“Looking back, I can think of 100 ways they could have done it better,” Klif says, gazing blankly into his recollection of that day. “Then again, I feel just as unprepared now as I’m sure they did then. There’s no sure-fire way to get the message across perfectly.”
Klif was 14 at the time, and coming into that stage many adolescents experience when their bodies begin offering powerful new urges that they don’t yet have words for. His father and mother decided they would sit him down to talk together, giving him an audience that might offer two perspectives on such a complex matter.
“In some ways, it made sense. Put the pieces together, if you know what I mean. But it wasn’t easy to hear, and I’ll never forget sitting around the table awkwardly when my father just decided to come right out and say it,” Klif remembers. “It was only 4 words.”
“Son. Merlin isn’t real.”
The shocking realization that every child’s mystical hero Merlin isn’t real is a seminal moment – a right of passage, marked by a deep sadness and grappling with some of life’s dim realities.
While many families take varied approaches to this conversation, Janelle Foster, PhD in Metaphysical Studies and Childhood Development, Oxford, has a few mainstay rules all parents should heed.
1 – Don’t Try to Be the New Merlin in Your Child’s Life
“My father left the room, just after he told me. He could tell I was devastated,” Jill remembers. “My mom kept looking toward the spare room, where we both could hear my father moving quickly.”
“Pretty soon he came out in the most ridiculous costume. It was only then that I really broke down,” she said.
“Few people can understand the acute grief the child is experiencing in the moment of this revelation,” says Foster. “A hero has fallen, and it’s a hero unlike any other.”
“A classic but damaging mistake is to try and ‘band-aid’ this moment by acting as a replacement. The child knows a fake when they see one, and will feel that their emotions have been disrespected. They’re now at risk of what we call ‘Merlin Confusion‘ in our field.”
Related practices, such as the use of fireworks or attempted “summoning” of any small pet or rodent are also strongly discouraged.
2 – Don’t Spend the Evening Watching the BBC’s Original Series “Merlin”
“Parents often feel the need to play a substitution game when a child experiences loss,” explains Foster. “Like Indiana Jones, trying to swap the bag of sand for the idol. But the heart knows a fake when it senses one.”
Peter Ringler, father of two, thinks on his decision to set aside three nights in a row to binge watch the series with family.
“One of the lowest points in all our lives, I think. Truly horrific acting, some of the worst CGI I’ve seen since Ernest Scared Stupid,” said Ringler. “We finished that week much more depressed than just after the conversation. We hated the very idea of Merlin because of how awful that show was. Just a grim experience. Gutting.”
3 – Commit.
“Never give up, never surrender!” – the lovable Merlin catch phrase we all knew and loved. The advice rings true for parents facing this difficult conversation. Many parents might feel the need to treat this conversation like like a trip to the dentist, but the consequences of procrastination are far worse.
“I’ll never forget the embarrassment I felt after arriving to pick up my first date with my sheath of Merlin’s Love Elixir slung over my shoulder,” remembers Micah, now 47 years old and still single. Micah lives in his parents’ home and owns far too many katanas.
“My date and her father were just like ‘Umm, what is that?‘ and her father wouldn’t let her leave the house,” he said. “I got in my car, took a few drops, and realized quickly that it was just lukewarm Mr. Pibb.”
“My parents couldn’t apologize enough when I got home and told them about it. Said they knew that we needed to have ‘the talk,’ but they couldn’t bring themselves to do it. I wish they had, and sooner.”
Worse than a delayed conversation, Foster says, is a noncommittal one. Many parents, faced with the initial onslaught of their child’s raw grief, often backtrack and attempt to convince the child it was only a clever trick, as Merlin might perform.
Harmful follow-ups to this practice would include immediate visits to the Renaissance Fair, fife lessons, family trips to Paimpont Forest, or an evening spent in costume as a whole family.