The first cracks in my Christmas faith showed up in 1961. That was the year I seriously started to doubt the existence of the most divine force in the universe: Santa Claus.
Troubling science-based concerns had been a problem for a while. For example, if Santa's preferred entry point was a chimney, how did he get into our house given that we didn't have a fireplace?
I asked my father. He explained that Santa came down the furnace flue. It made sense because St. Nick still had to park his reindeer on the roof. We even measured the flue to prove it.
On the way to school in the morning, I noticed that every home had a furnace flue. I was relieved. Apparently Santa was able to adjust to new technology.
That still left an important forensic question. Why was there never any reindeer poo on the roof?
The old man explained that as well. While Santa sometimes used the bathroom in a home, his reindeer had been taught to hold it.
Then I asked about our dog. Why didn't he tear the pants off Santa the way he had that salesman?
"Chloral hydrate," the old man answered. "An elf puts it in his food."
It was difficult to dispute magic. I was young and didn't understand the nature of a force that had no provable fact other than presents that appeared under the tree every Christmas.
That didn't stop me from testing the theory. One Christmas Eve, I put out a plate of cookies. The following morning the cookies were gone and there was a note in Santa's own hand.
"Bobby, thanks for the cookies. Do not push your sister down the stairs again. Santa Claus."
There it was. Santa really could see me all the time. How could he possibly have known otherwise?
Eventually, I got smarter. Not a lot, but enough to come to some conclusions of my own. By then it was too late because I was soon a father myself, and I had an important responsibility regarding Santa.
When my daughters started asking questions, I could only relate what I had learned as a kid and a cop.
Daughter: "How does Santa get in our house?"
Me: "He picks the lock, stun guns the dog and puts stuff under the tree."
Daughter: "Should we leave him some cookies?"
Me: "I'm pretty sure Santa likes nachos."
It was possible to take the magic too far. One year when our girls were bickering over Christmas, I told them Christmas wasn't coming. While working the night watch, I caught Santa burglarizing a toy store and shot him.
They cried and immediately took the news to their mother, who was not amused. That's the year I didn't get anything for Christmas.
Now that I'm a grandfather, it's easier. My grandchildren bring their deepest Santa questions to me. I tell them the truth as I know it. It's a great way to get even with their parents.
Grandkid: "Papa, is there really a Santa?"
Me: "Damn straight. And I know for a fact that he's bringing you an electric guitar."
Robert Kirby can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or facebook.com/stillnotpatbagley.