“See, this is my opinion: we all start out knowing magic. We are born with whirlwinds, forest fires, and comets inside us. We are born able to sing to birds and read the clouds and see our destiny in grains of sand. But then we get the magic educated right out of our souls. We get it churched out, spanked out, washed out, and combed out. We get put on the straight and narrow and told to be responsible. Told to act our age. Told to grow up, for God’s sake. And you know why we were told that? Because the people doing the telling were afraid of our wildness and youth, and because the magic we knew made them ashamed and sad of what they’d allowed to wither in themselves.” – Excerpt from Boy’s Life by Robert McCammon.
There are two events in my life that stand out as helping make me the father I am today. They guide how I am raising my son.
My mother passed away when I was twelve. The harsh reality that is cancer ripped her away from my brother and I.
Seven years later, when I was 19, I read a book. That book was Boy’s Life, by Robert McCammon.
I grew up in a small idyllic town and could not have asked for a better childhood. Every day was an new adventure filled with endless possibilities and the excitement of never knowing what could happen next. There were no limits to what I could do. I lived life to it’s fullest, like only a child can. And then it was gone. In a space of a few minutes, I became an adult. Needless to say, I was not equipped to deal with it, but I managed to get by.
On the surface, Boy’s Life is about a twelve year old boy who finds himself hot on the trail of a murderer in his small, southern US town, an idyllic childhood setting not unlike my own. However, even with such a mature and unusual plot, the author also brilliantly captures the magic of childhood. How it’s the only time in your life that dinosaurs can roam the streets…monsters can live in the depths of a river…you can meet a gunslinger named The Candystick Kid…and all of this surrounded by the best friends a kid could ever have.
When I read this book for the first time (I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve read it), it brought back memories of the first twelve years of my life. It reminded me what it felt like to be a child…to live life with that innocence, wonder and joy. My dog might not have come back to life, and I didn’t have a friend that had a perfect throwing arm, but I built the biggest snow forts that the world has ever seen and I could control waves using the Force. And I did have a bike that could fly.
After reading this book, I decided that if I was lucky enough to become a parent, I would foster this magic in my child. That I would do everything in my power to make it last as long as possible, because I’m all too aware that this magical time is fleeting, and worse yet, it can be taken from you at anytime. For seven years after my mother died I was too busy surviving to keep it alive. Then I read this book, and something in me started burning again. And I made a pledge to myself. I was going to keep the magic alive, and pass it along if I could.
I’m now a Dad and thankfully my wife has joined me on this particular endeavour. One of the ways we’ve been helping him find the magic is to let him explore. Explore his neighbourhood of New Westminster until he knows all of his neighbours. Explore all possible sports until he settles on the one he loves. Explore all the arts until he finds what inspires him. But most of all, let him explore his imagination to its fullest.
My son is now five and a half. He believes he works close to the North Pole, with a bevy of worker friends. Two of them are named George; one is good and never makes mistakes; the other’s real name is Franken and he speaks in farts. He believes that Santa Claus is the boss of everything. He believes if the wind is strong enough, and he jumped really high, that he could fly. He believes that he’s the fastest kid alive. He’s looking forward to going to nerd school so that he can learn to make robots. And he believes he can talk to birds.
I don’t know how long he will believe the above. The world these days doesn’t really inspire such beliefs. Kids are expected to grow up faster and faster. Priority seems to be on making them ready for the future, less so on enjoying the precious years of their childhood. My wife and I have committed ourselves to keeping magic alive and we’ve tried to surround ourselves with people that believe in this gift. People that will help him remain young at heart, and keep those whirlwinds, forest fires and comets inside of him.
I don’t really remember much about my mother. I don’t know what she was like when not a parent. And I don’t know how much of her is in this kid, a kid that will never get to meet her. But she instilled this sense of wonder in me, and I believe she would be proud of me for trying to keep this flame alive, in me and in her grandson.