The latest magic trick I performed for my boys backfired.
The illusion part of it turned out great — an equation I told them to make up randomly as they punched it into a calculator was solved to show my phone number. Then the next random equation showed one boy’s birthday and next, the other boy’s.
I was a regular David Copperfield by the low standards of magic we have in our house.
But the kids didn’t walk away with the awe at my wizardry that I’d been aiming for.
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Nope, they barricaded me in my room and tackled me when I escaped, all in punishment for the crime of refusing to give up the trick’s secret. Their justice isn’t cruel but it certainly is unusual— mostly made up of hurling themselves into me until I’m laughing so hard that they can knock me over, and then turning us into a frenzied dogpile.
Magic shows didn’t used to warrant that penalty because until this week I’d always teach the boys how to do any little illusion I performed. I even spent an hour once teaching a bunch of third-graders how to make a ketchup packet rise and fall in a water bottle under their magical gaze — stomping all over not only the magician’s code but also any shred of coolness I’d managed to carry into fatherhood.
But then I came across an old profile of sleight-of-hand artist Ricky Jay and lost myself for a while in a world where taking secrets of illusions to the grave sounds like the most noble thing a guy can do. It made me think of a line from Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” comic book: “It’s the mystery that endures, not the explanation. A good mystery can last forever.”
Who doesn’t want to make something that lasts forever?
So now my sons have the mystery of the magic calculator and, to hear them tell it, a completely unreasonable dad who won’t tell them how it works.
And I’m thinking maybe I should have kept a lot of other things as mysteries in their young lives. It sure would have raised my profile.
Not too long ago I asked one of my sons when he figured out I can’t do everything.
“I never thought you could do everything,” came the deflating answer.
You know why? Because I passed up too many chances to make them think I have superpowers.
Smart moms and dads, I see now, have the right answer when long after bedtime they shout upstairs for books to be closed and the kids want to know how they were caught reading. It isn’t “Because I can hear pages turning.” It’s “Because I know.”
Smart moms and dads don’t make my mistake of laying bare the methods of deduction when their children ask, dumbfounded, how they got caught. “Because I know,” is enough. It puts kids on their toes and parents — as far as the little ones know — in possession of powerful secrets, and maybe even superpowers.
Smart moms and dads understand the secrecy of the magician’s code.
I blew it with my boys. They know what the smoke’s for and how the mirrors work in my parenting tricks. But if my wife and I ever have another little one, that kid’s going to be dumbfounded and dazzled.
First, though, we’ll have to bribe the kids we have now to keep our secrets. Finally showing them how the magic calculator works would probably buy them off.
Richard Espinoza is a former editor of the Johnson County Neighborhood News. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.