We start out looking at our parents in the simplest way. They are the source of treats and hugs. They are someone to play with, to show off to. They are the ones who hold your hand to keep you safe when you cross the street. They are big. They are strong. They are wise.
They teach you to walk, to talk, to sing your ABC’s. They teach you to tie your shoes, write your name, ride a bike. They teach you right from wrong and that honesty is the best policy. They know everything. And they are perfect.
And then you get a little older and you start to notice little inconsistencies. And maybe some bigger ones. And you question their viewpoints and wonder how they arrived at them in the first place.
It took me a little more than a decade to realize that there was something up with Dad and Christmas. When I was little, he loved everything that I gave him. But when I started getting older and Christmas started involving spending my allowance on him, he started to resist. The more I insisted that I wanted to buy him something, the more he insisted that he didn’t need anything. To his credit, he was always nice about what you did get him, but it never stopped him from trying to avoid the whole present ordeal altogether.
And I also noticed that he avoided questions about Christmas when he was a kid. I’d ask something and he’d laugh it off and say, “Aw, you don’t want to hear about that. Help me with these lights, will ya?”
It was a weird thing, really. Here he was: president of his class, captain of the football team, basketball star, homecoming king, and all-around-good-guy and yet he didn’t want to talk about his childhood much. Inquisitive kid that I was, I kept trying to solve this mystery. And got pretty much nowhere.
There were few hints. I found out he didn’t like church because some church-folk had made less of his family for not having nice enough clothes. And sometimes he’d get mad when we didn’t pick up our stuff and say we didn’t know what it was like to have nothing.
And then I found out about The Christmas Orange.
My sister told me. I’m not sure where she found out. But it turns out that one Christmas during the Great Depression when he was little enough to still believe in Santa that all he got for Christmas was an orange. Think about it. An orange.
I think about that adorable little boy waking up with all of the anticipation of Christmas morning only to discover his only reward for a year of being as good as a little boy can manage is a single orange. it absolutely breaks my heart.
We complain about the economy now, but the Depression was far worse than anything we’re experiencing now. Right now, we have 9% unemployment. Back then, it was over 30%. Can you imagine one out of three people not having a job instead of one out of ten? Can you imagine losing your job when there’s no unemployment insurance? Can you imagine being so poor you have to give your kid an orange for Christmas?
What do you do after all of that?
Here’s what you do. You put it behind you and work your tail off so it never happens that badly again. You put it behind you and focus on building a better tomorrow. You put it behind you and overcompensate by buying your kids bikes and cars and big houses with swimming pools. And you put it behind you and change the subject and smile and put up the Christmas lights anyway.
And, if do a really good job, you raise kids who thank their lucky stars for you. And we do, Dad.