American Elephants

The Importance of Being a Father, And the Magic: by The Elephant's Child

(Republished from Father’s Day, 2010)

My father made magic for me.

What do I mean by magic? We posted a wonderful example just a few days ago: a video of a little boy whose dad tied his loose tooth to a rocket. (If you missed it previously, don’t fail to watch it).

When that little boy is an old man in a rocking chair in a retirement home, he will tell his friends about the time his dad tied his loose tooth to a rocket, and laughed and laughed and laughed.  That’s magic!

My father taught me how to catch the Easter bunny.  You take a bushel basket, turn it upside down, and prop one side up with a stick of kindling.  On the kindling prop, you tack a carrot (with green top), and you leave it out on the lawn on the night before Easter Sunday.  When the Easter bunny came hopping by in the hours of early dawn, he would eat the carrot (everyone knows how bunnies love carrots) and the bushel basket would fall down on top of him.  And it always worked.  When we carefully lifted the basket, there was an adorable white bunny with a ribbon around its neck.  Magic!

The winter when the snow was deep, my father built me an igloo.  I was quite small, and the door was just big enough for me, but the inside was perfectly round and my own private place.

There were the sled runs (we had a long hill) that banked at the bottom so you could curve around and, if you had enough speed, make it down another small hill.  One year he made a tunnel at the bottom of the hill, but the roof kept falling in, so he wet it down at night and the next day it was frozen solid.  My mother took one look and banned it as way too dangerous.

We lived in the mountains wedged between National Forest and BLM land on a long bend of a river.  One time my father found a tiny snake, whether it was a baby snake or a separate species I have no idea. I’m not a herpetologist. So after dinner he helped me fill a bucket with water, and then he asked me for a long hair.  I pulled one.  He took the hair and floated it gently in the bucket, and as it swirled around he performed an impressive waving of hands and abracadabring over the bucket and the hair.  Maybe by morning, he said, and in the morning, there in the bucket was a tiny snake swimming.

A couple named Mr. and Mrs Ironing came to visit, and with them they brought their pet turtle.  (Yes, even after all these years I remember their name).  Since turtles like beaches, they put their turtle in my sandbox, and the turtle laid eggs!  I don’t remember if I actually saw the eggs, for she surely buried her eggs, but only one managed to hatch, and it was a tiny turtle with a rosebud painted on its shell and my name beside the rosebud.  Now that’s magic!

Bruce Feller has a story in the Washington Post today titled “Science can’t prove fathers matter.  That doesn’t mean we don’t.” it concerns the current wave of proving that fathers aren’t really all that necessary.  Which, of course he debunks.

My father has been gone for many years now.  On my birthday or Christmas, there were  always nice presents, but I hardly remember any of them.  What I always remember is the magic.

ADDENDUM: Here’s another nice piece from Ralph Kinney Bennett called “What a Father Taught Me.”

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