Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Missing Dad

We are entering the holiday season.  I don't know anybody who gets more excited about this time of year than me, but this year, I have to admit, it's a little strange.  It's bittersweet.

My dad loved the holidays.  Nobody--seriously, nobody--could cook a turkey like he did.  He would do it on the charcoal grill, and it was amazing.  So every year we would have one big bird roasted in the oven traditional style, and one big bird done on the grill.  The grilled one was always gone first.  We have a large extended family, so our holidays are always very loud and very busy.  My dad was always front and center, cheerful and goofy with everyone.  He was an excellent cook, and a lover of food, so Thanksgiving was always one of his favorites.  And this year, Thanksgiving is going to seem incomplete.  I'm not sure how we're going to do the turkeys this year, and I don't think anyone's really ready to talk about it.

Christmas was really a big deal to him.  He was so cheesy and awesome about it, that's probably where my obsession started.  When I was a kid, every year we would go out to the mountains and pick a Christmas tree to cut down.  Just like the Griswolds, but my dad never forgot a saw.  We would end up with a Charlie Brown Christmas tree, and decorate it with our old collected ornaments, sentimental ornaments, faded paper chains from kindergarten, popcorn strings, and occasionally Star Wars action figures.  My dad wore a Santa hat every day for the entire season.

Dad loved to Christmas shop, which was great because most men don't like to.  But he loved it.  And he was good at it.  He put a lot of thought into each gift, and especially the gifts he got for my mom.  And he loved to stuff stockings.  We do a drawing for stockings, and we would always groan about whoever had the misfortune of Dad drawing their name, because you were sure to get a bunch of goofy gag gifts like Kingston Trio cassette tapes and Old Maid decks.  And he would laugh like it was the funniest thing he'd ever done.  He even loved the Secret Santa exchange they did at his work.

So this year, as my family faces our first holiday season without my dad, it feels a little wrong.  I'm sure he's watching us, compelling us to have a happy season and to feel the joy and love for it, but it might be difficult sometimes, especially for my mom.  I was talking to my brother about it yesterday, and it's a two-sided feeling.  On one side, I feel a certain ease about it all this year.  My dad is not sick.  He is not weak.  It's not going to be hard to watch him struggling to figure out what he can eat or watch my parents have to leave events early because he is tired.  My dad was diagnosed with his lung cancer just before the holidays two years ago.  It was only a couple years before that when we lost my mom-in-law to cancer, and only a few years before that when we lost her sister, hubby's beloved Aunt, to cancer.  So our holidays have for so long had a little bit of an undercurrent of sadness.  This year nobody is sick.  But my mom is sad.  Nobody has cancer.  But we just lost my dad.  Everyone is going to be healthy and strong.  But missing someone.  So there is a sadness mixed with our happiness.

Our goal this year is to enjoy the holidays.  Embrace the joy of the season, because that is absolutely what my dad always did, and I know it's what he would want for us.  We will walk with my mom through this season and help her to find the joy in it.  We will remember the reason for the season, celebrating Thanksgiving with our families, and being thankful.  Thankful for our health, for each other, for laughter and for strength.  Thankful for all the blessings we have had this year, which really have been many, even with all the pain.  And at Christmas we will remember that joy is the reason for the season.  The joy of the Holy Birth, and find renewed faith in Him and in the holidays in general.

So this year, people, as you walk around shaking your head at how early the holiday decorations are coming out and how expensive they are, and how your families drive you nuts at Thanksgiving dinner, and how it costs so much to travel and buy gifts, remember:  this is a time to be thankful.  And cheerful.  And just try your hardest to really feel the holidays.  Our loved ones who we miss this time of year would want that.  I bought this goofy hat this year.  It's a Santa Hat that actually moves around and sings Christmas songs in a Santa voice.  It's obnoxious, and dad would have loved it.  Normally, I would be too self conscious to wear it.  Oh, I'm wearing it this year, people.  Loud and proud.  And dad's chuckling with me.


  1. This is "Brother". Thanks Teri. As usual you said it perfectly. I'd like to say too, that so many families struggle through the holidays. Stressed if not resentful, anxious if not sad.

    Our family struggled in a lot of ways, but we ALWAYS did the holidays right. Great food, great mood. We screwed things up for 10 straight months sometimes, but for two months we did it just right.

    Thanks Dad, for ALWAYS ending the year right.

  2. This is sister. Here's to that!!! No tears this year unless they are from laughing to hard. No matter how little or how much we had, Dad made Christmas and Thanksgiving the happiest times of the year. This Thanksgiving I am thankful for the holiday legacy he left us and this Christmas will be about celebrating the love and joy he instilled in us every year. Thanks, Dad, I miss you. And thank you, Teri, for verbalizing what's in all our hearts.

  3. So I read this at the airport and got all teared up - partly because there was so much I wanted to say. I love the holidays. And this family has only made it better .

    I grew up with similar yet quite different traditions. Holidays came around and I wasn't quite sure how to take the different way this new family did things - in some ways it was complete chaos. Christmas Eve gift opening? We take turns?? Stockings? Soup for dinner? and the topper - we don't do much on Christmas Day (in fact, we went to see a movie??) and WHERE IS THE TURKEY? Then I had my first Christmas with this family and holy cow. They did it right. The level of energy around the event is intoxicating. And the pressure is low. Its just plain fun. I loved it. (And somehow they planned it all just right so that I got to create my own tradition that allowed me to celebrate in-law style and my style.)

    So I started holiday traditions with this family with Christmas (welcoming me as a simple girlfriend from college). The next big one was Thanksgiving. And big is an understatement - two turkeys? Who has two turkeys? So I knew to be prepared to meet the extended extended family. Once again, the energy and excitement was (and still is) fabulous. The biggest curiosity for me was that in order to cook two turkeys, one was going to be on the grill. (I should clarify the WEBER grill.) Grilled turkey? Are they crazy? It'll take forever. OMG - I fell in love and have to say its a tradition that I will never change. Not matter what happens we are having grilled turkey on thanksgiving.

    As I mentioned in the start of this long rant, I have always loved the holidays and always dreamed of big family events. We moved around a lot and didn't have much family around us. We truly enjoyed it and the memories are special. Then I moved to a new state w/ my new hubby. I was afraid of how it would go. I was afraid of my first holiday without my family. But I remember my father in law giving me a hug and telling me he knew it was hard being away from my family. He didn't make a big deal of it - but he knew how special holidays are here and he knew I would love it. And he was right.

    There is a culture to families. Although we grow up thinking there are certain things we are going to change, there are often things we just can't. We can't because our parents instilled something special that becomes a part of us. Tradition. And Tradition stays around because it works and because we love it.

    We are going to have a wonderful holiday season this year because we have each other and wonderful traditions to wrap our hearts around. Dad will be sitting upstairs with the mothers of his children in-law (two of them) watching our fun and smiling. Pointing out our silliness, hoping someone got the battery operated barbie sucker, shaking his head at someone's poor turkey carving, watching closely to see if P. really does cheat at monopoly, wondering when Teri is going to put on his favorite holiday music and bring very very proud of his family.