‘Tis the Season.
‘Tis the Season – To be on your best behavior, for the jolly old man with the white beard is watching. To decorate your house with ornaments that are full of colors, and lights that twinkle, and trees that smell like Christmas. To give of yourself – to children, to charities, or those who are not as fortunate as you. Ah yes, the ideals of the Christmahanakwanzika season rings in the air, much like carolers going door to door, spreading Christmas cheer.
Yet, as with most things in life, I tend to take a different approach. All throughout the year, I have asked my family to sacrifice spending time with me so I could grade papers for the classes I taught, and so I could spend just a little more time polishing A Matter of Semantics, and so I could respond to one more email from someone who is interested in having me come in to speak to their students. Not to mention the yard work, grocery shopping, car maintenance, and other life responsibilities that comes with the territory of being an adult, which, ultimately, ate away at my time. Looking back on 2013, it was almost as if I was saying to my family, do you mind if we spend less time together so that I can spend time on work, so that we can be in a better financial position some years from now and so I can accomplish my career-related goals. My wife understood this, although she wished I was around more. But try explaining that same concept to a 2-year-old. All he knew was, daddy’s working. That’s what my wife told me he would say upon waking up and realizing I was gone for the day, again. In a way, it was refreshing to hear him say those words. It made the exchange between us, when I walked in the door, special. But rarely was that the end of my work day. After a quick hello, it was back to my computer to grade papers, polish A Matter of Semantics, and respond to one more email.
So I have decided that those sacrifices – which I’ve asked my family to make throughout the year – are finally going to bear fruit. During this holiday season (and all those going forward), I am choosing to give to my family first, before I give to everyone else. Buying my wife that pair of boots she’s been dreaming about because she hasn’t gone clothes shopping for herself in over two years. Making sure my son has tons of toys to open on Christmas morning (and all of the nights of Hanukkah, too), so that he feels the magical feeling that this day is about him. Seeing to it that even though my daughter cannot open any gifts yet (she’s only 3 months old), that she still has everything she might need, so that she doesn’t need for anything.
Growing up, one of my memories from Christmas was my family giving to our fellow parishioners. Yet, I had a winter coat that barely fit; and I would keep my hands in my pockets when I walked to school because I didn’t have gloves; and the only hat I had, I’d lost at the Boys and Girls Club. Back then, that was just how life was. We didn’t have much, but we managed to get by. And every Christmas season, we gave what little we had to somehow continue promoting the holiday spirit of giving, for sake of giving gifts. It was almost as if we were trying to keep up with the Joneses. Seeing how much more we could give, compared to the next family. It was a commercial type of giving, not one that we did because it made us feel good; but one that we did just to say you gave of yourself for the holidays, too.
Looking back on it, those memories didn’t teach me to give to those who were less fortunate. Instead, they taught me how could I rationalize donating money or canned goods, if my own children don’t have clothes that fit, or my wife goes to a job interview wearing shoes with holes in them, or my family has to decide between heat or electricity this month. The truth is, I can’t.
So I’m going to give to my family during the holiday season because every day, I give of myself to everyone but my family. The full allotment of my time, energies, and focus goes in preventing sexual violence, educating college students, and working with teenagers in different ways to recognize their potential. You know, doing some good in the world. By the end of the day, I’m exhausted. I walk in the door drained and fatigued, and this is the version of me that my family gets. They deserve better, and this is another reason to give to my family first.
Let me answer the question I am sure you are undoubtedly asking. By no means am I equating or confusing or misrepresenting buying my family material possessions for the holidays with making up for the time I was not able to spend with them throughout the year. Those two things aren’t even in the same breath. Not even in the same league; they’re not even the same sport (to borrow a line from Pulp Fiction). But I recognize that this holiday season is about giving, and since I’ve asked my family to sacrifice so much this year (and give me more time away from them), it’s only right that I give to them (plentiful) first, before I give to anyone else.
Of course, when the new year hits, I know I will vow to spend more time with my family, and by February, I will have already broken that promise. I know I have, and will continue to ask my family to sacrifice time with me throughout the year, so that I can work on work, and side projects, and the board of trustees upon which I sit. I will write checks to charitable organizations. I will volunteer my time. I will work long hours on certain days, and I will work without getting paid on other days. I will ask my family to sacrifice even more time with me, so that I can give even more of myself to survivors, students, teenagers, parents, families, and everyone else I serve. I give all throughout the year, I will give during the holidays, too. (Last year we adopted a local family, and bought the children Christmas gifts. This year, we donated a charitable organization through our local hospital.)
But that won’t be the extent of my giving. I will give to my family, first and most. I don’t want to be remembered by strangers as being generous, and by my family as frugal and withdrawn. So I’ve decided to give unto my family. ‘Tis the Season.