Used to be, Halloween would find me dressed up in some silly costume, towing a little red Radio-Flyer around the 2-mile circuit that encompasses our neighborhood. Even on the coldest of nights, I would take the two girls to every house on the loop, not wanting to miss one stop, or shorten the opportunity to build memories that would hopefully last them a lifetime.  Time well spent.

I'm one happy pumpkin....

I’m one happy pumpkin….

It was probably three years ago tonight that the ritual came to an end.  I moved on from being dressed as Mickey Mouse or Tigger to being just a “flashlight Dad,” someone who wandered around in the street behind them while they and their friends ran breathlessly from house to house as if the treats were first-come, first- serve.  I knew this was short-lived, that’s why I took it to heart, invested so much in it.  Eventually, one day a father becomes a spectator in his daughters’ lives.  It’s usually not as unexpected as much as it is denied.

Tonight was trick-or-treat in our little slice of New Hampster.  Why we can’t celebrate Halloween on Halloween, I don’t know.  Anyway, I watched as my eldest worked every night for the last week busily sewing and creating her own costume.  I assumed at her age, maybe not this year, but trick-or-treating was her plan and it still seemed to hold the same magic for her as always.  Only this year, it was purely about her friends, all of who would gather at the house for pizzas and snacks before donning their costumes and heading into the dark, a gaggle of giggling teens.

When they walk out of the house, anytime, any day, you wonder if you’ve taught them well, hoping they’ll be the kind of people you’d be proud of.  Decent, courteous, thoughtful.  It’s a challenge, with so much crap in their faces everyday, outside influences arrayed against us in a morals tug-of-war.  It’s as hard as it is rewarding to be a parent.  It’s also quite hard to be a good kid.

As the night came to a close, my youngest came home with her cohorts and sat in the family room, each kid sprawled out on the floor, eagerly bartering and trading this candy bar for that one (which house was giving out pretzels?), all the while laughing and generally being kids.  Good kids.  Listening to their chatter made me smile; the genuine warmth they have for each other, the jokes, the ribbing.  Not one word of derision or slight against anyone one else passed their lips. They were all comfortable with each other and comfortable with themselves.  It was a nice noise.

Not far behind her were my eldest and all her friends.  When I was her age, older sisters or older brothers weren’t really inclined to fraternize with their younger siblings and their friends.  It bothered no one tonight.  The floor of the family room became quite crowed, as the two groups of different aged teens all sat and swapped stories and sweets, laughing and joking, treating each other with respect and warmth.  Only two of these kids were mine.  Well-done fellow parents.

As I listened (no, I wasn’t eaves-dropping), I heard them discuss just how far they went around the neighborhood.  The younger crowd stayed within the circle.  The older crowd however, strayed a little beyond the neighborhood proper to visit the assisted living home at the end of the road.  I asked my daughter what made them decide to go there.

She said she had noticed a hand painted sign outside the facility leaned up against the stop sign at the end of the property saying “Halloween candy, 5-7 pm” and she thought it would be nice for the old folks to have some visitors.  She mentioned it to her friends and they all decided it’d be a great idea. Their idea.  Not mine.  Not my wife’s.  Theirs.

They told us that the staff welcomed them into the great room where the residents eat their meals.  Some of the residents were dressed in costumes (as such) and were eager to hand out the candy, piling fist over fist into the kid’s bags.  The staff asked if they’d like to visit residents who were frail, in their rooms, and they complied.  One 95 year-old caught their hearts as she had her face made up cat-like and asked for the candy bowl so she could give the candy to them personally, all the while remarking how beautiful the kids were.  Beautiful indeed.

Maybe, just maybe I’m not doing that bad as a father.  I’m certainly giving it one hell of a try.  And my wife is one hell of a mother.  Maybe this story won’t mean much to a lot of people who might stumble across it.  Maybe it should.  We’re raising the next generation of those who will care for us in our twilight years and steward this country after we’re gone.  For tonight at least, I’ll lie in bed, proud father, and celebrate a little victory in the life-long profession of fatherhood.