I am Dad.
The purveyor of piggybacks, the high septon of shoulder rides and the sultan of all things sports-related. I am a giver of bear hugs and my stubble makes you playfully squirm away from my kisses. I am the fetcher of your morning milk, the go-to guy for backyard baseball and your secret high-five partner when we both see hot chicks on TV (and mom isn’t looking). I’m a lot of things, as a dad (and all parents) should be. But above all, I consider myself Protector of the Realm (can you tell I’ve been watching too much Game of Thrones) and I consider it my sworn oath to guard you against any and all danger and/or harm.
But as we celebrated your 4th name day (OK, OK, that’s the last Game of Thrones reference, I promise) this week, it saddened me to know you don’t need my services like you used to.
After your presents were opened and your cake eaten, it was time for bed. As is our custom, I read two stories and then hugged you tight and gave you a kiss goodnight. But as I went to leave you stopped me. This is not at all uncommon since you stall like a madman to eek out every last second before you go to bed, but this time the conversation had long-lasting effects.
“Dada, I think there are monsters under my bed.”
I smiled to myself as we’ve been down this road more times than I can count. For a long time now, I’ve combated this particular problem by resorting to a little wizardry. I keep an invisible jar of “Monster Dust” up above his bed for just such an occasion. I open the jar, gather up some Monster Dust and then I tell him to close his eyes as I sprinkle it all over him and around his bed.
As the years progress, I’ve also had to stock up on “Rat Dust,” “Gmork Dust,” “Snake Dust” and “Shark Dust” to name a few. And after I administered each dose, Will would fall asleep almost immediately. Because Dada protected him and told him nothing could hurt him.
So I imagine how I felt when I went to get more Monster Dust and Will stopped me.
“You don’t have to do that Dada.”
“Why buddy? Don’t you want me to protect you from the monsters?”
“Monsters and Monster Dust are just pretend Dad.”
I’ll be the first to admit I’ve always been one to look to the future. I’m on record saying I can’t wait for Will to get older so we can do more things and activities. And I’ve openly mocked the overly clingy parents who dig their talons into their kids’ youth and refuse to let go without a fight.
But in that moment, I felt like a monster was ripping my guts out.
Which makes no sense when you think about it. I’ll always be a newspaper reporter at heart, and so I teach Will to get to the facts and analyze what’s in front of him. He clearly sees monsters are not real, and therefore Monster Dust is also imaginary. He’s using logic to solve problems and figure things out to get to the truth of the matter. The journalist in me is thrilled to see that.
But my inner journalist is dwarfed and outgunned by the Dada in me, and all I felt were pangs for the past. First of all because my little boy is now 4, and apparently old enough to see through tall tales. When the hell did that happen? And if Monster Dust is gone today, what’s going the way of the Dodo tomorrow??
But more than that, I was hurt because it means I now have one less dad responsibility. I was the Dispenser of Monster Dust. Dad — the hero Will needed to keep the evil monsters at bay. No one else could sprinkle Monster Dust. It was my job to protect him. But now he doesn’t need me for that. He still jumps at some shadows, but he’s got the self-confidence to deal with them without calling for Dad’s help.
The only problem is Dad wants back in the game, to chase those monsters to the end of the Earth if need be. Because Dad knows age brings independence, and the domino effect has already begun. In a heartbeat he’ll be a teenager who rolls his eyes at me and would rather chop off a limb than be seen with me. And suddenly it was me sitting up in bed, filled with fear and an impending sense of parental foreboding.
I am still Dad, just slightly less important. But I’ll always keep the Monster Dust handy.