My fear leader

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Screenshot 2021 05 30 4.27.54 PM 336x454 1About a month before the big day, my eight-year-old made a shocking proclamation; she was going to be a cheerleader for Halloween.

I feel no ill will toward cheerleaders, but this felt so wildly out of character for her that neither her mother nor I knew exactly what to do.

Sure, when she was very little, she dressed up one year as a fairy. But in recent years, it’s been Supergirl, a dinosaur and last year she was Uma from the Descendants. A villain. One that had her name, to be sure, but still a villain!

A cheerleader felt, what’s the phrase I’m looking for, basic? And lord knows I don’t want my child to be basic.

I tried a few general arguments to dissuade her. For example, it’s going to be cold on Halloween, you’ll have to cover your outfit. Or, your dog will eat your pom poms. Or, there’s going to be a lot of other cheerleaders out there, don’t you want to stick out?

All my attempts to knock her off track were slapped aside as deftly as a badminton player swatting a birdie.

Finally, as she always does, my wife became the voice of reason, pointing out that based on some old pictures of me as a kid on Halloween, I wasn’t exactly putting on a trick-or-treating Masterclass. There are pictures of me as a magician. As Daniel Boone, of course. As Casper the Friendly Ghost. As Batman, of course.

One year, in a stroke of pure genius that would get Family and Child Services immediately called today, my mother built me a costume out of a paper grocery bag and paper towel rolls to look like a pack of Kool Cigarettes. The OOs in the Kool were my eyeholes.

But then again, another year I dressed as – please don’t crucify me – a “Mexican” person, complete with a sombrero and poncho. And to complete the horrid, misplaced, appropriated look, my father drew a pencil-thin mustache under my nose.

Dear God…  And I’m worried about my daughter being a cheerleader?

So, cheerleader preparations began.

Unbeknownst to me until all this began was the fact that there is a whole industry of cheerleading costumes. I’m not talking about real cheerleaders. I mean costumes. So, so many cheerleader costumes!

I tried to narrow things down with her through a series of questions.

“What kind of cheerleader,” I’d ask.

“There’s only one kind of cheerleader, Daddy,” she’d say.

“Ok, but what about colors or costume?”


“What about your hair?”

“Leave that to me, I have ideas.”

And then she said something that changed everything. She said, “Instead of a cheerleader, I think I’d like to be a fear leader.”

Now, I could work with that.

I scrolled right past the Zombie Cheerleader outfits. It’s best to not dwell on how many “sexy” zombie cheerleader outfits there are. I skipped over popular culture cheerleader outfits like Wednesday Addams as a cheerleader, you get the idea. But that did lead me to start thinking about Goth cheerleaders. That might work.

I finally settled on a black and white outfit for her, with little skulls around the shirt hemline and a big bold skull logo. Silver and black pom poms completed the ensemble.

On the day the costume arrived I held the costume up in front of her. “There,” I said, “Fear Leader.”

She grinned and I knew we had our costume. On the morning of her school’s Halloween parade, she had her momma spike her hair up in bristly waves and for the first time, wore actual make-up, red lips, blush, the whole thing. She added thick black boots and slipped a long black frilly coat over it all.

“If anyone asks,” I told her, “tell them you’re going to a Cure concert.”


“Never mind.” I bent down to kiss the top of Little Bean’s spiky head and off she went, sticking out among the superheroes, pirates and Tom Brady look-a-likes. My Fear Leader. My own goth princess. May all the candy be hers.

About this Author

Dan Szczesny

Dan Szczesny is a longtime journalist and author who lives with his wife and energetic daughter in Manchester. Dan writes a daily journal called Day By Day where you can subscribe for FREE to get essays, articles and updated. Learn more about Dan’s adventures and Day By Day at