I froze. I felt like I’d been caught in some great crime. Literally seven years of lies started to fall down around me, and I felt guilty. Other children were now crowding around the door, and I was afraid of ruining their belief in Santa, too, so I simply placed my hand on Tristan’s chest, pushed him into the hallway, and shut the door.
I stood there for some time, wondering what should happen next. Should I fess up? Should I tell him, or should I try to keep the myth alive? When Mel and I started this whole Santa thing, I never really thought about this moment. I assumed that some day he’d find out, but I didn’t think it would be so dramatic. I didn’t think it would make me feel anxious. I was about his age when I found out. I was at Joel Baker’s house, a kid that I went to church with. We were playing on his stairs when he said, “Did you know that Santa isn’t real?”
I argued with him. I told him that he surely was real. “He even signs his gifts and eats my cookies,” I said.
Then he told me that it wasn’t Santa. It was my parents up in the night, shoving toys under the tree. Suddenly dominoes fell, and it all made sense.
But with Tristan, discovering that his father was dressed as Santa seemed so dramatic. It seemed very theatrical.
I turned around in the office, still dressed as Santa. In the door was a window, and Tristan was standing on a chair looking inside. We made eye contact, and he smiled a devilish grin that seemed to say, “Got ya!” I could hear him talking to another parent, telling them that he thought his dad was in there and he wanted to see.
He looked away for a moment, and hit the floor, and then crawled next to the door where he couldn’t see me. I sat there for a while, wondering what to do. Wondering if I should just open the door, let him in, and explain the situation. Honestly, though, I was at a loss. Part of me wanted him to find out how I did, by being told by someone else. If he was going to find out, I didn’t want it to be by some unbearding of his father.
I sat there for a few moments. I was about to give it all up, when I heard my buddy Wade cover for me, “Hey, Tristan. Your father is in the parking lot looking for you. He’s real mad. You might want to go find him.”
Tristan didn’t move for a moment, and I assumed he was calculating just what to do. Then I heard him slide off the chair and run down the hall. I quickly changed, and then walked into the church.
In the gym, Tristan approached me.
“I know that you were Santa,” he said.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said.
“You know how I know?” he said.
I didn’t respond. I just folded my arms and listened.
“Because you have a line on your forehead from wearing a wig.”
I touched my forehead, and sure enough, I could feel it.
I looked at Tristan for a while. Then I pulled him aside, crouched down, and said, “Here’s the deal, Tristan. The real Santa couldn’t make it, so he asked me to fill in. I was just being his helper. Please realize that your sister is little, and she very much believes in Santa. Don’t ruin this for her. Can you keep it a secret that I was Santa?”
Tristan thought about it for a while. Then he gave me a sly smile, like he was in on something really important, and agreed. And as he did, I felt a mix of emotions. I felt like he might still believe in Santa, which made him a kid still, but at the same time he understood the importance of Santa to his little sister, which showed the he understood obligation… which is very adult. I looked at him for a while, thinking about how quickly he was growing, and realized that this was going to be the last Christmas where all the children still believed in Santa. Next year, he will be done with it. No doubt.
“Awesome,” I said. “I love you.”
“I love you too, Dad,” he said.
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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress, and an angry baby girl. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His work has been featured in Good Morning America, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, The Good Men Project, Fast Company, and elsewhere. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.