I tried as hard as I could to get Zach to forget about his Pokemon trading cards and Pokemon GO. Seriously. It’s all he was talking about. Driving me insane. Then, I remembered I was the exact same way about things over 30 years ago when I was a boy his age. My parents couldn’t shut me up when I got locked onto something.
When I ask one of the kids, “Who would like to take a walk with me down the street?” the girls jump up instantly ready to go. They love being outside. But Zach isn’t interested at all.
As his dad, I can’t be satisfied with that. I don’t expect him to be an athlete, but I want his life to be well-rounded. And, as we prepare to move to Italy, I know he is going to have a rude awakening. We won’t have a car for the entire first year we are there. He is going to be forced to walk at least to the metro stops throughout the city. And, we aren’t moving around the world to stay at home and play video games.
Here’s what it’s like to take a walk with Zach. A couple of blocks down the sidewalk, his face gets red. We were concerned for a while he had a skin condition or some allergic reaction to the sun. His eyes squint and glass over and he starts dragging his feet. It looks like he’s about to faint. He stops from time to time with his hands on his knees looking exhausted. And, he begs to either go home or have a piggy back ride. All the signs were pointing to laziness.But, what if I was wrong?
I talked about this in a men’s group one morning, mostly asking them to pray that I could relate to my son. I didn’t stay inside when I was his age. I didn’t cry when I had to go for a walk. I spent hours in the woods everyday, hours in the sun, hours away from the television. As I admitted my frustration to these men, one of the other fathers told the exact same story. This gave me hope. I realized that other dads have sons that would rather soak up air conditioning while playing Minecraft and watching YouTube videos. Other dads had sons Zach’s age who were not remotely interested in playing outside.
One morning I was having coffee with a new friend. This friend is in his 20s and manages the IT department at a local university. We were talking about his job and he proudly called himself a nerd. We were talking about that and fell on the subject of gaming. I told him about Zach and his love for Pokemon. My friend zeroed in. He told me why he loved Pokemon so much and why I should love it too. It’s funny, I began this conversation thinking we would be talking about fundraising to get to Italy. By the end of the conversation he was giving me strategic fatherly advice.
He laid it out for me. (1) Pokemon GO gets people out of the house. (2) Pokemon GO is perfect for meeting people and building community. (3) Pokemon GO is a perfect way for a father to connect with his son. He said a ton of things next that I didn’t hear because I had just been schooled.
I’ve told people with a tinge of piety that our children will be bridge-builders for us when we get to Italy. They will be used by God to connect us with other families next door. By simply picking them up at school at the end of a day, we will meet other parents who we hope to befriend. I said all of this not considering how exactly they would build bridges for us. But now, as my 20-something year old friend went on, it became so clear to me what I had to do.
I drove home and then downloaded the Pokemon GO app. I was actually excited to do so, because I thought of all the possibilities for building my relationship with Zach. And I thought of all the possibilities for me and Zach to connect with other boys and their dads in Italy. When Zach found out later that day that I downloaded the app, he flipped. I felt really awesome about letting my guard down and meeting my son on his own turf. And, I told him he would only play while I was there and only on the weekend.
So, we did a test run that weekend. He and I walked downtown to the town square. We figured we would find a ton of Pokemon there. We were right. And, there were several other people there, too with their cell phones out like us. Here’s the thing: Zach was RUNNING all over the place with no thought of how far he had traveled on foot. We literally covered a few miles of sidewalk looking for Pokemon and he didn’t mention once being tired. He didn’t start walking around dazed. He didn’t bend over and put his hands on his knees. He was moving across downtown like a champ!
I knew right then what would get Zach to walk the cobble-stone streets of Bologna for the year we were in language school in Italy. Pokemon GO. We would do there what we started to do here. Through the foolishness of capturing Pokemon, I would enter Zach’s world powerfully enough to convince him to love the city of Bologna and the treasures it held for him.
You may completely disagree with my strategy. But, I know Zach. I love Zach. And, I want him to love Italy. So, if it takes Pokemon GO to facilitate that, then God will be glorified.