Christmas with my family has always been rocky. Not in an all-out fighting kind of way, more like a tension underneath the surface kind of way.
My father has a lot of emotional wounds, which he never dealt with in a healthy way and often took out on us. He doesn’t love himself, so he can’t express love or accept other’s love for him. On top of that, my father suffers from seasonal depression. His moods are usually at their worst around Christmas.
My mother always wants it to be full of joy with singing and laughter, but my dad is always in his worst mood and usually destroys all my mother’s hopes for the holiday. His temper becomes explosive at the slightest provocation or if something goes wrong with the dinner he and my mother cook. If he’s not yelling he’s either speaking in cynical sarcasm or not saying anything at all, usually for days on end.
With my father’s dark moodiness and my mother’s unspoken frustration, the tension in the house can get as thick as the chocolate pudding pie we always have. My brothers and I just keep out of his way. Though my mom tries to hide it, I can always see the sadness in her face at yet another rough Christmas.
So, yeah, Christmas can be a pretty dark day for my family. Yet one Christmas I was able to cut through my father’s dark mood and share a bit of affection with him. It was honestly a Christmas miracle.
That Christmas day began just like the others, my mother trying too hard to force cheerfulness out of my father who only responded in sarcasm.
I don’t usually give my father gifts for Christmas. He’s REALLY uncomfortable receiving anything (again, that discomfort with expressions of love) so we always figured we’d go along with what he wanted. But this particular year I found one that made me think of one of his favorite lines from the movie A Christmas Story. I just had to get it for him.
When we all gathered around the tree to open our gifts, he was surprised to find the one from me. I was excited for him to see what it was, but at the same time I braced myself for a sarcastic, hurtful comment. But when he opened it, a genuine laugh escaped.
The tension in the house immediately diminished as we all shared in his laughter after he opened his gift. For a moment, we were the family my mother hoped we could be at Christmas: joyful and laughing, without any cares or hurts.
We didn’t magically become the perfect family after that, but the joy did last for the rest of the day. Now I try to continue that joy each Christmas, like last year when I gave him an ornament that looks just like the leg lamp from the movie. The house was once again filled with laughter.
I’ve learned that it is possible to love my difficult to love father, even on the toughest of days. And I’ll continue to try to reach him through laughter.