When my daughter climbed onto my lap a few weeks ago and asked if she could read my novel, I said she absolutely could. There was nothing in those pages that could be considered inappropriate for eight-year-olds—no cussing, no sex, no murder. And as she’d already gone through just about every book on the shelf of her room, she had nothing to read.
For a week I watched her curled up on the sofa with brow furrowed. She was the perfect reader, the epitome of the audience every writer desires. She laughed much. Cried some. She pondered and asked questions and underlined her favorite parts.
And it was during all of that when I began thinking about how I was such a wonderful father, fostering in my child a love for words and books and stories. How I was expanding her mind and giving her proof that any dream could be attained with the right amount of work and faith. Yes, a wonderful father. Perfect but for my fallen nature.
Looking back, it seems appropriate that a few nights ago I would be brought back down to earth in such a sudden way. There is a great amount of danger in thinking too less of yourself, but the greater danger lies in thinking too much. Wonderful fathers do not dash the sense of magic and possibility that is inherent in their children. And yet that is exactly what I believe I’ve done.
It began late at night, in that dimness of mind when wakefulness and sleep melt into one another. I was settled in bed, eyes closed, when a thought that perhaps for days had been boring its way to the front of my thick head finally broke through.
It was the afterword. I had written about Santa Claus in the afterword.
About how he wasn’t real.
I threw the covers back and sat up. How could I be so stupid? How could I have forgotten that? Yes, every child must at some point be confronted with that horrible and inevitable truth. It is often the first baby steps on the road to adulthood. But this way? Having to read it in a book your father’s written? There, in black and white, told by the man who has told you over and over that people who don’t believe in Santa are wrong?
My mind seemed to fold in on itself. Men tend to think of problems in terms of solutions. How something went wrong and why doesn’t matter as long as it’s fixed. And I had to fix this. Now.
And that is why I did what just hours before I would have sworn was unthinkable, an act that was so vile and so contrary to everything I believed in that in the process of its commission I felt part savage and part Nazi:
I took my knife into my daughter’s bedroom, opened the copy of my book that lay on her nightstand, and very carefully cut out the afterword.
I set the book back on the nightstand exactly as I’d found it. My daughter, immersed in a sleep of innocence the likes of which I would never enjoy again, never stirred. The only thing that kept me from taking a shower to try and wash all the failure off was the fact that her belief was intact.
Back to bed. Settled into my pillow, covers over me. I said a prayer of both thanks and forgiveness and waited for God to tell me everything would be okay.
He didn’t tell me.
Because I shot up in bed again when another thought managed to finally puncture my thick brain.
Why do writers include things in an afterword?
Because they’ve mentioned them in the book itself.
I hadn’t just mentioned Santa’s imaginary existence in passing. I’d written an entire chapter about it.
Out of bed. Back to my daughter’s room. I looked at the placement of her bookmark.
She’d read that chapter about two days prior.
And that is where things stand as of now. She hasn’t mentioned Santa. I haven’t either. And she seems fine, has even begun a Christmas list.
But I wonder. I wonder what this Christmas will bring. I wonder if I’ll walk into her room one December night and find her in tears. And I wonder what I’ll say.