Almost every night, for about the past six months, as my sons are having their evening snack, my six-year-old says, “Dad, tell us a made up story.” At first I enjoyed the nightly request—even looked forward to it—but somewhere around month two it started to become increasingly difficult for me to come up with a new story every night. At this point, it’s darn near impossible.
One of the issues is that my kids are ridiculously attentive to my stories, so I can’t just recycle stories I’ve already told them, because they’ll call me out on it. If I swap out a bear for a lion and tell a similar story to one I came up with a month earlier they’ll stop me three sentences in and practically boo me out of the room.
They want something new every time so, in an effort to come up with spontaneously new material every night, my stories have become increasingly bizarre—squirrels playing miniature golf, grapes that want to leave the produce aisle behind and see what it’s like in the cereal aisle, a superhero whose only power is that he could literally eat anything (guns, cars, houses, etc.).
About a week ago they specifically requested a scary made up story. I started to tell them a story about an evil wizard. I wanted to make him sound ominous, so I called him “The Evil Wizard of the Manu Ginobili Forest.” Since they know nothing about basketball and had never heard of the longtime San Antonio Spurs player, his name struck fear in their hearts. Every time I mentioned it (and I mentioned it dozens of times, because let’s face it, it’s just fun to say “Manu Ginobilli”) they seemed to shudder. It clearly left an impression, because the following morning I observed my four-year-old playing with his action figures and saying, “Manu Ginobili” over and over again whenever referring to the bad guys.
Most of the stories I come up with are completely plotless. It’s just me free associating without any shred of a story arc. Eventually I peter out after five or ten minutes and say, “And everyone lived happily ever after. The end.”
Really, the stories are not very good at all and yet they keep on asking for them. In fact, they prefer to hear a ridiculous, rambling story from me than one of the hundreds of children’s books sitting on their shelves. (By the way, stealing the plot from one of their books doesn’t work either. They call me out on that as well. “Wait a second dad, that’s just Curious George with a kangaroo instead of a monkey!”)
Oftentimes I wish I had my own dad’s ability to spontaneously tell great stories. More than that, I wish he were still alive to tell stories to his grandkids, because he was truly a master storyteller. I can’t honestly say that I remember any of his stories since it has been decades since I heard one of them, but I do remember the joy I felt listening to him tell them. His stories never failed to make me laugh.
And as I write this it makes me wonder if he had the same thoughts back then as I do now. Maybe he also thought it was a chore to constantly come up with new stories at the spur of the moment. Maybe he also thought his stories weren’t very good. And maybe his stories were every bit as ridiculous and rambling as mine.
But maybe none of this really matters. Maybe all that matters is that kids simply like to hear their dad’s telling stories even if their dads aren’t Dr. Seuss. So I’ll keep on telling them, and I’ll comfort myself in the knowledge that one day, years from now, my sons will find themselves in the exact same predicament as me.