Champion of the World

Champion of the World

illustration by Jill Bennett

“What I have been trying so hard to tell you all along is simply that my father, without the slightest doubt, was the most marvelous and exciting father any boy ever had.”

So ends Danny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl, an ode to fatherhood that introduced me to one of my first childhood heros, Danny’s father William. He was the father I always wanted, the father I have always aspired to be.

Danny and William live together in an old wooden caravan behind the gas station and garage that William operates. Their simple life is magical. Danny’s baby toys are greasy tools, his snacks come from the apple tree out back, and he wants for nothing.

William shows a quiet wisdom, a conspiratorial twinkle in his eye, and a creative core that constantly sends off sparks and makes life a perpetual adventure. His fierce and devoted love of Danny shows in his every action – building a kite on a windy day, bathing Danny in a basin outside of the caravan, telling bedtime stories by the low light of a kerosene lamp, or making hot cocoa and sandwiches late at night before revealing his deepest secret.

That deep, dark secret leads them both on a great adventure that draws them even closer together, and Danny invents the key that makes it all possible. William declares him “the champion of the world.”

I have always measured myself against William. Do I give my boys the same gentle, reliable love? Do I inspire them with creative adventures? Do I care for them, tend to them, but also give them space to grow and explore? Do I bring contentment and satisfaction? Do I trust in them and encourage their trust in me?

Do I bring magic to my children’s lives?

A couple of months ago, I decided we were ready to share this book. We read it at bedtime over the course of a few nights, and as i read I wasn’t quite sure what they thought of it. I could feel all of my insecurities sitting right on top of my heart.

We reached the end, and I read those final words, “the most marvelous and exciting father any boy ever had.” And I closed the book.

Casually and filled with childhood innocence, my youngest son remarked “Dad, that’s just like you!”

My heart soared, and I felt like the Champion of the World.

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