This year, Christmas almost lost you.
You’re at an age I’m not sure I like all that much. Your innocence is rubbing off. You’re not sure about Santa. And you’re really not sure about your elf.
“Dad,” you asked me, in that way you ask questions you’re not totally convinced you want the answers to because you ask them as statements, not questions, “I think you and Mom buy all Santa’s presents. And I think you guys hide the elf every night.”
“Buddy,” I said to you, with all the parental authority I could put into my voice, “That’s an awful lot of work. And you see how busy Mom and I are all the time. I don’t like you enough to do all that.”
That, of course, was a lie. And you knew it, because you laughed the way I knew you would, the way you do when I tease you around your edges. I’m more careful with you about that kind of thing than I am with your brothers. Reid and I have the same sense of humor. I wouldn’t need to explain a joke like that to him. And Cal, he would have just jumped on my face and started wrestling me.
But you. You’re my complicated boy at a complicated time. When the kids around you want to shed any sign of being a kid and suddenly, overnight, turn into teenagers. You want to, too. I can feel it in you, the pulling away from your boyhood. If there was an app that allowed such a transformation, I think you’d pester me until I finally gave in and let you use it. I didn’t know this would happen at eight years old.
I wasn’t ready for it.
One of the other things you said this Christmas, as you walked that fine line between skepticism and belief, was what a mediocre job of hiding our elf has done this year.
“Zart is not really hiding in very challenging places,” you said, criticizing my dadness without realizing it.
You were right. This was the year we had the renovation forced on us by the shower leaking through the kitchen ceiling and far too much happening at work. Zart the elf was tired because I was tired and, frankly, doing a bad job of finding the joy in things because finding joy felt like one more thing to do and I didn’t want one more thing to do.
You wanted a challenge I wasn’t up to.
Until I was. Because if there is one thing that I’ve tried to do, as your dad, is always hear you. I won’t always agree with you. Our conversations about music, you with your love of hip hop and me with my love of almost everything but hip hop, country and opera, have proven that. But I try to hear you and do something with it.
I’m hearing so many things from you, right now, things you aren’t coming right out and saying. You’re saying that you don’t want to feel stupid around your classmates, most of whom don’t believe in Santa anymore. Most of whom touch their elf and move him around because they have a little brother and sister.
But that you kind of still want to. You’ll still help your brothers look for him in the morning. You still laughed if your mother and I were able to spend more than ten seconds finding a place for him that came off as especially inspired or mischievous.
Your mom and I talked about whether we should just sit you down and let you in on the thing and lay out all the Christmas scams. The workshop, the elves, the presents, the reindeer, the good will toward men. Better to not turn you into an outcast at school. Better not to have you have the kind of conversation that you’d be the one to have with us, about how we lied to you, right to your face.
But I just couldn’t do it. So I lied to you again.
I wrote you Zart’s rap because I want you to believe in magic for one more year, no matter what you hear at school. Because if there is one thing I know, something I wish I had known more deeply when I was your age, is that conventional wisdom creates conventional people. People wear this so-called wisdom like hats and gloves to protect themselves from a cold truth. That maybe they let what the world says and thinks and believes turn them into a person who says and thinks and believes all the same things that they do.
It’s scary, being yourself. We want to belong so badly and having your differences pointed out is something you’ll deal with long past grade school.
As a boy, being different can hurt. A lot. But being different is where the magic of life is. That is something I think we should always choose, especially in a world that can be so cold, unkind and indifferent.
Choose magic, Jack. It’s not always the easy or obvious choice. Sometimes, it is damned hard, to keep your eyes open enough to see the small little things that make this life so worth living. Because magic, that’s warmth against the cold. That’s the light that can bring a grown man to tears. Letting your own light out, that’s magic, too.
Trust me when I tell you that magic is all around us. Like the look on your face when you read a song written by an elf, who decided to throw down and prove just how good a Christmas hider he could be.
I love you, even if my rapping is only Dad level