My 5 Year Old‘s Surprising Connection to the Real Life Dennis the Menace

“Mischief just seems to follow wherever Dennis appears, but it is the product of good intentions, misdirected helpfulness, good-hearted generosity…”

– Hank Ketcham

Sixty nine years ago today, Dennis the Menace made his comic book debut and soon became a worldwide success. At its peak, the comic strip ran in over 1,000 newspapers, 50 countries and 20 languages and spawned TV and movie adaptations.

The story of a mischievous five-and-a-half year old boy, who can’t help but get into trouble, speak bluntly, and annoy those around him, especially his elderly neighbour Mr Wilson, certainly reminds me of our T.

T and Dennis are around the same age. Like Dennis, T has wavy blond hair, blue eyes, a good heart and self-determined nature, but also a mischievous streak. If you didn’t know about T’s condition, you’d think he is an intentionally wilful, non-compliant child, who likes to terrorize others with his mischief. And T looks adorable in overalls too.

But it turns out, they have a deeper connection.

As we learned a few years ago at an information session about FASD offered by the Children’s Aid Society, the real-life boy that inspired the character of Dennis had FASD, which T has an at-risk prognosis of.

Dennis the Menace was inspired by Dennis Ketcham, the son of series creator Hank Ketcham.

As told in a 2001 New York Times article, written at the time of Hank Ketcham’s death, he was working in his studio one day, trying to come up with a name for the character, when his wife stormed into his office, after their son had destroyed his bedroom, and screamed, “Your son is a menace!”

And the rest was pop culture history!

I found this connection very amusing and also enlightening. I mean, my mom even used to jokingly call T “Dennis the Menace.”

But there is also a sad side to this connection. It turns out the real life Dennis did not have as happy of a future as his ageless cartoon counterpart. His mother died of a drug overdose when he was 12. He struggled academically and was sent to a boarding school, where he dropped out. He enlisted and served in the military and suffered from PTSD afterwards. Perhaps the saddest part of the story was that he became estranged from his father, even up until his father’s death.

I found this part of the story very sad, because it is often tempting to project these same outcomes onto our little T. I have the same fears for him around his academic, social and overall future – all because of a four letter prognosis that has way more control over his and our lives than I would like.

But having this connection to an iconic character does have its advantages. It helps me better explain T’s prognosis and struggles to other people when I am able to draw a parallel to a well-known character.

And I am one to always try to look at the positive in every situation. And here’s where I ultimately focus on: Dennis the Menace, no matter how much trouble he lands in, he always finds a way to endear himself to others in the end with his good-hearted and charming nature. I see the same qualities in T.

Like a comic book strip, life gives us a new day, every day, that is a blank page filled with possibilities. We are ultimately the authors of our story. So my hubby, T and I will all do our best to make it the best one that we can for each other. And like a good comic book strip, find some laughs along the way.

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