One of my step-aunts shared a photo of my 80+ year old dad in his Santa suit waving to commuters. This has been his holiday tradition for untold years. It is pretty cute, but as his child, I am mildly irritated. Irritated enough to write this post.
First, a little background. My parents divorced when I was 6 and I saw my dad for holidays and two weeks in the summer thereafter. He wrote monthly and made little effort to spend more time with his kids. He quickly married my stepmom, but they had no kids. I always felt that a) she didn’t like me and my brother because we were a reminder of his previous marriage and b) she really doesn’t like kids generally.
This meant that any holidays spent with him were with her family. I liked them, but we were the only kids there. Her three sisters had no kids until the youngest adopted. One has a stepson, but she’s divorced from the father. They had their own holiday traditions and we fit in where it was convenient for them. Suffice it to say, those Christmases were not packed with fond memories. They were what they were.
Back to Santa. To me, my dad’s Santa tradition is an example of how little I know about the man. Did he start this because he missed Christmas with his own kids? I seem to recall he was Santa for a non-profit he volunteered for and things grew from there. But I don’t know for sure. I guess I could have a conversation about this with him.
This man, a pillar of his community, put virtually no effort into parenting. He allowed his wife to delay child support checks and write scathing letters to my mom. He is smart and funny, but I have always said he does much better with young adults rather than kids. He tried harder with my brother who went to live with him when he was 15. That didn’t go particularly well, but he paid for my brother’s college and fraternity which is a lot more than he gave me. I got one year of college paid and $2500 for my wedding.
I am asking myself why is this bitterness emerging? I don’t know. I guess I wish I had a better father, but I could have done far worse. I will take benign neglect over abuse any day. I was lucky my stepfather, who was a horrible person, never physically abused me. Here I am 55 years old with my childhood so far behind me still grappling with the aftermath of my childhood. Interesting.
But I agree with Maya Angelou and wouldn’t take nothing for my journey. And most importantly, I have to remember a quote of hers. “It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, to forgive. Forgive everybody.”
So in the spirit of Christmas, I forgive the adults of my childhood. I forgive them for the times when they put their needs before a child’s. I forgive them and I fulfilled my promise to myself. Do better. Be a better parent and a better person. I proudly think I am.