The end of Santa
HH knows there is no Santa Claus.
On Christmas morning he was the first one into the living room. He had made us promise the night before that no one would go into the room before him. When he opened the door and saw his new bike, he looked at me and asked if I had bought it. I asked him what he thought and he said, “Papa bought the gifts” and I told him he was right. He didn’t mention it again.
The night before, sitting in the kitchen worrying that he might be disappointed this year because there were not as many gifts under the tree as there were last year, his mother and I talked about the feeling we had that something was a bit off with him, that he wasn’t as excited about the day as we thought he should be, and we concluded that he had learned or suspected that Santa Claus was a story and not a real person. We were right in at least part of our assumption. His mood of the previous day might have been the result of any number of things – but the loss of Santa was likely one of them.
It might not have been a huge blow to him – this knowledge of the reality of Santa – but it was a blow to me. I have been tracking HH’s growth and development in these pages over the years and with each new development I feel the loss of his childhood, his innocence, and with it the loss of something personal. Perhaps it is the realization that with every new evidence of his maturity comes the corresponding and undeniable fact of my own decline, my very real waning. It isn’t a zero-sum game we are playing, we aren’t in competition with each other for anything, but as I look at him, watch him grow, witness the changes that are shaping him, I am forced to notice the waning of my own abilities, my strength, endurance, flexibility… He is a mirror held up to me, this strong young boy who runs and learns and develops new capacities while the only quickening I feel is the rapid onset of withering.
Perhaps it is the season, the end of another year, the fact that I don’t have as much faith in the prospects before me in the coming year as I might have had in previous years. Perhaps the loss of Santa means so much to me because I took so much pleasure in preparing for it, assembling the gifts and wrapping them, watching him as he crept into the living room on Christmas morning and seeing the light in his eyes as he tore the wrapping paper away and gasped at the contents of each new box. The days and weeks leading up to Christmas, the letters to Santa, the excitement of the night before when he could barely get to sleep, these are the things I will miss. Some of that will remain but an element has surely been lost, that mystery of the little man who comes at night and lays gifts beneath the tree, the little man we never see but believe in nonetheless, the elements of fantasy and magic and wonder. I mourn the loss of his innocence and I mourn the loss of my role in sustaining it.
It is one of the gifts of parenthood, this time of year, playing Santa, inhabiting that mythic character for a few days, watching your child revel in it and at the same time realizing how brief a spell it is.
There is so much changed in him. He is seven now and in the second grade. His vocabulary increases daily, his physical strength, his size, and his knowledge of the world – all of it expanding at a rate I can barely keep track of. His personality is also developing, his independence, his will, his temperment. There are elements there that trouble me now and then, his impatience for example, a trait I share with him and in all likelihood have taught him by example. Oh we must proceed with care we fathers. The things we teach our sons by example far exceed anything we might wish them to learn by our words.
I am writing this on the eve of a new year, in a troubled world, a world of uncertainty and war, a world not unlike that faced by my parents when we were young. But it is also a world far safer than that faced by the families that lived in this very house sixty-five years ago as World War Two raged to an end, as allied bombs tore apart the streets and buildings of this neighborhood, as the world crumbled around them as it had for millions of others far less fortunate, their victims in many cases, as it would for millions more in the decades that followed. We have it far better now than they did, far better than many of our fellow creatures do, and for that I am grateful.
So as I write this eulogy of sorts on the loss of Santa, I am chastened by the knowledge that our loss is a minor one, an undetectable flicker in the night, no matter how large it may seem to me here, waiting for my son to wake, on a pre-dawn winter’s morning. That said; I can’t help but wish that Santa had returned just one more time to this place. I don’t expect I will know him again.