From Chicken Soup for the Father & Daughter Soul

We Are Dragon-Slayers

Icannot think of any need in childhood as strong as the need for a father’s protection.

Sigmund Freud

Most knights wear chain mail and carry shields. Not me. My armor consists of boxer shorts and an old T-shirt with a hole under one arm. I am clumsy, not gallant.

I hear the princess scream, as I had dozens of times before—and always when I am sound asleep. Instinctively, I jump out of bed in the dark. It’s only 2 A.M. My eyes don’t focus. I put my arms in front of me to keep from walking into the door. I stub my toe and curse under my breath. My hand slides along the banister railing, guiding my path. I hear the princess scream again.

I quicken my pace and grope for the doorknob as I enter her room.

“Daddy, the dragon!” she cries.

I rub my eyes as I kneel down next to her bed, trying to focus on her small face.

“Is it the dragon from Sleeping Beauty?” I ask.

“Yes,” she says with tears in her eyes. I hate this dragon more than the rest of the beasts that torment my daughter at night. While a crocodile or other monster may attack her now and again, the dragon from Sleeping Beauty torments her most often. Some of the lesser beasts flee as soon as I enter her room, but not this one. It towers above me and sneers. I smell its hot, stinking breath blowing down on me, but I realize it’s my own breath I smell.

Empty-handed, I prepare for battle. No mace. No sword. No lance. I know what dragons fear most. I’d learned the art of dragon-slaying from my parents, both of whom were experts. I use many of their techniques. Dragons and other assorted monsters tormented me as a child. I trembled in bed and watched as my mom and dad quickly dispatched them.

Now I put my hand on the small of my daughter’s back and slowly rub in circles that get larger and larger. Dragons hate backrubs. But what terrifies them most are happy thoughts.

“Think about Christmas and going to the beach,” I say to her groggily. “Think about Easter and making snowmen. Think about eating ice cream.”

I watch the dragon quake at my words. He is severely wounded but flees before I can finish him off. He always runs so that he can come back another night. And he will come back. He always does—sometimes in the same night. But, for the time being, he is gone, and my princess closes her eyes and falls back to sleep.

My personal record is six dragons in four hours. Between dragons four and five, I woke up on my daughter’s bedroom floor. Either I’d fallen asleep while rubbing her back, or dragon four had landed a blow and knocked me out. I just remember feeling exhausted.

If you saw me on the street, you wouldn’t guess that I am a knight. You’d probably think, There goes a balding, out-of-shape dad who’s pushing forty. Perhaps you are a knight, too, in our secret society. We disguise our identities by working as accountants and factory workers during the day. We have jobs in offices and construction sites. We don’t brag about our exploits. We are humble.

And, if, while dragging yourself out of bed after a night deprived of sleep, you become discouraged, repeat the refrain of the dragon-slayer: When the sleepless night seems endless, and you are exhausted and irritable, remember that your sacrifice is worth more than sleep. The tender care you give your daughter is not simply to help her rest in slumber. Your actions teach her to raise her own children—with unlimited patience and selfless love. You are raising the next generation of dragon-slayers.

Remember these words because it is often difficult to feel virtuous when you’re standing in the dark in your pajamas.

And, each evening, as you go to bed, prepare for battle. When your princess cries, you will be ready. You are a dragon-slayer.

Timothy P. Bete

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