The Comforting Dark

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After doing an Insanity warm-up I put on my running gear and got outside at 4:40 a.m. Forty degrees: perfect running temp. I jogged up the meadow, stretching my legs, when my headlamp went kaput. I ran up into the woods in the dark--new moon, no light--and thought about Darkness Training. It was one of the dumber things I did to my children, which is saying a lot.

I started it with Dorothy Junior when she was about three. She'd come into our bedroom every night and wake my wife and me: "I'm scared!" I'd drag myself out of bed, take her by the hand, and lead her back to bed. Night after night this continued until finally I decided we needed a reset. Taking her by the hand, I led her down the stairs.

"Where are we going, Daddy?"

"Outside."

"I don't want to go outside."

"Sure you do," I said untruthfully. "Outside is nice. The dark is very comforting."

I led her out into the yard all the way to the edge, where a fence bordered a reservoir. The moon was just a sliver and the stars shone bright. Dorothy Junior shivered in her little nightgown and clung to me. I pushed her away gently and made her stand beside me without touching while I pointed out the constellations. She kept trying to cling to my leg. Each time I nudged her away.

After a few minutes of this torture I took her hand again. "Ready for bed?"

"Yes, Daddy," she said in her dutiful voice.

"I'll bet your own bed sound pretty good right now,huh?"

"Yes, Daddy."

And so began Darkness Training. We did it maybe half a dozen times, and then I resumed the routine when her little brother, George, began coming into our room at night.  I guess I wanted them to learn not to fear the unknown, and to love the outdoors at its most interesting times. I guess I was stupid.

A few years ago, my grown son showed me a letter he had written to his girlfriend, describing Darkness Training. He made me sound like a sadistic Scout leader. George wrote, "He led me to the barbed wire at the edge of the yard and made me stand there alone while he went back into the house."

I looked up from the letter. "That's not true!"

"It's how I remember it," he said. "You called it Darkness Training."

Call it father error. It's like pilot error, only with parenting.

This morning, after I replaced my headlamp and began running up the mountain road, it occurred to me that part of who we are gets assembled from our mistakes. The cold air tweaked my earlobe where I'd gotten frostbitten running without a hat in below-zero weather. My thumb cocked off kilter from the time I took a turn too fast skiing on my trails. My hip...

Then there are the bigger mistakes: yanking the family around the country while I moved from job to job. Grounding Dorothy Junior when she started having too much fun as a teenager. Letting myself slide into depression and refusing to admit it until it was almost too late.

But do I regret them entirely? I don't know. They're part of my knotty fiber. And you can't say I haven't tried.

I ran all the way up to the Cardigan Mountain gate, feeling better than a guy like me has a right to feel. I thank those Insanity workouts for resetting my notion of what's hard. And I'm thankful for all the rest of it, mistakes and all.

And especially for my children. Neither one, by the way, is afraid of the dark.