Generation B for Blame: Waiting on the World to Change

alice-and-the-dodo.jpg

A Millennial friend of mine whose empathetic perspective I admire and never tire of recently posted this:

“Hi, millennials! We don’t like being judged and having older generations throwing their crap at us. So idea: Let’s not do that to future younger generations. Break the cycle. Next idea: Stop blaming older generations for our current problems. Yeah, maybe they messed things up, but hey we’re gonna mess stuff up, too. And I know I certainly don’t want to be judged and blamed by future generations for the election of that monster we call Trump. Because you know that very well could be our legacy, right? RIGHT?”

As an (older) dad of a Gen Z eleven-year-old girl, having essentially skipped a generation, (god, I hope that “Z” classification doesn’t mean she’ll be the last generation on the planet!) I feel generational blame rather keenly.  And so I offer my perspective to that of my friend, and for her friends.

Every generation
Blames the one before,
And all of their frustrations
Come beating on your door.
-Mike & the Mechanics

Those that came of age in the 60’s and 70’s are the worst critics of those who came of age in the 00’s and 10’s, but their reasons may surprise you.

The ’60/’70 Gen, the children of the post-WWII generation were the “hippies and radicals” that would ruin society.  Judged more by the length of their hair and their music than their race or economic background, they were not just criticized by their elder generation, they were reviled and even hated–blamed for the destruction of all that they and their parents worked for.  It was far more than disapproval, it was war.  And it was ugly.  And think of the WWII Generation, they literally just saved the world and now these damn kids are going to ruin it!

Trump is most compared now to Nixon and for good reason.  For Gen ’60/’70, they killed Kennedy (their Obama) and gave them Nixon.  The parallels from then to now are truly astounding, and it looks for all the world that we haven’t gone anywhere.

Gen ’60/’70 fought, rebelled, and even died for their convictions for a free society and for open loving.  They accomplished quite a lot (more than they give themselves credit for), but not all.

They imagined a future for their children; a bright, caring, peaceful, (hairy) and loving future.  Those children are Gen ’00/’10, our Millennials.  I want you to know that you, my millennial friends, are their golden children.  The special ones who would live the beautiful lives that they dreamed for you.  (Unfortunately, they told you that a little too often.)

When they blame you, it’s not because they see you as failures, it’s because they saw you as their hope, one they blithely embraced and never stopped to doubt.  They look at you and say, “Why aren’t you living that life we wanted for you, what’s wrong with you?!”

You can’t be blamed for the life you have any more than they can be blamed for reaching too high for you.  The world is a tough place.

When your elders criticize you, [minus the perennial assholes of every generation] it is not the criticism of hate and derision that they once endured. No, and you must realize this; it is the criticism reserved for those we love and cherish and want the best for.  It isn’t right, but it’s human.

At the bottom of their anger and disappointment, is the fear that THEY have failed YOU.

Maybe the world still has Trumps and Nixons, maybe we still hate and kill each other.  But, what I wish I could tell your critical elders is that they did NOT fail their golden children.  Boomers, though they didn’t inherit the perfect world you promised to bring them, you did bring to the earth and rear a generation who believe in equality, who value peace, and who trust in love, just the way you hoped they would.  You persevered, and so will they.  Ease up.

I also harbor a hope that you, millennials, can reconsider your pre-contempt and distrust of your elders, who like you, took a naive shot at utopia and missed.  You are SO MUCH more alike than not.  I wish you could see yourselves from my eyes.  Anyone who is really paying attention knows, you already have what is most important.

And when the time comes, take my friend’s advice and cut the Gen Z a break.

PROTEST: Millennials find their purpose and define an era

flower-power-1

Strange how our values become galvanized when threatened.

So, we’ve somehow managed to elect the poster child of hapless, self-serving, demagoguery who has relit the old fire sticks of hatred, intolerance, and isolationism (as if they ever really went out).

So, we take to the streets and we protest.

Flower 6.jpg

The Flower Power movement was birthed in Berkeley, California in the late 1960’s as means of symbolic protest against the Vietnam War. Beatnik writer Allen Ginsberg, promoted the use of “masses of flowers” to hand to policemen, press, politicians and spectators to civilly fight violence with peace.

Today reminds me SO MUCH of the nineteen sixties.  I remember the images of race riots, bloodied faces, nightsticks, state funerals of fallen leaders, Buddhist monks lighting themselves on fire.  Death by gun violence then was two points higher per 100,000 than it is today.  I was a few years too young (to my eternal gratitude), but the nation’s young were being forced from their homes, shoveled into boot camps and used as cannon fodder to fight an unjust war.

So, they took to the streets.

In 1967 they protested against violence and the war in Vietnam.

In 2017 they will protest against hatred and intolerance.

Flower 7.jpgWhen we were kids, whining was not tolerated in my family.  If my siblings or I cried too much about something that made us unhappy, we would hear that infamous question, “You want something to cry about? I’ll GIVE you something to cry about!” which was followed by a few swift smacks.  It was meant to force us to consider whining as a poor strategy, but it always made me think, “Great, now I have TWO things to cry about!”  Whining, you see, is complaint without action, and my parents couldn’t stand it.

The often-maligned Millennial, accused of laziness and whining, a generation coddled then forgotten, suddenly feels that sharp slap and the taste of iron in their mouths.

Flower 3.jpg
Photograph by Jay L. Clendenin / LA Times 

Now it’s different, now it’s personal.  A once lost generation has found its purpose.

For someone like me, it is so deeply painful to watch innocence come of age in an ugly world, but it is equally inspiring.  What will they forge in their crucible?  What outcomes will they gain–for all of us.

Of all the images my young mind retained in that era, the most powerful and transformative one was the image of a flower stuck down the barrel of a gun.  It takes some balls to face down an adrenalin-bathed military guard with a bayonetted rifle pointed at your head and approach with nothing but a flower.  The symbology was perfect, “Make Love not War”, and the insight extraordinary in its time–You can’t fight violence with violence.  The message of Love did an end run around the mind of violence and spoke directly to the heart of peace.

flower 2 (1).jpgThe protests mattered, and we eventually won.

I’ve been stricken lately with how much the protesters today against ‘he who must not be named’ look like the protestors from 50 years ago.  They are just as brave, just as determined, and just as full of purpose.  There is a laser focus to their intention that reveals a beauty in them that has lain dormant until now.  Adversity reveals true mettle.

I hope they continue to know that you can’t fight hate with hate.

And we’re going to need more flowers.

Flower4 (1).jpg

Why This Syrian Boy Resonated So Deeply for Me

Omran 2.jpg

I woke up this morning with the image of little Omran Daqneesh in my head and it finally dawned on me why he looked so familiar to me.

THAT is my inner child.

Seriously, no joke–that is what he looks like right now. I’ve spent three years in a kind of slow free-fall of stress, private anguish, trauma, and loss that my skill could not diminish no matter what I tried. Sometimes all we can do is persevere.

If by “inner child” we mean a personification of that source within our core that is pure, joyful, innocent, trusting, playful, and loving, then we should be able to picture it, recognize it.

This morning I have, and THAT’S HIM.

As that image resonates with what I see in myself, it is heartening to know just how durable the little fellow is. As I begin to crawl out from under the rubble of things I needed like a hole in my head, the proof is there, of the ineffable, indelible innocence and goodness that is the origin and seat of who we are.

Persevere, my friends. Whether it be by fire, flood, war, or personal strife, sooner or later, someone will walk by that pile of rubble you are buried under, and pull you back into the daylight.

 

(5-year-old Omran Daqneesh suffered head wounds but no brain injury. Workers feared internal injuries, but an X-ray and ultrasound revealed his wounds were superficial. Omran’s three siblings, ages 1, 6, and 11, and his mother and father were also rescued from the building. None sustained major injuries. The Russian military said Thursday it was ready to back a U.N. call for weekly cease-fires for the city of Aleppo. …curious, what opened eyes can lead to.)

 

Mortal Decisions: How life can turn in an instant

 

IMG_6166.jpg

The warm and sunny February day was not to be denied.  I left my computer and my phone and went for a walk today.  I usually choose the rural direction from my house, quiet roads with no one to see me, but today I decided to walk toward the human race.  I’ve driven Searsburg Road up from town a thousand times, heading to and from home, but realized I had never actually walked it.

One particular spot stopped me cold, I had stood there before.  I was next to a low flat trailer home on the edge of a rise, I turned to take a picture of it.  I didn’t notice a man standing on the porch until he spoke in that slightly defensive tone you reserve for strangers staring at your house.

“Can I help you?”

“I had an accident here a few years ago.”

I had always meant to knock on their door and explain the tire tracks in the snow that went right up to his front wall, so this was a small but welcome closure.  I briefly recounted the accident, one where no one was seriously hurt and how it nearly ended with my Prius in his living room.

“Oh, yeah, I remember, geez we only left the house for a little while and when we came back we were like, what happened here?”

We laughed and shook hands.  His name was Nick.  “Now if you ever do find a car in your living room, you’ll know what happened.”

What happened was that as I was driving home on a very cold fifteen-degree day in January five years ago, black ice on the clear pavement and a wheel grabbing mealy slush on the shoulder, I saw the car in front of me, about a hundred yards away, suddenly swerve to miss an oncoming vehicle that had crossed into his lane.  This Subaru station wagon now headed for me and began to fish-tail as the driver woke up and over-corrected.

As the car got closer, I could see that the driver was a woman, and alone.  I watched her swerve back and forth across the road and my options dwindled quickly.  A Prius is little more than a glorified golf cart, they don’t GO when they need to go and they do not STOP worth a god damn.  There was no way I could slow down enough to lessen injury, if I braked too hard I’d spin myself.  Our closing speed was about 80 mph.  I tried to time my passage by her, between the swerves, but she fish-tailed with her driver’s side broadside right across my lane.  Nowhere to go.

There were trees and a telephone pole off a four-foot embankment to my right—no escape there it seemed.  To pull into the snowbank would clearly pull both wheels into the ditch and I would end up sideways headed straight into a large tree that would take the top of my car off, and my head along with it.

The only reasonable option was to hit the car.  Cars crumple, airbags go off, this would easily be survivable and I might even walk away unhurt.  I resolved to hit right behind her driver’s door square on her passenger door—the soft spot, don’t hit the wheels, don’t hit the driver.  I had just totaled another Prius the year before, because, guess what, the brakes failed.

“Goddammit, I don’t want to total another God damn Prius!  This idea makes sense, but it just feels wrong.  I WILL NOT DO THIS.”

I glanced to my right and saw the last fleeting chance at a trajectory that MIGHT take me between the trees and the pole.  It’s not an easy sell when your brain tries to tell your body, one that spent a lifetime learning to keep the car ON the road, to suddenly fly your car off an embankment and into the midst of big scary trees.  In the fraction of a second left of my fleeting window of opportunity, my thoughts returned to hitting the Subaru’s passenger door.

( “GARY. DO. NOT. HIT. THAT. CAR!” )

“Fuck it.”

Still going 45 mph, I yanked the wheel just past the passing bark of the last tree and aimed for the right side of the distant telephone pole, then felt the wheels leave the ground.  There was a lot of snow, and I honestly thought it would cushion the fall.  It did not.  I lost both bumpers on my little sleigh ride and missed the pole by less than six inches.  Next, I realized that there was no way my Prius was going to stop before going into the house.  In the spirit of “I really don’t give a fuck anymore,” I turn the car sideways intending to stop like a downhill skier after the finish line.  It actually worked.  A Prius will stop…sideways.

The car still ran, and I walked away although my back was pretty messed up.  The young woman, barely past twenty, was in a ditch by now on the other side of the road.  I approached and asked if she was okay as she got out.

“Yeah, I’m fine… I was working late last night and I… I was so tired I…”

“Don’t worry about it (YOUR insurance will pay for everything) as long as you are okay, you need to sit down?”

“I’m okay, I just don’t know what’s supposed to happen now… my dad will be…”

“Don’t sweat it, I’ll call 911, they’ll send a police car, they’ll write up an accident report, you call your dad, he’ll call the insurance company, it will all be okay.  They’ll fix your car, everything will be fine, okay?”

“Okay.”

I peered through her dirty windows into her station wagon.  I could see that one half of her back seat was down and could make out that there was junk all over.

“Hey, it could be worse, ” I said.  “You could have a kid in the back there.”

“Oh, I think he’s alright.  Just got jostled around a bit.”

“…you what?”

She opened the rear driver’s side door, the one I was about to hit, and there was a seven-month-old little boy in a car seat right behind the driver’s seat.  Right in the “sweet spot.”

“…umm… Let’s get him out of there and out of this cold.”

It was cold, but only then did I go numb.  Neighbors came out to let her stay in their house to wait.  I stayed out and directed traffic around her car which was partly in the road and just over a blind rise.

I can tell you, as sure as I am writing this, that I would have killed that baby, had I decided to hit the car rather than taking the harder choice.

Do you know how people who experience tragedies sometimes spend a lifetime asking themselves “Why did I do this”, “Why didn’t I do that?”  They torture themselves with “what ifs” because they know that one tiny decision could have changed the course of their life or that of someone else.  I know that this outcome was a happy one, but those what ifs still make my blood run cold, even five years later.

I never told the girl just how close she came to losing her child, or spending the rest of her life hating and questioning herself (or how close I came to it).  I spared her that.

It makes me think, though, how easily we forget how incredibly powerful we are; how with every passing instant we can change the course of our destinies.  I think about this most in relationships, especially these days, of how if our choices are not genuine and right, or if they are made out of panic and fear instead of love and compassion, how they can injure the lives of those around us, and perhaps rob us of our own best destiny.

Have you ever noticed that the decisions that are hardest, so often turn out to be the right ones?

Do we speak up or hide our feelings?  Do we answer or remain silent?  Do we stay or do we walk away?  One quick turn of the wheel and our lives diverge forever.  Or is there a way to circle around again?  I’d like to think there is, but I am also a dreamer.

I’m glad I met Nick today, I’m glad I chose to walk toward people instead of away, I’m glad I solved his mystery, and I’m glad for my small closure.  I’m glad I turned the wheel on that very cold day.

I can’t explain how connected I feel to that little boy, I think about him a lot.  He would be as old now as my daughter is in this photo.

I would like to meet him someday.

Just to see how he’s doing.

034_izzo_family_selectsa.jpg

 

PART VIII: Father/Daughter Stories–Training Wheels

140913_HO_LedeFor me, there are three milestones that a father is responsible for with his daughter, three sacred trusts that belong only to a dad. These are teaching her to ride a bike, explaining how to deal with boys, and teaching her to drive.

Taking the training wheels off and guiding her through that first wobbly ride is more than an apt metaphor for enablement, it’s a right of passage, living proof that her own capabilities can earn her sovereignty; her first realization, small as it is, that she can steer her own course and go where she chooses. She’ll peddle away, turn, stop and look back, her face flush with pride, delight, and most importantly freedom.

I want to see that face.

I am a divorced, single parent with joint custody, and my daughter Madi lives equal time with both her parents. Several years ago, Madi’s mother had her first significant relationship and introduced that new element to Madi’s life. No matter how well you manage things, your ex’s other will have an impact on your young child–you hope it’s a good one. It is inescapable that you’ll feel a little bit tweaked at another male figure in your daughter’s life that you didn’t pick; I’ve never had insecurities with my status as Dad and neither has Madi, but it’s a caution. Fortunately, this fellow was a lovely and kind man (they’re not together anymore).

A few years ago, just before I was to make a first stop at this fellow’s house to pick some items of Madi’s, her mother mentioned that “Dave” had been teaching Madi to ride a bike and had taken the training wheels off the bike she used there. Now, she had no clue about these sacred paternal trusts, because I had never had the opportunity to share them with her, though she may have asked, but the betrayal was none-the-less brutal. I liked Dave, and his family was great, but why the hell was he teaching my kid to ride a bike without asking me?

I guess you could say I was a little distracted as I drove to Dave’s, Madi happily in her car seat in back waiting for her fun afternoon with dad to start. I was trying to tell myself, unsuccessfully, that it didn’t matter. His was an older house with a gravel driveway that sloped down to a rural road, across from a wooded embankment on the opposite side.

I pulled up the drive in a hurry to get this pick-up of ‘stuff’ over with. There was a “thing” going on at the house, which included some other friends of theirs that I had never met, and Madi’s mom was there as well. Madi opted to stay in the car, and I jumped out and headed for the door.

Half way to the door I happened to turn and look at the car. It was rolling, gathering speed towards the road and embankment with my daughter in it. <insert Homer Simpson scream> I had apparently been distracted enough to not quite get the shifter into park and left it in neutral. The beeps and audible protestations of the Nissan Murano went unheard in my distracted funk. Funny how fast you can forget your own body at times likes these. I leapt toward the car, aiming PAST my closed driver’s door so that I had a chance of opening it.

I got it open and threw my body at the moving car and into the seat. The bright flash of light and skull-on-metal sound told me that I had not ducked my head sufficiently to get it into the car door opening. I hit it so hard I really couldn’t see, and felt immediately nauseous.

“Fuck! Don’t pass out! You cannot pass out”

The car still rolling, I grabbed the roof with my right hand and pushed off the ground with my left leg, aiming my right foot in the vicinity of the brake pedal. It found its mark and the car lurched to a stop just before reaching the street. The momentum, however, caused the door to slam shut.

Through the throbbing pain and disorientation in my head, I became aware of another pain. Briefly, I thought it was my left leg, which had been solidly jammed between the seat and door when it closed, but when I reached to free it, my right hand didn’t move.

“Oh, that’s where that hot stabbing pain is coming from.”

I looked with a bleary morbid fascination at my hand shut three fingers deep into a completely closed and latched door. <insert Homer Simpson scream>

“Oh, man, those have to be broken.”

They wouldn’t budge. I cannot explain how badly I wanted to get them out of the door, I kind of panicked for a moment, man, it just didn’t look right, but between my addled head and the odd contortion of my body, I couldn’t reach the door latch.

“Okay Gary, limb check. Left leg hopelessly wedged, right foot on the brake, (don’t move that), left hand crushed, that’s all three, I’m fucked. Wait, there are four! Use your right hand, put it into park, free up your brake foot then turn to open the door.”

(Sure, it sounds simple to you, but it’s brilliant when all you see are stars and you want to cry from the pain.)

It was about this time when Madi spoke up.

“Daddy what’s the matter!” I called up my best matter-of-fact, nothing’s wrong voice.

“Nothin’ I uh… forgot something.” (Yeah, brilliant.)

I stepped from the car and held up my hand, then tried to curl my fingers to see what broke. “Bend suckers!” Astonishingly, they did bend.  Nothing seemed to be broken! I sent a mental note of thanks to the Nissan engineers who worked out enough room in a latched door NOT to shatter a finger bone and made a partial apology to the designers of the spare tire anchors [See Flat Tire]. Pretty cool.

My fingers still hurt like a mofo and my head wasn’t quite right, but I made my way to the door and stepped inside.

As I got to the door, Madi’s mom led me to the kitchen where Dave and a cluster of their friends greeted me with the now familiar, “So that’s the guy” face that I have become accustomed to in certain divorced parent circles. It’s a polite smile and a half-hearted attempt to appear interested, but they didn’t want me there any more than I wanted to be there so all’s fair.

I prouder man than I would have kept the stupid faux pas of the driveway to himself, but I believe that one who cannot laugh at their inner fool, is doomed to forever look truly foolish—and why waste a good story.

“You would not believe what I just did pulling in…!”

It was a good story. Polite smiles all around.

Stuff retrieved, I got back in the car, rested one and a half hands on the steering wheel, remembered the sacred trust forever broken, and sighed.

It is NOT your day dude.”

“Daddy! What are we going to do today, I’m bored!”

I looked at my hand and rubbed my throbbing head, utterly defeated.

“Let’s go ride bikes Madi, I’ll take your training wheels off and…”

“NOOOO!!! I don’t want my training wheels off!”

“I thought you took them off and was riding without them?”

Noooo! I can’t ride without training wheels! Please don’t take them off, please??”

“But I thought…”

“Pleeeease?”

“You got it girl!” And so we did.

Madi’s tenth birthday is approaching now, and I have tried several times since that day three years child-on-bike-008earlier to take her training wheels off, without success. She’ll say, “Not yet Daddy.” And I’ll say,

“That’s alright kid, I’ll be ready whenever you are ready.”

Still looking for that face.

A Dandelion in Winter: How I learned that breaking the rules matter.

Dandelion field 2I am discontent in winter. It’s the death; everything is dead. Dormant, yes, I know, but it’s death to me, and my psyche struggles here in the bowels of February. When this happens it will reach of its own accord to memories of sun and earth and life.

Sister Leona was Hawaiian. She was small, with a flat brown face and round, kind eyes. She was my second grade teacher at the Immaculate Conception Grade School, and other than my ongoing debate over which of the Bodie twins I had the bigger crush on, was my only fond memory.

She was different than all the other nuns there, steal-toed, white-knuckled, bitter women, bent on a wayward course of love through discipline and sacrifice. I survived five years of uniforms, clip ties, ridged single-file lines that followed black habits to silent afternoons of forced reverence, bloodied hands (yes, they did that then), and a catechism that was lost on me from the start.

Sister Leona had a quiet sweetness about her, and she played the Ukulele for us, a large Baritone one that made her look even smaller. She did not fit in there.

It was June. We counted the days to summer and freedom, and we burned for the outdoors. On one spectacular day, we sat at our desks with our proper posture and folded hands, looking jealously out the windows at the recess yard behind the school as she entered the classroom. She took her customary place by her desk, but instead of speaking she just stared at us. She stood quietly regarding her class until the last head turned from the windows to see why she had not begun. Then she said, “Line up class, and follow me.” Then she picked up her Ukulele and went to the door.

We followed her into the hallway and out the front doors of the school, a path unheard of unless there was a fire drill, which there was not. Sister Leona’s second grade class followed her down the walk, across the parking lot and onto the lawn of the convent, then behind it. The sun and the scent of spring soon washed away our whispered questions, and we followed the tiny shrouded figure into the woods.

We emerged from the trees, still in single-file, and stood at the edge of a secluded glade no more than a few acres long and completely surrounded by trees. It sloped gently to the south like an ocean swell. What we saw there, I have never seen since. We stood like pilgrims at the Elysian Fields gaping at an awe-inspiring field of Dandelion.

They stood nearly as tall as we, and blanketed the field in an unbroken, sun-drenched, dazzling yellow tide. You could burry a yardstick in them. I have never seen them so tall. They were packed like wheat the length and breadth of the entire field. We were second graders and about four feet tall, and we could stretch our arms out straight from our shoulders and tickle our palms with the soft yellow canopy.

The silent questions were now voiced, “Sister Leona, what is this, why are we here, what are we supposed to do now?” She smiled and nodded toward the field, “Let’s go!” and waded in with her Ukulele.

The field was pristine, it was easy to tell that no one had been there before or had walked among those flowers, or if anyone even knew they were there. I have thought since about how she didn’t seem to fit in with the other sisters or enjoy the stiff protocols of the school, and how she must have wandered the convent grounds in meditation over questions I will never know. She must have come upon that glade in her wanderings. Whatever she saw there, she must have been thinking of us, because she left it untouched.

The line broke, and with screeches of delight we plowed into the flowers. Some walked alone picking armfuls of dandelions and flung them in the air, others jumped and rolled and tunneled, then huddled together to make nests. We lied in them looking up at the perfect sky, thumbs against the sun, talking and laughing, and guessing at cloud shapes. Sister Leona gathered us after a while and sang songs from Hawaii, only now we learned them and sang with her.

She taught us how to make leis with the dandelions we’d harvested for her. The way we knew each other as classmates ended and we became children again, and friends for the first time. The popular girls championed the lei-making, and helped the boys, who forgot all about their feigned irreverence. They made sure that every shy girl and fat boy wove as well as the rest, there were no loners that day.

dandelion_by_megan_griffith-d4iyibw
She talked about her home, and the ocean, and we wondered together how the field would look when the dandelions went to seed—a million new wishes waiting to be blown on the wind. We were her dandelions.

Leona is a Hawaiian name, it means “lioness.” This one broke every rule we had learned, and taught us the proper way to value what really mattered. This, it seemed, was her plan.

Whatever questions lead her to that field; I believe that we were among them. I also believe that I had the privilege that day to play in Leona’s miracle.

She did not stay long at the convent. Some years later I heard that she returned to her home in Hawaii, and there the sea took her back.

I never shook the image of a Ukulele floating on the water.

I’ve had many teachers, and I did not know this until I was older, but there have been none so important and formative as that of little Sister Leona.

If what she meant to do for us was to grant one golden day, one pure, bright spot in the seat of the soul…

She did that.

dandelion-1

PART VII: Father/Daughter Stories–Proving Santa.

Santa petrogliph“Daddy guess what, there is no Santa Claus, my friends at school told me!” Two years ago December, my then seven-year-old daughter Madi came home from school to start Christmas break with the inevitable story of how her friends at school said that there really was no Santa Claus. “Their Mom and Dad said so too.” I was caught off-guard and didn’t expect to hear this quite so soon.

Too many parents these days are careless or apathetic about Santa, and it shows. The statistical age of a child losing their belief in Santa Claus has dropped in the last 30 years from 11-12 years old to 8-9 years old. We are losing something here; our information age is missing some important information.

The question parents should be asking is not whether we believe in Santa Claus, but why we believe in Santa Claus. Some of you may know my view of the importance of childhood wonder, (see PART V: Father/Daughter Stories October 23), the ability to be inspired by the unseen and unknowable is a cornerstone of a happy adult life. The knowledge that there is a benevolence in the world that knows, cares, and provides for us no matter who we are is a basic human necessity. How some parents can be so attached to their rationality that they are willing to rattle the wonder and magic out of a child’s head is beyond me.

Thus confronted however, I had to think fast. I fell back on my improv training. First rule of improv, agree with the premise. I answered without hesitation.

“Well of course there isn’t.”

“There’s not??” She was surprised and a little alarmed.

“Not for them anyway. The reality is that if you don’t believe in Santa Claus then he doesn’t exist. And, he won’t leave you presents. These kids who don’t believe in Santa anymore, do they get presents from him?”

“I don’t think so, they say it’s their parents are doing it.”

“Exactly! Presents from parents pretending to be Santa, but not really from Santa, because he doesn’t come to their house, because they don’t believe.”

“Ooh.”

“You get presents from Santa, because you believe in Santa, right?”

“Right!”

Success for now, but it was only triage, doubts still lingered with her. If Madi stopped believing in Santa Claus, then Santa would stop visiting our house, and that would be sad. I needed a longer-term solution, something that would stick, but how do you fight the kids-at-school, the modern, empirical, verifiable, sensible, rational, mundane of the world. Ironic isn’t it? How readily some give up the Santa myth, but not the merch.? –Black Friday indeed.

Christmas Eve came, Madi was snug in her bed, Clement Clarke Moore’s “Twas the Night Before Christmas” read, and visions of sugar plumbs already dancing in her head. I went downstairs to put out MY presents to her.

I had found no solution. Upset and bereft, I stood staring at the tree puzzling like the anti-Grinch with his finger to his chin.

“I must save Santa, but how…?”

When in doubt, follow the premise, if this then what?   Improv had spoken, it was clear that what I needed was PROOF, but how can you prove the un-provable?

“Screw this, I’ve got work to do.”

I had unfinished business at my computer. I didn’t have the resources, the program, or the technical expertise to finish my work, so it took me another four grueling hours before I was satisfied. I went to bed near three am.

At five thirty Madi bounds into my room, ready to go downstairs.

“Hang on a minute, let me check my iphone first.” I thumbed through my phone as her impatience roiled.

“C’mon Dad!!!”

“Okay, let’s… What the f**k is that!! Wait…! Holy sh*t! I can’t f**kin’ believe this!!”

DADDY!

“Oh, sorry sweet pea, pardon my French. (still staring at my phone) You just won’t believe this picture!”

“Lemme see!” she reached for the phone, and I yanked it away.

“Wait, I’m looking!”

“Daddy lemme see lemme see!!!”

“Okay, let me tell you first… Last night I was finishing up some work on my computer, it was a huge pain in the butt you would not believe… but anyway, I heard this thumping from upstairs. I thought maybe you fell out of bed, but when I checked on you, you were fine. So I went down stairs to set out my presents to you, and stopped to take a picture of the tree. You know that ornament that your aunt and I used to say was our favorite that belonged to your great grandmother? I took a shot of that, and here’s the picture.” I handed her the phone. She stared intently at the photo.

“So?”

“Look carefully.”

“I don’t see it”

“Look at the window behind the tree.”

“I don’t see it!”

“Look in the lower right hand corner of the window, what do you see there?” Suddenly her eyes snapped wide and she inhaled like she had just come up from deep underwater.

Santa window pic

This cropped version doesn’t have Great grandma’s ornament in it.

“WHO IS THAT!”

“Whom does it look like?”

“Oh my gosh it’s SANTA! It’s Santa, it’s Santa daddy, you got a real picture of the REAL Santa, an actual picture of the actual Santa!”

“It sure looks like it.”

“Did you do that?”

“Hell no, I’m as surprised as you are. (I enlarged the picture.) Look at the glare on his face from the reflection of the tree lights. They are in front of his face. Whatever is there was outside the window. Let’s go down and see what he brought.”

“I can’t believe you got a picture of the real Santa, daddy you have to send this to the Smifso… Smifisonio…”

“Smithsonian Museum?”

“Yes!”

“I’ll email the curator tomorrow, they’re closed today. We must be the only ones Madi.”Santa Window close p

When we got downstairs we looked from the same position I took the photo. I went outside to stand in the garden to judge his height, and then came back in.

“From the look of it, he is between four and five feet tall, and has a pretty big head; the only tracks where right by the window, so it couldn’t be somebody else. He must have just come down from the roof, and that thumping sound I heard was probably him landing on the roof.”

I checked the NORAD map of Santa’s flight we track and concluded that the photo was taken at roughly the same time that Santa hit North America. After we examined the milk and cookies, and read the note from Santa wishing us a merry Christmas, telling Madi that she was a good girl this year, and suggesting that her dad get to bed earlier, we ransacked the presents under the tree.

Later we sat on the couch and mused over the photo again.

“You know what I think Madi? I think that nobody sees Santa unless he wants to be seen. I think he meant to be in that picture, came down from the roof for just that purpose, because he wanted us to know that he is real.”

“That must be true Dad.”

The next Christmas Madi used that photo to make her own Christmas cards to her Mom and Dad.  When this question comes up again, I will be prepared, I am saving this…Virginia clipping

It’s also for you, dear blog reader, a Christmas present from me, and here it is…

If you have never actually read, in its entirety, the September 21, 1897 editorial in The New York Sun, by Francis Pharcellus Church, here it is for you.

This is a photo of the actual clipping. In it, Church answers an important question from an eight-year-old girl by the name of Virginia O’Hanlon. She wrote to the newspaper at the suggestion of her father who assured her that, “If you see it in The Sun, it’s so.”

Church’s answer to this ubiquitous childhood question is the most profound and enduring answer to a “skeptical age”, which you or I or anyone since can come close to.

For our children, Santa is real; for us he is a metaphor for something that is as real as you or I.

Screenshot 2014-10-24 09.03.19

Virginia O’Hanlon’s home at 115 West 95th Street as it appears today. Notice the plaque out front.

Have a very merry Christmas everyone!