Warning: Spoiler Alert!
Our 10-year old recently had a tooth fall out, and she asked my wife outright “is the tooth fairy real?”
Master 13 and Miss 15 were within earshot and looked quizzically and almost disdainfully at their Mum as if to say, “well are you going to lie, AGAIN?!” The pressure of the moment and some parental guilt drew the following confession from my wife, “No, the tooth fairy is not real.”
Miss 10 was quite upset and shocked to hear this news. Partly because of the sense of betrayal and partly because she had enjoyed the mystique and adventure of believing in the Tooth Fairy. This revelation prompted further confessions regarding the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus, adding to Miss 10’s disappointment. The jig was up. We were exposed as people of questionable moral fibre and limited integrity.
Maybe I’m a bad parent. Maybe I’m a reckless, cold-hearted person living a life of lies and deceit. Maybe I’m a hypocrite. If so, then I will plead guilty as charged. But the truth is that I don’t feel any sense of shame or guilt in perpetuating the ‘lie’ of the Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny and Santa Claus.
Now, before you completely write me off and hit send on your hate mail, allow me to explain.
You see, I AM the Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny and Santa Claus – at least to my children. The Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny and Santa Claus are part of who I am as a Dad. Each of these characters has a different persona, a unique manner of communicating and a deep love for my kids. I enjoy playing these roles for my kids. I see the joy that it brings them, the sense of curiosity, adventure and fun. I appreciate their eagerness to play along, whether they believe or not. It stirs their creativity and imagination and passion for the mysterious and unseen. Beyond all that, from a purely selfish perspective, I also enjoy the creative outlet.
As adults, we become so sure about everything. We become black or white, left or right, good or bad. And it bothers me that our children and young people are rapidly heading in the same direction. I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t pursue truth or justice. We should, and I do. I’m talking about how we explore and articulate our opinions and beliefs and how politics and public discourse seems to be increasingly hard-line and polarised. What happened to mystery and faith and hope and wonder? What happened to the benefit of doubt and mercy and grace? What happened to ‘believe the best’ rather than the worst all the time? Why are we so unwilling to engage people at a human level? Why are we so fearful of ‘the other’?
You may accuse me of being a wishy-washy idealist and offer some witty remark about whipping out my ukulele and singing ‘kumbaya’. It’s ok. I get it. Evil and bad people exist. We are supposed to be honest with our children about ‘the reality and dangers of the world’. As a Christian Pastor, I should know better than to make up stories and lie to my kids. If that’s what you think, I’m ok with that. But in my opinion, the Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny and Santa Claus help to make my kids’ world a fun and interesting place.
I don’t need to take credit for everything I do. I’m completely secure in my children thinking that someone else goes to all the trouble of writing them notes and leaving them gifts. And I am willing to face the disappointment of Miss 10 because I want to be able to have the conversation with her about why I think it’s important that we have these characters in our world.
I want my kids to be able to live amidst and possibly even embrace the uncomfortable tension of faith and doubt, belief and unbelief, certainty and uncertainty. I want them to be willing to imagine and explore ideas and concepts that may or may not be ‘real’. I want them to be excited by the mystery of life and wake up to a container that, just the night before, only had a tooth in it and now has money and a note, in the tiniest handwriting, just for them.
Throughout history, the greatest philosophers, inventors, writers, artists, scientists, engineers, doctors, and teachers have never been content to accept everything at face value. They were willing to suspend their disbelief and imagine other possibilities, realities and ideas. To find the extraordinary in the ordinary, the uncommon in the common and the unknown in the known.
Life is messy and curious and uncertain. People who stop believing in stuff are boring or dead or both. The Toothy Fairy, Easter Bunny and Santa Claus taught me that. Peace out.