I’ve been watching my way back through Doctor Who and I’ve just gotten to Series 6, Episode 9, Night Terrors, about a little boy (well, not exactly a little boy, but you know, Doctor Who, timey wimey and all that, right?) who puts his fears in a cupboard in his room, only to have all the monsters he’s been afraid of turn out to be real (again, not “real”, but timey wimey, yadda yadda…), and everyone’s in danger. A lot of episodes, I’ve watched through with my nearly-4-year-old Jake in the room with me, and he’s come to understand an awful lot about the Doctor and how he operates, but I was a little worried about watching this episode with him, because it’s particularly scary, especially for a nearly-4-year-old with a big closet in his room. I do stand by that, because I don’t think he’s quite old enough to understand, but I think some time in the not too distant future, I’m going to want to sit down and watch this episode in with him, because I think it contains a very important message that I want my son to take to heart and carry with him through life. That message, simply put, is that the monsters in your cupboard (or closet) are real. There are real things out in the real world that you absolutely ought to be afraid of; monsters are real. Trying to shield him from this reality is a very parental instinct, I think we’re all conditioned to think that we ought to create a bubble around our children that will keep them protected from any bad thing even entering their consciousness, let alone hurting them in any way. However, I’ve come to think of my job as a dad as more of an introducer of scary things in constructive ways. It’s important to me that I raise my son to know that there are scary, horrible things out there in the world that can really hurt him, and in a way I’m not really teaching him this fact at all, because he already knows it.
G. K. Chesterton said, “Fairytales don’t tell children that dragons exist; children already know that dragons exist. Fairytales tell children that dragons can be killed,” and I think there is an essential truth for dads to grab onto in this. Yes, the monsters in your cupboard are real, but so is the Doctor. There are absolutely things to be afraid of in this world, only an irresponsible dad would ever raise his son to think the world is a fuzzy warm place where everyone loves you and every dream you ever dream will come true with minimal effort or pain. The trick is to teach him that while the monsters are real, so are the things that will carry him through and kill those monsters when they need killing. I don’t need to tell Jake that the world is a scary place, I need to tell him how the scary things can be beaten, and how they can be sent back into the cupboard, even when you’re scared, because the Doctor is real. When he hits something in his life that scares him, that frustrates his plans for his life, I want him to know that if he’s clever, if he’s taken the time to build relationships with people who will have his back when he needs them, he’ll be able to come up with some way to beat back the monsters and come out of the encounter stronger, smarter, and more secure in the fact that there are people who love him unconditionally. I want to raise a son who knows that the monsters of this world can be beaten, that if he doesn’t panic or give up, he can beat them, he can take his fears and turn them into strengths. He might even come to realize that some of his monsters are in turn afraid of some bigger monster he can’t even see, and he’ll have a wealth of spirit that will enable him to love those monsters in a way that turns them into something else. I want to raise a son who doesn’t just kill dragons, I want a son who befriends those dragons and leans on their strength to lift him even higher.
I think the whole message Doctor Who has for dads can be put into the words of Rudyard Kipling’s “If”:
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!
If I can teach this to my boy, and see him grow and prosper, I’ll have done a proper father’s job.
Because the monsters in the cupboard are real.
But so is the Doctor.
On to Closing Time, ultimate whovian dad episode, must go now, good night.