It was a normal morning, or at least I thought so. Thanksgiving was over, with its parade of seldom seen relatives and the required polite attention as they “caught up” with what everyone had been doing.
It was a Saturday and it had snowed six inches the night before. That meant the kids were all outside, bright and early, getting thoroughly cold and wet, and loving every second of it. Their mother and I loved it too because it meant a very rare opportunity to celebrate the memory of how those kids had come to be. Sex in the morning is fabulous, when you can get it. At this stage in our lives it meant sucking on months-old peppermints from Pizza Hut, kept on the night stand for just such an occasion. It spoils the mood if you have to run brush your teeth.
But, when you’re enjoying great sex, who cares about stale peppermints?
Of course great sex, at our ages, and after twenty-five years of marriage, doesn’t necessarily mean long, drawn-out sex, which was good that morning because the kids came stampeding back into the house, wet, cold, and complaining.
I got up, still panting slightly from my hastily-completed husbandly duties, threw a piece of oak into the stove and cracked open the air vent to get it going. My wife was like a general marching the troops, as she ordered them where to shake off the snow and where to put items of clothing as it fell off of them, until they could all scamper close to the wood stove. They turned in slow, measured circles, pausing to let whatever side of them was facing the stove get warm before turning another ninety degrees. I stood and watched my naked children, smiling as I thought of rotisseries.
June was seven. She was “our little accident”, though she was a gift we treasured. I noticed her big sister, Fran, was growing up fast. They all grow up fast, but Fran astonished me. I knew she was fifteen, but she’d always been my little girl, even when June came along. When had she grown those breasts!? And hips!? And hair!?
Modesty had never been a strong suite in our home. It wasn’t planned that way. I’m hot-blooded, and can sweat in air conditioning, so I ran around like a nudist as soon as we got married. Jill eventually joined me, both because she said she felt so overdressed around me, and because it led to the kind of fun she was interested in, and married me for. At least partly. When the kids came along, first Brad, and then Fran, two years later, the only reason to cover them was to avoid wet or smelly accidents. Once they got potty trained, it just never occurred to us to put something on them, unless it was cold.
It occurred to me, quite suddenly, that we had two teenagers, standing around the wood stove, stark naked. It was the first time I’d recognized them as anything other than ... Frannie and Brad.
I surveyed my seventeen year old son. Almost a man, he had already tested me many times in the time-honored tradition of the young bucks testing the old bulls, pushing limits here, stretching the rules there, seeing if it was time to formally challenge the leader. He was a good kid with a good heart, though. And it was normal, so I didn’t worry about it.
I saw his eyes flicker to his middle sister. He was normal in that way too. He’d seen her naked all his life, but with her recent development, and the fact that fall and winter usually meant everybody was covered up, he was discovering her recent maturity just like I was.
The reverse was true. Frannie was checking him out too.
My wife, always more vigilant than I thought she was, also noticed.
“Fran, don’t stare at Brad’s penis. It’s not normal.”
“Mom!” moaned a very embarrassed, and suddenly very pink-all-over fifteen-year-old girl.
“And Brad,” said my wife, ignoring the wail from her daughter, “don’t ogle your sister.”
“Yeah, right,” snorted Brad, his eyes flickering from Fran’s pink-nippled breasts to the light brown fuzz between her thighs. “Like I’d be interested in doing that!”
June, of course, with her genius mind, simply turned and watched and listened. In most families a seven year old with a brother and sister twice her age, would be at a serious disadvantage. But June was as smart as both of her siblings put together, and neither of them got more than an occasional C in school. Even then it usually meant they didn’t like the teacher, instead of the course material being too hard for them.
“In fact,” said my wife, crossing her arms below her breasts, hidden by the robe she was wearing, “all of you go get dressed.”
There was a chorus of complaints, made to sound like they didn’t want to leave the immediate warmth of the stove. They didn’t fool us, though. They were curious about their bodies. I tried to remember if I’d ever “had the talk” with either of the older ones. I decided I hadn’t, and that it was probably way past time. Just like I probably had in the past, I put it off for another time.
“Do what your mother says!” I ordered in my most rough, alpha male growl.
They went, though they sure didn’t scamper in fear or respect for the old bull’s position in the herd.
Breakfast got them back out of their rooms in a hurry, all appropriately covered. When had it suddenly become necessary for them to be ... appropriately covered?
Jill and I, still in our robes, presided over a nice family breakfast, which was going just fine until June said: “Daddy, can I ask you a question?”
“Sure, baby,” I said, ready to dispense wisdom.
“Is Santa Claus real?”
It was a question asked millions of times, in millions of homes, by millions of kids hoping, usually against hope, that the answer would not devastate the dream. It always meant that, somewhere along the way, somebody had said he did not exist.
Of course any kid who has survived five or six Christmases has seen the movies that deal with the issue. But those are movies. Sooner or later, they go to the ultimate source.
In our family that was me. I had a saying: “Dads know everything.” It had worked pretty well for the first ten years. It was a little frayed around the edges these days. Both Fran and Brad knew more about the computer in our house than I could ever hope to know, and that wasn’t the only chink in my armor.
“Of course he’s real,” I said instantly. “Why do you ask?”
Brad snorted. Fran sighed. They’d asked the same question, years back, and gotten the same response. In the years since then they’d argued with me, trying to convince me that Santa was just a kids tale. I’d stuck to my guns, and they’d eventually given up trying to convert me.
“People say he’s not real,” said June. She didn’t go into all the arguments about there being hundreds of men in red suits all over town, or that elves didn’t exist or any of that. She got right to the point.
I don’t know where it came from. It hadn’t appeared in my head when either Brad or Fran asked the same question, or tried to argue with me about it. But, suddenly, it was there.
“Do you believe in heroes?” I asked.
“Heroes?” asked June. “Like on TV?”
“No, not those heroes,” I said. “I mean people who risk their own lives to help someone else ... in the real world.”
“Like firemen?” she asked.
“Well,” I said, “that’s one example, but they choose to do that kind of work. I’m not talking about that kind of hero. I’m talking about the person who is at the right ... or wrong place, at the right ... or wrong time, and something terrible happens, and they decide to help, instead of run away, or look out for themselves.”
“So policemen and soldiers wouldn’t count either,” said June, quite seriously.
“True,” I said. “They’re definitely heroes, but not the kind I’m talking about.”
“I don’t know anybody like you’re talking about,” said June.
“Okay,” I said patiently, “but do you believe in them? Do you believe they exist?”
“Right now?” asked my genius daughter. “This very instant?”
“Have they existed in the past, do they exist now, or could they exist in the future?” Going toe-to-toe with brilliance isn’t always a fun ride.
“Of course,” said my genius daughter.
“Okay.” I bored right on in, ready to make the kill. “Is there only one possible hero?”
“Of course not,” said June. “Somebody like that would have to be Superman, and he doesn’t exist.”
I heard a snort from Brad. I looked up. Oddly, both he and Fran were paying attention. Neither had said anything yet, but I could just see the tenseness ... the willingness to jump in and help kill the dream.
“You are entirely correct,” I said. “In fact, it’s impossible to say who might be a hero, and who might not, until something happens. But the fact is, that heroes exist, even if they haven’t been heroic yet.”
I felt a huge wash of relief. The first hurdle had been cleared. Acceptance was there.
“Okay,” I said. “Now, what makes somebody a hero?”
“You already said that, Daddy,” said June, patiently. “It’s when somebody helps somebody else, and doesn’t care if they might get hurt in the process.”
“That’s almost it,” I said. “It’s not that they don’t care if they get hurt. It’s that doing the right thing ... helping whoever needs help ... is the most important thing in that moment. They give of themselves, for the benefit of someone else. And they don’t do it because they get paid to do it, or because somebody will give them an award, or anything like that. They just do it because it’s a good thing to do.”
I would have been fine if I’d have stopped there. But I was all wound up. I had glanced up and seen Jill, also listening, and seeing her there, with the front of her robe not quite completely closed ... which reminded me of that morning, while the kids were outside ... well I didn’t stop there.
“It’s like great sex,” I added.
You know how you say something brilliant ... except that it’s at the wrong time, in the wrong place, with the wrong audience?
I blinked. Probably several times. I noticed that I suddenly had my older children’s undivided attention. They weren’t just paying attention. They were riveted. Never had I seen them so interested in something their old man had said.
You’d have thought they were triplets. All three of them said it at exactly the same time. It was almost three part harmony.
I looked at Jill, and felt my face take on what I knew was a pleading look.
“Don’t look at me,” said my life mate ... the woman I adored ... the mother of the very interested children at the table. “You got yourself into this. I can’t wait to see how you try to get out.”
She wasn’t exactly on the Santa bandwagon, and hadn’t been for years. She was much too pragmatic.
I looked at my children. Brad, at seventeen, probably had more experience than I wanted to think about. Fran was irrevocably branded into my brain as an innocent virgin ... and always would be, though those perky breasts she had exposed that morning were like sandpaper, rubbing at that brand, trying like crazy to remove it. And June? She was only seven. That was way too young to be involved in a discussion of sex. I expected her to say, “Ewwwww,” and run from the table any second.
They all just sat there, waiting for what was coming next.
“Go on, Dear,” my wife said, helpfully.
I tried to rein in my wildly gyrating mind. Okay. We were talking in generalities here. I didn’t have to go into the gory details. Dad’s know everything. I could do this.
“I will!” I said, admittedly a little petulantly.
I looked at my children. Fran rarely went on sleepovers any more. But June did ... all the time. Anything I said would be repeated in a dozen bedrooms. There was no way some parent wouldn’t hear about it ... whatever I said.
“That’s good, Darling,” said my entirely too happy wife, with an entirely too big grin on her face. “We’re all waiting to hear about it.”
When in doubt ... backpedal.
“Okay,” I said. I had to clear my throat. My mouth was suddenly dry for some reason. “It’s like this.”
I swear ... they all leaned forward.
“Heroes don’t think about what’s good for them.”
They all rocked back to their previous positions, looks of something close to disappointment on their faces.
“They think about what’s needed for the other person,” I barged on. “And they don’t expect, or ask, to get any reward. They’re just giving of themselves, for the good of the other person.”
I was losing them.
“Great sex is like that too.”
I had them back.
“When you’re having great sex, it’s all about pleasing your partner,” I said.
“Like how?” That was Fran, of course. Her eyes were actually gleaming!
How could I tell them that, when I worked on their mother’s clitty with my tongue and fingers, in that special way I had learned to do it, that her moans were like music to my ears. I couldn’t tell them that! I couldn’t explain that, when I slid into Jill’s silky depths and pushed in the way she liked, which didn’t necessarily do all that much for me, the look on her face when she had an orgasm, and the feel of her hands gripping me, and her voice, telling me how much she loved me... did do something for me. I couldn’t tell them that. It had to be generalities.
“That doesn’t matter,” I said. “What matters is that you understand that great sex isn’t about what happens for you. It’s about what you do to make sure it’s special for your partner.”
“Special like how?” Fran wasn’t giving up easily.
I had to throw the older two a bone, or I was never going to get to the part I started out to get to in the first place.
“When you’re a little older,” I started.
She closed down like a book being slammed shut. I imagined dust flaking off of her.
“Tell you what. Let me finish with June’s question, and then she can leave. She’s a little young for that kind of stuff. Your mother and I will answer your questions then, Okay?”
“Bob!” That was Jill. She wasn’t looking too happy any more.
“We promise,” I said, assuming the mantle of King. My Queen would just have to put up with my decree. She egged me on, after all.
“So what does this have to do with Santa?” June asked.
At that moment I loved our little accident.