I first realized that I wanted to be a father in my early 30s, when a newspaper editor sent me to a mall to be Santa for a day.
The understanding came as a shock to a single bachelor who figured he would dodge Pampers and tuition, and sort of go through life solo.
But I was there, on Santa’s throne, looking into the eyes of all these children, seeing absolute innocence unleashed. I had never really met a pre-beaten human before, all bright and hopeful. It surprised and captivated me.
And I liked to recognize that there could be more roles in life than just being someone’s son.
I have to say, however, that as important as it was, my Santa Claus day had a few bumps – much like parenting itself.
The problem came from Santa’s wrangler who was in charge of procuring Saint Nick wannabes. He was upset because I was being forced on him without getting any “training”. The guy pedanticly stated that a person needs a full two weeks of schooling to be a Santa Claus. (I imagined the final exam with questions like: “Fill in the blank: Santa’s slogan is: ‘Ho-Ho-?’)
As the dubious prankster handed me the padding and the red suit, he sternly posted three taboos, a list of Santa’s tamper-evident tricks:
A: Although you may feel you have to do it, don’t do it, in all circumstances, say in fact “Ho-Ho-Ho”. Apparently, the recitation of these three syllables is such a precise catalyst that it accelerates children beyond their ability to control themselves.
Two: Avoid promises. If you guarantee little Danny a puppy and he ends up unwrapping a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle from Monet’s “Jardin à Giverny”, the tantrum the child triggers will be nothing compared to what the punishing parents do. to the mall staff.
Three: (and this is the most important rule of all): never, never, never under any circumstances allow your Santa to be seen while the previous team’s Santa is still on the center floor commercial. Children who see two Santa Claus at the same time will become rude disbelievers, or maybe even newspaper journalists.
I said, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, I got it, don’t worry.” And I got ready to climb into Santa’s Big Chair.
Unfortunately, that day I had eaten chili for lunch, a poor choice for close communication. Fearing to offend, I chewed some gum before the elves brought in the first children.
When I pulled out the Juicy Fruit, I forgot I had a big white beard and the gum got stuck between my mouth and chin. So the press photographer I was with offered me a knife he always had in his boot. (He must have seen two Santa Claus cracking a pizza in a mall food court as a child, putting him on the wrong track.)
Either way, there was St. Nick, standing next to his throne, cutting off his facial hair with a bright, sharp blade, and gently cursing. A little boy dropped his pretzel, then started screaming. Santa’s wrangler looked like he had swallowed paint.
But the show continued. Before putting her son on my lap, the very first mom set the tone by wiping the lint off my leg without even looking at me, treating me like the accessory I was.
Still, the kids were adorable and their belief in me (or rather the icon I represented) kicked off my parents’ epiphany.
It would take a while, but an 8 month old girl from Central America finally came into my life through adoption and started me on a fatherly path.
I’ve been thinking about all of this now because last week my daughter turned 18, a month after my own dad – and the original Santa Claus – passed away at 88.
One Christmas, my dad was having presents in the dark and tripped over my train. He fell into the tree, as if he was doing mambo with it. My father filled Silent Night with strong, uncivilized statements. My mom couldn’t stop laughing, and that’s how my brother and I suddenly woke up and recognized that Santa was getting help from his parents.
Smiling towards his granddaughter like he’s never been with his boys, my construction worker dad amazed us by channeling the Kardashians and hiring a personal shopper in a nearby Nordstrom to help him buy Christmas presents. to my child.
“Look what Santa Claus left at my house,” he said to her.
Shortly after my father’s funeral, my daughter revealed that she suspected at a very young age that it was not Santa Claus who brought the presents. She only played the game because it seemed important to her adults.
It was his gift to us, I guess, making us believe we were making magic.
It’s my first Christmas with my dad gone and my daughter getting ready to go to college, on her own way to life.
While I understand that these transitions are just part of the human journey, they still feel like cataclysmic, raw, and heartbreaking upheavals to me.
As usual, I made an over-santa-ed for this Christmas, piling the rug under the tree with stuff I needed to get more than she needed.
People still congratulate me and my ex for adopting a child in poverty, as if it was a selfless act of nobility oblige.
Honestly, I wanted a child. Period. I’m not sure why: to feel fulfilled, to give and receive unconditional love, to focus on something that wasn’t just me.
Either way, years spent with my daughter taught me that my Santa instinct was right when I first realized in a mall that becoming a dad was something I had to do.
And I came to love my girlfriend more than soccer, lasagna, or myself.