No matter how hard I’ve tried to create a happy holiday for my family this year, the glaring omission of my father’s presence keeps undoing all of my hard work.  I didn’t know if I’d want to talk about it but I took a decongestant and now I’m as close to high as a good kid can be so here goes.

The memories I have of my father during Christmastime wouldn’t exactly make it on the Hallmark Channel.  The most prevalent memory is the annual emotional roller coaster of attempting to put up the fake tree and decorate it in the same space as the football game.  He would help for about two seconds and make a big deal out of detangling the lights down the hallway before grabbing another beer and sitting back on the couch.  We had these 12 days of Christmas ornaments and so we’d frequently sing the song as we’d find them, always completely out of order (now that’s definitely Hallmark Channel material).  Dad would get increasingly angry because he couldn’t hear absolutely ALL of the clever comments by the sports announcers.  After a few more minutes of this Cold War-style stand off in volume, we would pack up and I would end up finishing the decorating after school one day alone.  In fact, after my sister and I moved out, they never put up a tree again.

After Dad got sick, Christmas took on a new poignancy and he became much more interested in spending time with us.  I started having Christmas morning at my apartment, which really seemed to take the edge off since he didn’t have to witness the decoration in progress, only the finished result.  We’d all open our presents to each other, drink coffee, eat coffee cake (homemade by me!) and spend time together laughing and enjoying each other’s company.  Those might actually be my favorite Christmases because we were all happy and grateful.

Dad’s favorite part of Christmas, other than receiving presents, was watching us open our “big” present (big appears in quotations here because what made it big was not the price tag or the literal size of the item, but rather how much involvement he had in picking it out).  Before we had the first piece of wrapping paper off the box, he was already explaining how he watched the price for weeks and ended up getting it for a song, “I won’t tell you how much I got it for but it was originally ___.  Ok, go ahead and ask me how much I got it for, go ahead.  I have to tell you, it was ___, can you believe it?  Amazon didn’t earn their profit from me that day, that’s for sure.”  No matter what reaction you had, it was never as excited as he was hoping you’d be, I guess he was comparing it to my reaction to receiving a Barbie car when I was 5 or 6…  I loved knowing all of the research and time that went in to picking out my gifts, my parents are awesome at that.

I think the last Christmas memory I’ll drag out tonight is the earliest one I can remember.  It was dark and cold with snow flurries and Dad took me to go pick out the tree (we had living trees during my early childhood).  I don’t remember if he strapped it to the roof of the car or what but I remember afterward, he let me sit on his lap and steer the car in the parking lot, although I’m pretty sure my mom wouldn’t have been happy at all about that.  I remember he thought it was hilarious, though.  He had a great sense of humor.

It’s so hard not having my dad here to spend Christmas with us, but I know a lot of people have an empty chair or two this Christmas and it’s not just us who suffer.  I’m sure we’ll have a Merry Christmas, even if it is mixed with pain and loss.  We still have so much to be grateful for – gainful employment, my new house, our relative health, our pets (who provide hours of entertainment), the family members we have left, food on the table, It’s a Wonderful Life on DVD…I could go on for days like this.