Now that my kids are 6 and 4, I’ve begun to try to sell them on the very real fact that giving really is better than getting. I’m reminded of this all the time, but especially around Christmas. This belief may not hold true for some of you, and it certainly doesn’t for a six year-old with a bunch of friends who talk about nothing but what they’ve got and what they’re getting. I get it. I used to be one. But, I suppose the older I get, the more this matters. My father, pictured here a couple of years ago with my daughter, embodies the spirit of giving more than anyone I know.
We’ve all got issues with family, and lots of times those issues get in the way of spending holiday time together. My family is definitely not immune to such issues, but we get by okay. But this Christmas, I realized one special trait about my father. He is a giver.
For the last few holidays (Thanksgiving and/or Christmas), my wife and I have had problems traveling to my hometown to celebrate with my side of the family. Her side of the family gathers for Christmas, but Thanksgiving isn’t as big a deal. Both are big deals on my side. Coat and tie, silver and linen, waiters, the whole Southern bit. It’s a show more than anything else, but it’s a family ritual, and its meaning and lineage have been burned into me so much that I now crave it. Nothing against Luby’s, but if I never have to dig those disgusting side dishes out of cardboard containers again, I’ll be just fine.
Last Christmas, when we couldn’t make it to Thanksgiving, my father told me to “stay in Austin with your family this Christmas. The kids will get to wake up and open their gifts at home, and y’all can come see us sometime after New Year’s, when things sort of quiet down.” We did just that, and it was the best Christmas I can remember. Watching my kids make cookies for Santa, fake being nice to each other, want to go to bed at 5pm on Christmas Eve and waking up at 2am and begging for three hours to go out to the living room and me finally caving and trying to video the whole thing on two hours’ sleep. It was all more than I’d hoped for.
This year, we stayed home for Thanksgiving and are doing the same for Christmas. My father again advised me to “stay there with your family,” and it was only today that I realized that his gift to me of “stay with your family instead of packing them up and driving nine hours and repacking and driving back and all that” is the greatest gift I can receive at this point in my life. He is giving me the gift of irreplaceable moments with my own children, instead of a bunch of guilt about not being there with him and my mother.
And for that, I’ll forever be grateful. My parents have given me far more than I ever deserve. Support, material things, love, good advice, guidance and understanding. I’ll never be able to repay them, and even if they read this, they’ll never know how much I cherish, value and appreciate their gifts.
It’s Christmas Eve, and while my kids climb all over me as I write this (and cook the turkey and assemble toys and mediate tantrums and everything else that goes along with parenthood), I wish you nothing less than what I’ve been given. I have one wish this cold winter night, and it’s that my kids will one day think of me, just for a second, like I think of my parents right now.