Good Night, Sweet Prince

The tooth fairy visited our house recently, which made me remember the time—many years ago, when tooth redemption brought only a quarter—that the tooth fairy kept forgetting to claim the tooth under my pillow. After a week, I put a sign on my bedroom door: TOOTH STOP! The next morning, I had my quarter, and a signed note. The tooth fairy explained that he had an extraordinarily large territory that included the Indian Ocean, and apologized for having been delayed by recent monsoons. The note was signed “Prince Oberon.”

Of course I recognized the handwriting; I was eight, and by then I knew who the tooth fairy really was. But the note’s full delight didn’t really hit me until, in college, I read Midsummer Night’s Dream and laughed out loud. I loved that about my father: Playfulness that I would only fully appreciate years later. He was ordinary and extraordinary, like everyone: a Korean war vet who went to grad school on the GI bill, a mathematician who helped the Air Force's prime contractors build Cold War computer systems, a Shakespeare and Jane Austen lover and former Navy boxer, a McGovern voter who despised people who didn't know the right way to fold and put away the flag. He had his difficult side—you never knew when it would strike—but don’t we all?

Four years ago yesterday, he died, after a brutal and painful 15 months of suffering from bladder cancer—an after-effect of heavy smoking, which he had quit 30 years before. Just three months before he was diagnosed, I had separated from my partner of 19 years. In his dying year, my father worried incessantly about my being single. He’d ask regularly about my dating life, reminding me, “I need a new daughter-in-law!” But between the divorce and my father’s dying, I had no emotional energy to offer the ladies. In his last month, I promised him that within the year—we both knew what I meant—I would be remarried with child. Four months after he died, I met my now-wife and, soon after, her son, who has become mine as well.

Some days I wish I could call up Prince Oberon and hear him give me a hard time about something. Anything, really. Good night, sweet prince.


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