It was a long and wet weekend, and faced with the threat of a coerced game of Monopoly or — God forbid — a dozen games of Uno, I invented a game of my own to play with the boys.

It was a mildly imaginative cross between poker and Monopoly. We used Monopoly money, but the hotels became houses, the houses became livestock barns and chicken houses, and the “Get Out Of Jail Free” card became a Capital One credit card, in case someone needed a line of credit for some fast cash. I was the dealer, the bank and The House.

Before some of you Baptist parents judge me, here was my fatherly logic: this could be both a math lesson for the little one and a life lesson on the perils of gambling for the teenager. Sure enough, by the third hand the first-grader was counting cards as a master of blackjack. You are welcome, first-grade teachers.

And sure enough, after a half dozen reckless gambles, my oldest son had squandered his fortune, lost his inheritance, was up to his eyeballs in credit card debt, and had lost his imaginary home, wife and kids, and gambled away his imaginary family farm. He had a single white Monopoly dollar to his name. It was a pitiful state of affairs. Meanwhile, I was trying to decide whether I wanted to purchase an imaginary pontoon boat for freshwater, or a yacht for saltwater, and whether I should convert my second imaginary home into a love shack or a hunting shack.

The youngest soon fell on hard times, too, and in desperation put his house and barn into the pot. In the one good hand he held all night, the teen won it with four-of-a-kind.

Instantly, the little fellow started crying. Sobbing. Real tears. If I have a fault as a husband and father, which is up for debate, it’s that I don’t handle emotions too well.

“What the hell, kid? What are you doing? There’s no crying in poker.”

“But Daddy, I lost my barn! My penguins and flamingoes were in that barn! Now I’ll never get them back!” More tears.

Luckily, while the teenager was a poor gambler, he was an excellent capitalist and entrepreneur. “I’ll sell your flamingoes and penguins back to you for a hundred and fifty bucks, but I’m keeping the barn,” he offered his weeping sibling. And a deal was struck, to everyone’s satisfaction. Sure enough, the boy just ransomed some imaginary animals back to their owner for imaginary cash.

I was stunned. Part of me wanted to laugh. Part of me wanted to cry. But all of me was amazed. Such was the power of a small child’s imagination that his barn was not only real to him, it contained cute, adorable animals that he loved and cherished. For that moment in time, those imaginary animals were not just real, but precious and beloved and he would give up anything to keep them.

If I never obtain riches, houses, boats and other trappings of wealth, may I at least be blessed with the type of strong, vivid imagination that my children possess. That is all I would need in this life to be happy and complete.

Faced with the hard realities of life, too often we as adults work and sweat and sacrifice and gamble away our happiness, our playfulness, our imaginations. If you can, take a little time to try and find that imagination and clever, playful joy again. Take some time to find your inner child, whenever you can. Take some time to sit and play some stupid game with your kids, even if you have to invent one.

A full house may beat three-of-a-kind, but nothing beats a barn full of penguins and flamingos.

Michael DeWitt is editor/manager of the Hampton County Guardian in Georgia. Contact him at mdewitt@hamptoncountyguardian.com.