Posted by: deadmousediaries | June 19, 2016

Zuzu’s Petals and Other Acts of Daddy Magic

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It’s Father’s Day, year five for me without my dad, and I miss him. As I was growing up, I thought “Dad” meant man with secret powers. I love this photo of the two of us at the PVH, in part because it was so rare for me to catch a memory of him sleeping. In truth, he was still on duty here because who else but dad could get a kid to take a nap on Christmas day so she’d sleep away the grumpy? On this beautiful June afternoon, I can’t help thinking about him, and us, and Christmas, and Jimmy Stewart and random acts of daddy magic. 

Is there a more poignant look at what the best dads do than when Stewart as George Bailey performs a miracle for daughter Zuzu? You know the scene; it’s from that classic movie  It’s a Wonderful Life. Little Zuzu lies in bed on Christmas Eve with just a smidge of temperature. She walked home with her coat open and caught a chill; her only focus was on not crushing the flower she had won at school. When she hands her treasure to her dad and the petals fall she pleads:Look, Daddy. Paste it.George doesn’t disappoint. He makes daddy magic happen. He gathers the fallen petals, turns away so she can’t see him, and tucks them into his watch pocket. “Here. Good as new,” he assures her and hands a perfect flower back. 

Dads get called on to perform all sorts of magic. I remember a former boss telling us a story about waking to find his son standing at his bedside at 6:00 a.m. The kid announced he needed a gorilla suit by 8:00 for school that day, a small detail he had apparently forgotten. His dad made it happen with black sweat pants, some face paint and a fuzzy winter hat but it took daddy magic to make sure it was convincing.

The best dads must be born with talent but it’s possible to learn through practice;  I’ve watched others working at it. If you’re a beginner, don’t get overwhelmed because it’s not difficult. It’s as magic to bring home a random little surprise like a piece of quartz for your kid’s rock collection as it is to surprise her with a bicycle on her birthday. 

I remember my dad’s brand of daddy magic. In my eyes, he was Merlin, Gandolf and Houdini all in one. I saw what he could do on every adventure we took into the woods when he could see beyond the deadfall and show me deer trails. He had x-ray vision, too, like the superheros on TV. He could see right through the leaves and spot the morel mushrooms poking their heads up at the base of the ash trees. For years I was convinced he didn’t find them; I thought he commanded them to pop up thru the dirt so I could fill my bucket

Daddy magic doesn’t always mean you must produce the Presto! moment, either. Sometimes it’s enough to know when to treat a daughter older than she is if she is feeling grown-up or putting an arm around her when she is growing up and wishing that she wasn’t. 

Is it magic when you take a tumble and dads know precisely when to rush in and scoop you up or keep their distance and gently coax you: “Jump up! You’re ok!”? Maybe. Life is full of tumbles and false starts. It’s good dads take the time to teach you can choose to bounce and not be flattened. It is surely magic when a dad can tell if his daughter’s knee, her pride or heart is only bruised and not completely broken. 

For me, the greatest proof of dads’ best magic powers is the way they help us dream about our futures. They don’t need us to see ourselves as doctors, presidents or business moguls but they always help us build our vision as strong and happy people who have been learning to make some magic of our own along the way. 

George Bailey knew about the power of instilling dreams for daughters, too. Even as he is facing the biggest challenge of his own life, at the end of the petals scene he has some daddy magic left.. “Now will you do something for me?” he asks his little Zuzu tenderly.“Try to get some sleep?” 

“But I’m not sleepy,” Zuzu protests, of course. “I want to look at my flower.” 

“I know, I know. But if you go to sleep, then you can dream about it,” George coos his promise, “And it will be a whole garden.” And that’s the real power of daddy magic. 

Happy Father’s Day to all dads everywhere, those with well-honed daddy magic and those who are still working on it. Your kids will notice and remember —and we  love you for it.


  1. Once again, a great story…………..My dad has been gone 12 years and every year on Father’s Day I wish he was here………

    There are times I can “hear” him talking to me; I can recall his words of advice……….and times when I wish he was here to offer more advice.

    While I know he is in a better place……..there is still a spot in my heart that will never be filled.

    Hugs to you my friend.

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