kids is a wonderful thing. It is joy embodied. It’s a relief. It’s innocence. It’s quite literally free. Don’t be afraid to get down on the ground and wrestle. Or accept an invitation to a tea party where the fellow guests are stuffed animals and unicorns. Let your kids paint your face. Play with them if they’re young. Play with them if they’re old, if you’re old. Have fun with them. Be kids together.
Play. Play. Play.