(NOTE: The following tale was originally published as a newspaper column, and later appeared in my 2011 collection "Something In The Air" [available on Amazon.com]. It is being shared here in honor of Lego's 80th Anniversary.)

A buddy of mine stopped by the house a few years back and seemed rather surprised to find me sprawled out on the living room floor playing with my son’s Lego blocks.

Perhaps he might not have been quite as mystified had my three-year-old son been there, playing and having a good time along with me. After all, a good father is supposed to take time out of his busy days to sit down and spend a little quality time with his kids. And I do that as much as I can, just as my father did when I was growing up.

But on this particular occasion, Joshua happened to be off in the other room helping Mamma bake some cookies. (We believe in trying to provide the boy with a well-rounded education; after all, just because both my father and I were lucky enough to find women willing to put up with such goofs is no guarantee that my son will have the same good fortune, so he’d better be able to fend for himself.) 

So there I was, sitting Buddha-style all alone in front of the stereo while searching for a certain color block that would match a piece on the opposite side of the little car I was building. When my friend entered, I proudly held the car up where he could get a closer look; he didn’t seem as impressed as I was, though.

“That’s just about the craziest thing I ever saw,” my friend said.

“What is?”

“A grown man playing with his kid’s toys.” He just shook his head and grinned. “Aren’t you afraid people will talk?”

“So let them talk,” I answered. “As long as I’m happy with who I am, what do I care what other people think? Besides, it’s not like I’m the only person over the age of 30 in America who enjoys this sort of thing.”

“Oh yeah?” My friend seemed doubtful. “I have a hard time believing that.”

“You have a hard time believing the earth is round,” I shot back. Then I proceeded to tell him about something that happened back during my third year of college…

•      •      •

My wife answered the door one Saturday afternoon and was darned near knocked over by a classmate of mine who was a co-worker on the campus newspaper staff. The poor kid was all out of breath, having bounded across campus and down the street several blocks to our apartment, just to let me know about the latest impending disaster facing our bi-weekly publication.

You have to understand that Gary was the sort of fellow for whom everything was a sign of impending disaster. Every broken shoelace was proof of the inevitable downfall of man; once he locked his keys in his car on a blind date, and the rest of us were subjected to a three-week diatribe on the coming apocalypse.

And it certainly didn’t help his overall disposition any to learn that the rest of us just didn’t seem to share his concern about most things. He never could understand how the rest of us could continue to go on about our mundane, day-to-day lives when the end of the world was so obviously at hand. Or something like that.

I wish I could remember now just what calamity it was that stalked the halls of our campus newspaper on this particular occasion. I cannot. But I don’t think I’ll ever forget the look on his face when he first beheld the sight of Yours Truly sprawled out on the living room floor, calmly playing with my own Lego set.

“You gotta be kidding me,” he muttered as he crossed the room and sat down on the sofa. 

“Hey,” I responded with a grin, “there’s more to life than just deadlines and commitments.” At that moment the most pressing thing on my mind was whether or not I would have enough pieces to finish my latest masterpiece: a Lego replica of Han Solo’s spaceship, the Millennium Falcon. (I did, and it was truly a sight to behold. I only wish I’d thought to take a picture before I disassembled it a week or so later; I’ve never been able to duplicate that particular work. Alas…)

“Yeah, right. Whatever you say.” He commenced to explain just what it was that had him in such a dither this time…and I heard every word, I really did. But I guess he would have been more convinced of that fact had I not been so busy trying to find a round block to serve as the spacecraft’s main radar dish.

He noticed this and became even more agitated - something I would have bet good money wasn’t possible. “How can you just sit there and play with your stupid toys at a time like this?” he bellowed after a moment.

Unperturbed, I merely looked up at him. “In the first place,” I pointed out, “these aren’t just toys. This is one of the finest collection of Lego blocks in this part of the country. Some of these pieces have been in my collection since before I could walk. They’re classics.

“Second of all, take a moment to compare my frame of mind right now to your own. Which of us is more at peace? Which of us seems happier with his lot in life? You might feel a little better if you’d just come on down here and try building a windmill or something.”

I’m pretty sure he was about to respond in a manner not reasonable and proper. I’ll never know, though, because at that moment the phone rang. My wife answered, then called to me from the kitchen. “It’s your Dad, honey. He wants to know if you can stop by the house and help him out with a problem real quick.”

“Tell him I’ll be right there,” I answered. I climbed to my feet and looked at Gary. “Why don’t you come along? We can talk more about your problem on the way.”

He did, and we did, and by the time we got to my parents’ house I’d somehow managed to put his mind at ease. No mean feat, let me tell you. 

I knocked on the door, and after a moment Mom answered. She gave me a quick hug, asked Gary to forgive the messy house (her standard greeting, whether the house was messy or not), and directed us towards the living room. When we got there, I thought I was going to have to catch Gary to keep him from fainting dead away.

Dad was sitting there in the middle of the living room floor, his brow furrowed in concentration as he sifted through a pile of his own Lego blocks. “I can’t seem to find the right piece to finish this Ferris wheel I’m working on,” he said without looking up.

Well, sir, I did what any good and loyal son would have done under similar circumstances – I squatted down beside him and commenced to help in his search. Dad caught a glimpse of Gary, sitting there on the sofa with a slack-jawed expression, and asked, “What’s with him?” I just shrugged.

That Christmas, Gary talked his girlfriend into buying him the biggest, most expensive Lego set she could find at the local Toys R Us. I hear he’s a lot happier now…

(Copyright by John Allen Small)