Father Christmas - From Dad's Point of View
by Jim Zola
Christmas is a time of year soaked in the nog of tradition. Old traditions or new traditions. Some people are most comfortable with traditions set in stone – this is what has always been done. Others seek new traditions like a flavor of the week, from other cultures, other religions, other places, other worlds. One of the best sources of newfound traditions is the institution of marriage. When husband and wife bring together the diverse customs of two families, the resulting recipe is a whole new tradition. This is the theory anyway.
At my house we have a few special Christmas traditions. There are certain gifts that we give every year. No, not the same actual gift, but a variation upon a theme. My oldest son gets a unique nutcracker. My three-year-old daughter gets a Christmas music box. My two-year-old son will someday have a fine collection of Christmas snow globes. And each child gets a tree ornament that symbolizes something of significance from the year that has passed. Hopefully, they will save these Christmas things to someday share with their own families. I myself have a collection of "The Night Before Christmas" books passed on from my mother.
And then there is the music. Music is an important part of our lives. Each year, my wife and I seek unique Christmas music to give to each other. Then, on Christmas Eve, we each get to open one gift. The gift is always music related – some simple percussion instrument, a drum from India, a small wooden flute. We open the presents and play along with the music on the stereo, no matter how awful we may actually sound, this is our Christmas song.
While I was growing up, we had some special Christmas traditions too. The most important ones revolved around music. On Christmas Eve, my family caroled. We fought our way through cold, ice, and snow and stood on doorsteps to sing. We were invited inside and fed cookies and punch or eggnog, then continued to the next on our list of family friends. After several years of this, people began to depend on us on Christmas Eve. Then we became a part of their Christmas tradition.
The other part of our family Christmas tradition would be better described as my father’s tradition. After caroling and settling down, he would light some candles (I especially remember the candle holder that sported the little gold angels that went round and round making heavenly music by the ringing of four simple chimes) and put a record on the turntable. Not just any music mind you, but a very particular selection. He had to hear "Amahl and the Night Visitors," a contemporary opera by Gian Carlo Menotti. He would listen to it, sometimes singing along with the chorus. I remember how, as we children grew older with interests straying, often it was just my father who would actually listen to the music while others talked or read or baked or found some other way to pass the time.
My father passed away two Christmas’s ago. In fact, he was out shopping when he suffered his fatal heart attack. I like to think that this circumstance, his buying gifts for others, was emblematic of his generous nature. And though he did enjoy giving my mom a beautiful piece of jewelry, with ever increasing gems each year, he was not particularly fond of the commercial elements of the giving season. The empty need to give simply to meet the requirements of Christmas giving bothered him. In his later years, he spent much of his holiday time seeking ways to give without going to a store and spending money. To give with meaning was his goal. This is where the story of Amahl becomes significant. "Amahl and the Night Visitors" is the story of a young beggar boy and his mother who lived in a small farming community before the birth of Christ. The boy is unable to walk without the use of crutches. One night, three travelers, kings from distant lands, visit them. The kings need a place to rest from their long journey. They explain to the boy and his mother that they are traveling to bring gifts to the newborn King of Kings. They show Amahl all the gold, jewels and spices they have for the newborn King. Amahl has nothing of value to give to this special child, so he decides that he will give the gift of his crutches. The strength of this selfless generosity leads to a miracle as Ahaml takes his first steps without support. The appeal of this story to my father is obvious. He wanted to be able to give to his loved ones, to his children and grandchildren, a gift that was a part of him.
Every father was once a son, but every son is not a father. One of the pitfalls of fatherhood is that, with wisdom the years bring, you are able to tell your children how to avoid the missteps you took; yet they will not listen. It is as though they too must learn from falling. It is obvious to me now how hard it was for my father to see me trip and stumble, how much he wanted to tell me "go this way" or "don’t do that." His profession was to advice people, to help others. Yet he tried to restrain from telling me what to do.
How hard it must have been to watch my foibles. And yet, the support he gave me was unlimited. I wanted to be a writer. Not just a writer, I wanted to be a poet. He knew my chances of success were limited. Still, he encouraged me. When I published a chapbook of poems, he bought seven or eight copies "for friends." Later, I found the copies gathering dust on his bookshelves. Whenever he visited or we talked on the phone, he asked me if I was writing. And as my life became more complex and the writing ceased, I almost couldn’t bare to tell him that I had stopped. As if I was somehow letting him down. I knew he didn’t really understand what I was doing. But he saw that this was something important to me, so it became important to him.
Once a loved one is gone, we tend to go through feelings of guilt, of regret. For me, there is one particular memory. It was a Christmas 11 years ago. My wife and I were struggling financially and otherwise. She was in school; I worked a retail job at a bookstore. We lived in Michigan. For Christmas, I only had two days off from work. My wife and two-year-old son went to St. Louis to visit her family, then to New York to visit mine. It was a difficult time for us all, being separated during much of the holiday. When I got off of work on Christmas Eve and flew to New York, I arrived late in the evening. Christmas morning my son woke and saw me in the room with him and screamed and ran to hug me. That was a gift enough for me.
The next day, I had to fly back to Michigan, leaving behind my wife and son. My wife and father drove me to the airport. Typical of upstate New York winter, it was snowing hard that day. I had a huge lump in my throat as I said goodbye to my wife and headed into the airport alone. Later, my wife told me how my father was very upset for the rest of the day. I couldn’t guess why. It was not because he was saddened to see me go. But because, in my good-byes I had forgotten to say goodbye to him.
Now all these years later, the father of two sons and a daughter, I finally understand his hurt that Christmas under the snowy sky in a cold car at the idling for those few moments at the airport. And now, I wish I had said my good-byes to him. This Christmas, my family will light our candles on Christmas Eve. We will open our one gift and play our Christmas song. Later, I will put on the music of "Amahl and the Night Visitors." Perhaps (or likely) it will only be me that actually listens to the words, that pays attention to the story. Christmas is a time of traditions, of giving. Father Christmas is a spirit. My father would say Santa Claus is a part of each of us. I understand that now. This is the gift that he gave me.
Dear Reader: You can help us make this website even better!
We'd love to hear your comments about this article! Scroll down to sound off! All of our articles and ideas have come from our imagination and from reader submissions. Please use this form to contact us if you have articles, crafts, activities, games, recipes, songs or poems that you would like to add to this website. Make sure to stop by our friendly forums too! Read more articles from dads in our section devoted just to them!
Webmasters and Authors:
We are looking for more "dad authors'! We will gladly include a link back to your site or book in exchange for sharing your content. Just contact us!
Make Sure to Visit These Related Links and Articles
Quote this article on your site
To create link towards this article on your website,
copy and paste the text below in your page.