Let me tell you a little bit about Dennis Dienst, hands down one of the most exemplary childults I’ve ever had the privilege to know, much less call a beloved friend.
Soon after my first book, Socrates Cafe, was published waaaaay back in 2001, I appeared on BookTV as I gave a presentation about my work and had a Socratic give-and-take. Dennis listened in, and liked what he heard. When he learned that I’d soon be in Madison, Wisconsin, after consulting with his friend Greg, he hopped in his car and made the four or so hour drive to my event there.
He knew I was pretty preoccupied at the bookstore event there, and didn’t impose, courteous to a fault that he is. But when my wife Ceci and I learned that he’d driven such a distance just to cross paths with me — my first groupie! haha — well, I’m a Virginian, a Tidewater Virginian, one who knows all about and appreciates such perseverance, and was raised with genteel manners — and so, well, we invited him to join us for a bite to eat. Unbeknown to either of us at the time, a lasting friendship was born.
Dennis ended up starting a number of Socrates Cafes in the Twin Cities area that are ongoing to this day. He became a member of our nonprofit board of directors, and has given of himself, and has been generous philanthropically, in a way that has made it possible for us to carry in lean times. He even is spearheading our 20th Annual Socrates Cafe Symposium, to take place the weekend of October 7 and 8. He even sponsored me so I could do a book event for The Philosophy of Childing in Minneapolis that led to some great publicity and has helped me further my calling in life.
Most of all, he is one of my very best friends. He is the brother I never had. He has been there for me through thick and thin, helped me through the most difficult of times after the tragic death of my father; he accepts my many many faults and frailties, somehow seems to have even more esteem affection for me as a result, and embraces my virtues. I love him.
My friendship with him is, to put it simply, besides the friendship I have with my life partner Ceci, one of the very best things that has every happened to me.
And Dennis is the consummate childult — is is responsible and mature to a fault, and somehow, throughout the slings and arrows of his life, has managed to cultivate and ‘grow’ over the years the beautifully childlike virtues of experimental and explorational curiosity, empathy, love, imagination, reason, honesty, courage, forgiveness, humility. He is an adult; he is a child. He is a human being who genuinely makes the world a better place. He is a true brother — far more so than many of us have with siblings by blood (maybe even to the extent that some of us find ourselves lamenting, if only our blood siblings were a trillionth as loyal and virtuous).
Dennis’s trajectory of self flourishing has not, as he will be the first to tell you, been straight and smooth. But if one takes a big-picture view, it is all to the good, in my estimation. What he has weathered has made him the glorious childult he is today.
He is magic with children and youth (as I witnessed when he met my daughter Cali for the first time and when she and her parents were having a ‘challenging’ day). In part because of what he himself has experienced and seen his way through, has helped successfully shepherd many young people through their own toughest of times.
Dennis is a co-creator of the universe; he has singlehandedly expanded my own horizons, as he has with most all those who are fortunate enough to be part of his orbit. He gives everything he has to everything he commits to. It’s been hard for me to let go of some things and turn over some responsibilities and commitments that have to do with our nonprofit to Dennis’s care, but his word is his bond, and if he commits to something, you can rest assured that he’ll give it everything he has. To be sure, I have other exemplary childults in my private and professional life — in the latter sphere, two dear people, Paul Martin and Danielle Olson, come readily to mind, what with their insatiable curiosity, enormous hearts, and seemingly endless capacity to discover and apply new talents to the pursuit of public and private happiness.
Right now, Dennis is on a ten-day journey with his brother; hopefully he’ll have the time and space to decompress and ponder (and hopefully see my family while in the City of Brotherly Love) and figure out, as he said he hopes to do, what he wants to do with the rest of his life after retiring in ten or so years. One thing I know: in all the ages and stages of life to come for him, he’ll continue to blossom as a childult. And he’ll always be my brother.