This year we delayed the onslaught of Christmas in my home, in an effort to shorten the time of heightened anxiety for Jesse. It turns out it also thankfully shortened the amount of time I spend around this time of year missing my dad.
Dad was the King of Grumpy, but when it came to Christmas, I really have only fond and cheerful memories from my childhood. Dad loved Christmas kitsch, and in hindsight I see that he lifted my mom’s spirits with it. The house used to vibrate with the cacophony of noise-making Christmas gadgets–trains, snoring santas, musical clocks, a weird Mickey Mouse singing thing, music boxes, stuffed animals that sing when you punch them. As a child, my Christmas mornings were the stuff of Hollywood movies, full of plenty and laughter. Dad had serious Santa mojo.
As I got older, Christmas got even better because I didn’t get grumbled out of the kitchen anymore. Instead, Dad and I did a lot of cooking together. I have early memories of him giving me some pie crust scraps and, with a twinkle in his eye, wasting precious time to make cinnamon sugar so I could sprinkle it on the crust and bake “cookies.” We didn’t share them with anyone else. I helped with the stuffing the night before, I peeled potatoes, I washed dishes (mostly so that I didn’t have to listen to Mom complain about the mess) — little things. He shared his tricks with me. Over the years he entrusted me with more, including stuffing and pies, and then at some point in his waning, on the rare years I was home for Christmas, I just did the whole meal for him. And really, in my heart it was for him and not for the rest of the family.
These days I think Dad and I spent Christmas time together in the kitchen because we were both loners and lonely. We were each lonely because we needed some more human connection; but we were loners even more. Faced with the messy reality of what human connection entailed, I think we each prefered to avoid it most of the time. With each other, we didn’t need to try very hard, and the kitchen got us away from the scrum of humanity in the living room. We could potter about quietly, chatter about memories and music and family stories, and not worry. Somehow, we could laugh together most of the time even when things went wrong in the meal. I even liked his pineapple cottage cheese lime jello mold. This is no small thing, because it also contained horseradish.
Dad loved to watch White Christmas around the holidays. He adored Bing Crosby and he loved the story in the movie. It’s only recently that I begin to understand how much the story resonated with him — about an elderly, forgotten man wasting away in a pretty corner of the world, too proud to ask for help and largely unaware that anyone cared about him. And of course the music is delightful. Many years after Dad died, I finally got Anthony to sit down to the movie, and it turns out he loves it too. We try to watch it every year. I don’t know why that’s so dear and painful to me. I suppose I wish Anthony and I could have sat down with Dad to watch it together.
In fact, I just wish I could share another Christmas with my Dad, one where my kids are there. I missed so many Christmases with him through the years, for all sorts of lame reasons, mostly involving my self-absorption and pride. Every Christmas season, for each of the 12 years since he died, I’ve spent hours and hours grieving and weeping for those lost chances, those lost days I should have spent with him. I can barely type this for the wretchedness that’s pouring out of me on this Christmas Eve. It’s pathetic.
All I can do is make it up to him in this living world. So I’ve spent the better part of my free time for the last month getting ready for Christmas morning to happen for my kids, who weren’t born until after my father died. As I go through this process every year, I imagine that Dad’s Christmas spirit watches over my shoulder and guides my hand. He would have valued my kids’ insanity. He would have forgiven Jesse her challenging personality and behaviors, without reservation. He would have chuckled away at Nick’s loud silliness on Christmas mornings. He would have been proud of me for giving my kids a splendid, magical Christmas, even if they act like jackasses. But I wish he was really here, so that I wouldn’t have to just imagine it.
And now to bed. I have to wake up in about 5 hours, find my happy place, and deal with two kids experiencing maximum sensory overload. I can’t wait. If they’re crazy enough, I won’t miss my Dad as much.