Summer evenings are made for pretending. So say my kids (and me too, if you asked). Maybe it’s the sun setting in a blaze of oranges and reds or the creeping in of night. I’m not sure. Whatever it is, that small part of the day just after dinner and just before bed is perfect for fantasy. Anything goes and often goes well.
With that in mind.
Yesterday evening, in the backyard…
“Let’s pretend, Dad.”
My daughter to me, seconded by my son. I leaned back on my elbows and think about their request. Since they’re not here to read this, I can confess that a part of me doesn’t want to. I was tired. Long day. And the Yankees would be on soon. I really wanted to watch the Yankees.
But they were flashing their puppy-dog eyes and were already approaching me for bribes of hugs and pledges for life-long adoration. They knew I couldn’t refuse. I might have been Daddy—The Bossman, my son says—but they also knew that most times it didn’t take much to get me to go along.
“What do you want to pretend?” I asked them.
And for the next hour, we almost did just that. Everything. The three of us roamed the backyard as soldiers and explorers, pioneers and robbers. Ants were aliens from another world sent here to enslave humanity. The neighbor’s dog was a slobbery dragon holding my princess daughter hostage. My son was a ghost that pelted us with water balloons. The tree near the creek was Mount Everest.
They darn near killed me. Kids are exhausting.
In the end, we wound up right where we started. I was leaning back on my elbows again, and the kids were lying on their backs and staring up at the clouds.
“Do you ever pretend, Daddy?” my daughter asked. “Or do you just do it when we’re around?”
Her question caught me off guard in its simplicity. It wasn’t a direct question, really. From her quiet voice I got the impression the question was asked more to the clouds than to me. But she asked it, and I had to answer.
The question was whether to be honest or not. And not just to her. To myself, too.
Because I pretended. A lot.
There were times when I pretended around my kids. I’d put on my Wise Father costume and acted like I knew what I was doing when it came to being a parent. And I would put on my Brave mask and tell them I wasn’t afraid of what the world could do to them.
But my pretending wasn’t solely based on their proximity. I pretended quit a bit when they weren’t around, either.
I pretended at my job. Pretended that I liked it. That if fulfilled me. That it brought me happiness and that I’d never want to do anything else.
Sometimes I even pretended to God. I’d pretend I had more faith than I did. Sometimes—lots of times—I pretended that I didn’t doubt.
And if I were really honest, I would say that I even pretended with myself a lot. I’d pretend to be happy when I was really sad. I’d pretend I had answers when all I had were questions.
“I’d say I do my share of pretending,” I told her.
She smiled at that, but I didn’t. Pretending when you’re eight is fun. Pretending when you’re thirty-seven isn’t. At that age, pretending is just lying.
“I think that when get to heaven,” she said, “everyone gets to pretend. They can be anyone they want to be.”
“Maybe,” I said.
I wanted to say more, but I didn’t. It wouldn’t have done any good. What was on my mind were thoughts she couldn’t understand. Not yet. But if she was anything like her father, one day she would.
I was thinking that heaven wasn’t about pretending at all. We got enough of that in this world. No, to me that would go the way of tears and sadness—left at the pearly gates. Absolutely no admittance.
Because I thought at that moment heaven would offer many of us the one thing we sorely lacked in life.
The chance to finally be ourselves.