Recently, I talked about my son’s experience with the tooth fairy at a skeptics in the pub event.
Afterwards, in the question and maybe an answer session, I was asked whether, as a presumed sceptic and attempted rationalist, I felt uncomfortable or hypocritical keeping encouraging the tooth fairy legend. I don’t have a problem with the odd fairy tale or myth. I see no reason to constantly hit my son’s head with a mallet of reason after each reading of Rapunzel or The Dinosaur Pirates. Children’s minds are being shaped for the possibility of reasonableness, but I don’t see any reason not to allow some pretend. There will come a time, oddly coinciding with the last pre-molar being placed under the pillow, when he may well decide it was all nonsense, but nonsense that turned near worthless enamel into Lego and comics. If I just told him, “there is no tooth fairy, your mother and I will merely take your teeth in exchange for cash like an infant Cash for Gold learning slope”, I don’t think the lesson learnt is as good as the moment his questioning unearths a fabrication designed for childhood fun.
He also believes in Santa too, infuriating, as I would prefer he knew it was my blinking money that went on those presents, not some benevolent, eternal, Arctic deer hustler.
Most parents spend their lives thinking, “am I bringing up my children correctly? What have I done that will have adulthood repercussions?”
I was recently told off by a psychologist friend who declared that I was, oh and how this will shock you, overly discursive with my son. What a surpris. Ahgaine that I talk and analyse things too much, a career advantage that should be put on hold around the Playmobil.
Faith and religion is a tricky area. I can’t don the mantle of tooth fairy and Santa and outrightly dismiss a deity each time it comes up. Maybe if I rolled tooth fairy and Santa and Yahweh into one being, then he would shrug all three off at the same time. Maybe I can say that is what the holy trinity is.
Though he doesn’t attend a religious school, the Biblical tales are told of God and Heaven and, I wasn’t so pleased with this, tales of the body and blood of Jesus being wafer and wine. The Nativity play (despite what you might hear) occurs each year. Again, i see no reason to go into too much detail just as I didn’t feel I needn’t to tell him that soft toys do not get involved in repair work when unobserved after I took him to see Bagpuss.
When he asks me of God, I explain that people believe different things. I have told him I don’t believe there is one, but don’t just trust me. Later, he told me not to worry, that though he believed in God, he also believed in the big bang. He is Francis Collins in the making.
When we were looking at the Open University Tree of Life poster, he questioned why Darwin illustrated man, as he wasn’t the first man. There is a confusion between ideas of evolution and Bible stories. I am glad to say he laughs when he sees animations where dinosaurs and humans are side by side. “Now that isn’t right is it.”
And I didn’t feel like an oppressive atheist dad when I told him that Adam and Eve is just a story, a way of illustrating life on earth, but not true. We did some hairy apes turning into hairless man ape dances, I am sure Thomas Huxley did similar as he took his children “up the wooden hill to bedfordshire.”
There is an age where death first worries you, that time that you start to imagine yourself parentless and alone. This, too, I do not know the best way to deal with. i am sure there are many conflicting books that deal with it in the overburdened self-help sections.
You find yourself saying, “it won’t be for ages. Let’s have fun now and stop thinking about it.” How deeply can you go into it when they are 5 or 6. With talk of heaven, again I do not flinch at saying, “no one knows, so best to pack in as much as we can while we are definitely here”. I have started to sow the seeds (uh oh, I have hit parable mode) of the idea that we made of atoms, and that all the atoms that make us have made so many other things and will go onto make so many other things while there is still this universe about. We are bits of apple tree, molten larva, pulsar, caterpillar cocoon, Dodo beak, Trilobite feeler, glacier, and so much more, though that can make up the strangest Frankenstein monster in the imagination.
It’s all just stories now, stories trying to convey ideas that are confusing and frightening and exciting. I have been asked on more than one occasion if I worry if my son grows up to be religious. Hah, I don’t think I’d care, but if he grew up to be a dogmatist and venal bigot, then I really know my discursive ways would have something to answer for.
I am off on tour – from Sheffield to Edinburgh, Chorley to Norwich, Huddersfield to Birmingham, and more than likely a town near you. Details HERE
(if your town isn’t on the current list, tell me, I love trains and dislike laziness)
I talked a great deal more about the recycling delight of all the atoms that make us in this DVD HERE