All Hail Halloween Dad

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    So here I am again, standing at the end of the walk with the flashlight in my hand. Up at the front door, past the jack o’ lanterns on the stoop, the monsters, superheroes, and fairy princesses crowd around the huge bowl of candy held out by the lady of the house.

    My two kids are in the mix, too, jockeying for position and hoping I’m too far away to notice just how many bitesized Baby Ruths and Three Musketeers they’ve managed to snatch up in less than a second.

    But even at this distance I’m already on to them. Because tonight of all nights I am all-seeing and all-knowing, and I take my job very seriously. I am Halloween Dad, my little trick-or-treaters, and you can run, but you can’t hide.

    Just try escaping this flashlight beam, for example. Every Halloween since the kids were toddlers, I’ve used this lamp to light the way. And Halloween isn’t a night for any plastic AA-battery-powered Buzz Lightyear flashlight, either. We’re talking about a 2-D-cell spot-to-flood adjustable LED aluminum Maglite – powerful enough to stop a goblin in his tracks just as he’s about to trample the verbena.

    Halloween Dad never forgets that flashlight duty is his primary responsibility, especially as Halloweens pass from year to year. Remember that on Halloween night, a child’s age is inversely proportional to the distance Dad comes up the walk. Think about it. When the kids are tiny, you dress them as pumpkins, puppies, and bumblebees and carry them from house to house. And once they’ve learned to walk, you still stand right next to them at each door as the candy gets doled out.

    But pretty soon they want to ring the doorbells themselves, and so you wait for them one or two steps down from the top of the landing. Then another year goes by, and you only come about halfway up the walk. Now ten years have passed, the kids move in a feral pack, and you find yourself cooling your heels in the shadows way out on the sidewalk. From this distance, an alert and skillful Halloween Dad knows to illuminate walkways just ahead of where they run, like a hunter sighting game in the wild, and flashes the beam on loose steps, low stone walls, and bits of costume that fall in the grass.

    And speaking of costumes, Halloween Dad always reserves the right to approve all Halloween characters that leave the house. This year, Will, age 8, has decided to go as Unknown Phantom, but he’s still grouchy that I refused to let him carry a real scythe to top off the horror image. Plus, I balk at the idea of spending thirty dollars on his outfit in one of those fly-by-night Halloween stores. In my day, we made our costumes, I tell him.

    And they were plenty scary, I might add. “That’s really good, Dad,” Will says in the gently patronizing tone of a boy who imagines making your own Halloween costume as something permanently fixed in olden times, like darning socks or churning butter.

    As for Lucy, I informed her that fishnet stockings, eyeliner and a dress that looked like it belonged on a Mississippi riverboat were not my idea of trick-or-treat for a ten-year-old. But I can live with her second choice, Crazy Lunatic Number-One Justin Bieber Fan, which calls for a purple wig, purple socks, purple shoes and purple tie-dye shirt. (And if you’re reading this 100 years from now, Justin Bieber was a nice young Canadian of moderate vocal talent who was born in 1994, craved Sour Patch Kids Soft & Chewy Candy, and whose favorite color was, well, purple.)

    Not that Halloween Dad doesn’t approve of certain outfits at certain times, of course. Back in my twenties, long before fatherhood was a gleam in my eye, I hosted many a raging dance-till-dawn Halloween party with my big-city pals, and we universally agreed that our female guests always looked best dressed as black cats. Me, I just wore a simple tuxedo – with some devil horns thrown in for good measure – to make it easier to serve the punch and still get on with some fleet-footed socializing. There, there. Nice kitty.

    Later tonight I’ll take on the ultimate job every Halloween Dad secretly looks forward to: auditing all the kids’ candy as it spills out onto the living room floor. It is my solemn duty to examine each piece, I’ll tell them, just in case some rogue purveyor has sabotaged the treats with razors or poison. But who am I trying to kid? Even as I lecture the children about how much they’re allowed to eat, my ancient Halloween sense memory is already being stimulated by the mountain of mini Snickers, Twix, Gobstoppers, and miniature Almond Joys, and I immediately make a mental note of what I intend to confiscate for myself tomorrow morning.

    But right now, there’s plenty of time to let the kids revel in the night, and we’ve got at least three more streets of tricks and treats to go. My old black tux is long gone. Tonight, I’m just a dad in a sensible windbreaker, hoping against hope that the D batteries in the Maglite won’t zonk out on me.

    So do me a favor and keep that candle burning. It’s another Halloween, another memory we’re making, and I’m not ready for the jack o’ lantern to go dark just yet. For at least another hour, I am still Halloween Dad, waiting for the kids to run back down the walk and on to the next house. There’s nothing else I’d rather do than shine my light and follow along behind.