There’s a list that many fathers keep in their mind titled, “Things to Avoid If You Want Your Children to Still Like You When They Get Older.” Aside from the obvious, it includes things like, “When it comes to your child and sports, don’t act like The Great Santini,” and “Don’t dance goofy in front of your daughter’s friends (unless your daughter is being mean to you, then you should definitely dance goofy, especially if there isn’t any music playing).”
And, of course, very close to the top of the list, especially for single fathers, is: “Don’t screw up the Tooth Fairy. Whatever you do, DON’T SCREW UP THE TOOTH FAIRY! When children submit faithfully to the cruel myth that forces them to put their bloody tooth under their pillow and then fall asleep expecting payment for this service, make sure you get the tooth and replace it with the money! And don’t forget! Set your alarm! Set three alarms! Have your friend call you at 3 a.m. and ask, “Did you remember the Tooth Fairy?”
Well, I forgot the Tooth Fairy.
I am a horrible father.
But it’s even worse than that. I forgot the Tooth Fairy with my nine-year-old daughter, and she doesn’t really believe in the Tooth Fairy anymore. You know what I mean? So, when she says, “The Tooth Fairy forgot,” she’s saying something else entirely, something much more direct and personal. She is saying, “You, Dad, forgot.”
I am a horrible father!
“It’s just one in a long series of disappointments she will experience with her father,” a friend of mine told me, smiling glibly.
To which I wanted to reply, “But it wasn’t my fault! Well, it sort of was. Let me explain.”
My daughter lost her tooth one morning during the mad, tooth-brushing rush to school. There was blood and toothpaste and water. But no tooth. The tooth went down the drain!
I said, “No worries. We’ll write a note to the Tooth Fairy and she’ll still give you cash. Now, let’s get to school! We’re late!”
Half the reason we were still doing the Tooth Fairy ritual is because my son, aged six, still believes and so we had to keep up appearances. The other half of the reason we were doing it is because my daughter loves getting cash.
That night, it was hectic. We forgot to write a note. I’m certain that if we had written a note that night, I would have remembered to exchange the note for the money, but that’s beside the point.
Next night, it was even more hectic. You know those nights? Lots of homework about Native Americans, lots of laundry and dirty dishes and playing with mice and watching TV shows, and then we read for a long time. When I put my kids to bed, I was like, “Good riddance. I need to just chill.”
I plopped down on the couch and …
Problem: Earlier in the night, while I was distracted by my email, my daughter had made sure to show me the sweet note she had written: “Dear Tooth Fairy: I lost my tooth, but it went down the drain!” It included colorful spirals and other cute things.
Now that I think about it, I can see the look on my daughter’s face as she folded the note and said, in a knowing way, “I’m going to put this under my pillow now.” She was giving me the heads-up!
Next morning, the kids got up and my daughter was strangely silent for a spell. Then, as I walked past her in the living room, she said in a voice that put quotation marks around “Tooth Fairy,” “The Tooth Fairy forgot to visit last night.”
I stopped dead. “Oh, man,” I blurted, “I forg— … Wow! … No kidding?”
I felt her staring at me. I felt my son staring at me. They were both staring at me for different reasons. I wanted more than anything to invent time travel and fix what horrible thing I had done.
“That’s really, really strange,” I said. “It must have been the fact that we waited an extra night. It must have been the fact that there was no tooth. The tooth wasn’t calling to the Tooth Fairy. Yeah, that’s probably what happened. And the extra night between. Maybe the Tooth Fairy got confused? Maybe she flew to your mom’s house. Maybe you should try again tonight when you’re with your mom. I’m sure the ‘Tooth Fairy’ just made a mistake. Happens all the time. I’m sure the ‘Tooth Fairy’ still wants to give you money …”
Finally, after much blathering, my daughter said to me, “Dad, I don’t care.” But the way she said it, you could tell that she really did!
I said, “I’m sure the Tooth Fairy—”
“Dad,” she said, “I … DON’T … CARE.”
What’s even worse is that my son, still believing, said to his sister that morning, “Well, when I lost my tooth last month, the Tooth Fairy left me $2.”
Daughter: Sweetheart: Darling: Thank you for not punching your little brother when he said that. And thank you for not punching me. I owe you.
I’m a horrible father! I killed the Tooth Fairy!
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