Columns share an author’s personal perspective.
Department of Natural Resources: Be on the lookout for the Tegu, a large, dragon-like lizard from South America that has been spotted in Georgia and South Carolina. If you see this invasive species, do not approach and contact DNR immediately!
Me, the avid outdoorsman: Do I go after that sucker with heavy duty fishing tackle or my trusty 12-gauge shotgun? And is there a limit?
Me, as a Southern Baptist: I wonder what it would taste like in a 9-inch casserole dish for Sunday’s dinner-on-the-grounds?
Seriously though, I do have some experience when it comes to dispatching dragons and other sorts of monsters. Being a Dad, monsters are nothing new. Monsters under the bed, Things That Go Bump InThe Night, and Boogeymen that live in closets - that’s just a typical Tuesday night bedtime battle for me.
But dragons? Well, that’s my specialty.
Flashback: Hunting Island Lighthouse Beach, Beaufort County, South Carolina, 10 years ago. For two dollars, the brave and the foolish can climb the lighthouse, circle the observation tower and enjoy “a lofty view of the barrier island and surrounding seascape,” according to the State Park guide book.
Kid: “Daddy, can we climb it? Please?”
Lighthouse: (Soars 136 menacing feet off the ground.)
If you know anything about me, you know that I am afraid of only three things: angry wives, spiders (both real and imaginary) and heights - which might explain why my career as a construction worker never really got off the ground.
Something weird happens to me when I get more than a few feet off the ground. My legs turn to Jell-O, my hands lock down on anything nearby in a death grip and my head starts spinning.
I looked down at the tourist’s guide in my shaking hands. Built c.1889, this thing is 131 years old. It’s so old that the state park only lets six people climb it at any given time. That can’t be safe.
“Please, Daddy? It’s a magical tower, and there might be a dragon up there that has to be slayed or maybe a Princess that needs rescuing! If you go first, I’ll go with you!”
“Visitors may find the lighthouse closed during inclement weather due to safety concerns,” the guide continued. What safety concerns? Is it going to blow over?
Then I looked in my kid’s eyes. Pure hero worship. He just knew that Old Dad - no, Sir Dad, The Dragon Slayer - was going to mount those steps and dispatch all comers before rescuing the fair maiden.
Mount them, I did, with my young squire close at hand. All 167 steps, because I counted them. And we aren’t talking about solid steps, either - you could see through those rusty suckers all the way to the ground!
To say that I climbed that magical tower slowly would be an understatement. I was there so long they charged me double admission. Little old ladies from Jersey were passing me on the stairs with annoyed looks and lapping me on the way back down. Small children were asking if I needed assistance. I would have taken a prayer break, but it’s kind of tricky reaching hands for the heavens when your fingers are locked in a death grip on the guard rail.
Headlines of the ensuing tragedy flashed before my eyes: “Dad dies trying to show off for stupid kids” or “Man who should have known better dies in lighthouse collaspe.” I wondered if my peers at the newspaper would think enough of me to run my obit on the front page.
I could not tell you much about the view from up there, because this conquering hero didn’t hang around long enough to sign any autographs. I kissed the sweet, salty earth when I returned to terra firma.
“Daddy wasn’t scared,” the kid informed his mom, the excitement radiating from his face like a beam from that very lighthouse long ago. “He climbed the castle, and he kicked the dragon’s butt, and he told the monster to watch his mouth, and then he kicked him in the leg!”
Did we just climb the same lighthouse, kid? Maybe it’s time to cut back on the candy and the cartoons.
I was reminded of an important lesson that day. Our young children don’t just look up to us when we climb lighthouses hundreds of feet in the air. They look up to us every day, in whatever we are doing, and more often than not they think that our actions are “cool” and “awesome” and they want to be just like us when they grow up.
Conquering hero, are you using your powers for good?
Beware, all you masters of the castle and slayers of monsters. Beware, all you keepers of the night light and vanquishers of the boogeyman. Beware, all you teachers, role models and mentors. There really are dragons out there and you really are someone’s hero.
Say, Mom, now that the dragon is gone, are you a Princess that needs rescuing? (Wink, wink.)
Michael M. DeWitt Jr. is the managing editor of The Hampton County Guardian newspaper in South Carolina. He is an award-winning humorist, journalist and outdoor writer and the author of two books.
DeWitt column: Sir Dad, the Dragon Slayer
Columns share an author’s personal perspective.