“Noooooo! He’s the guy who brings you presents on Christmas!” my little brother and I exclaimed, and ran to mom for reinforcements.
Mom asked what dad had said and, when we explained, she said she thought he was right. Appalled, we raced back to our dad and tried for the next 10 minutes to bully him into admitting we were right. He simply smiled and pleasantly stuck to his story as he would for the next 35 years as he raised children. We gave up on him. And a few days later, under the tree, sure enough, there were presents from Santa.
Every Christmas to this day we have received presents from Santa. What I realized later is that my dad had given us the gift of choosing when we would transition from delightful engagement in the Santa story to the even sweeter story of being given gifts by those who love us. My siblings and I could indulge in Santa imaginings for as long as we liked (which we continued to do for years) and could choose to transition out of that at our own pace in our own time.
My father was always big on allowing his children to choose and also big on letting them know they were loved. I didn’t realize until years later how deftly he had incorporated both of these things into his Santa story. And it took me awhile to see how he had helped our eventual transition not be one of belief to unbelief, but rather to one of belief in something good to belief in something familiar and even better.