Christmas came and went and after the presents had been unwrapped there was one gift remaining. A new bedtime routine courtesy of Calvin and Hobbes.
I don’t know why Santa Claus thought my five year old son would enjoy the misadventures and mayhem of a young boy and his imaginary tiger. Much of the language and irony would be lost on a child so young, so innocent. Perhaps it was the physicality, the slapstick, the exploration. The teachers turning into intergalactic space monsters or the toilets becoming bathtubs. Whatever it was, he took to it instantly. After the first night he asked if tomorrow we could read more “Halvin and Cobbes”. (I still only correct him some of the time.) He isn’t exactly sure when to laugh but finds all the crashing, falling, loud noise making to be uproariously funny. Sometimes I have to remind him to keep his voice down for fear of waking his baby brother, a reality that I instantly lament for what’s being alive if you can’t laugh out loud?
For me, reading Calvin and Hobbes again as an adult is a chance to go back and relive an important part of my childhood when I was a little older than my son is now and would stay up way past my bedtime devouring page after page until my eyes were blurry and cheeks sore from smiling. Back then I idolized Calvin. His freedom. The way he existed without fear, without restraint. I wanted a friend as loyal and honest as Hobbes. A confidant. Someone to share secrets, express fears and doubts, joys and happiness. Their world was one of a never ending daydream and I sometimes wished my childhood could be as exciting and spontaneous.
Now as a man, more importantly as a father, I get to read along with my son as he is introduced to something that offered me such great joy. My experience today allows me to decode much of the meaning I may have missed the first time around. Because buried beneath the whimsy of a young boy and his imaginary tiger are complex stories full of sentiment, sophistication and an earnest attempt to tackle life’s biggest questions. What happens when we die? Is their such a thing as true love? And, can a red wagon really move down a hill fast enough to defy gravity?
My five year old son is too young to carry the burden of such existential crises. But I have dealt with loss. I know a heart can break. That tigers can’t talk.
Yet even now, as a young child, he knows what love is and so do I. And it’s not hidden somewhere on the pages of a comic strip. No the answer to life’s greatest mystery lies in the routine. The hug and the kiss goodnight. The promise that I don’t know what the future holds, none of us do, but I promise you that life has never been better than here with you right now.
Together with our friends Halvin and Cobbes.