Magazine article Psychotherapy Networker

Family Matters, Learning from Memory: Sometimes the True Value of a Gift Can Only Be Appreciated Later

Magazine article Psychotherapy Networker

Family Matters, Learning from Memory: Sometimes the True Value of a Gift Can Only Be Appreciated Later

Article excerpt

FAMILY MATTERSBy Marilyn Wolf

Learning from MemorySometimes the true value of a gift can only be appreciated later

It's Christmas and I'm really missing my father. He died 18 years ago, but I long for him almost as much as I did those first years after his death. This new wave of grief for him is probably the result of my mother's death in April. Now that she's gone, the funny little thread that still connected me to my father feels like it's been severed. It's like he's died all over again.

Because it's Christmas, I feel the sting of being parentless. It's an experience more startling than I could have anticipated. A friend who's also lost both parents tells me she feels like an orphan. That's not quite how I feel. I don't feel abandoned; I feel alone. I really miss them.

My parents were polar opposites when it came to Christmas. My mother was cynical about it, and the holidays often brought out a dark, frantic side of her. But my father was a different story. Unlike many men, he enjoyed shopping. He loved negotiating the crowded stores, and always came home with the same report: he'd seen Santa, who'd personally asked about my sisters and me. When I was very young, he could convince me that Santa had told him exactly what he was bringing us. It intrigued and excited me beyond words.

My father loved to drink, and he always drank too much during the holidays, making my mother's Christmas moods even edgier. He played Christmas music continually. There was Bing Crosby, of course. Gene Autrey. The Ray Coniff Singers. Alvin and the Chipmunks. His music collection was vast, but his favorite never wavered: "White Christmas." Until I was well into adulthood, he'd get me to sing "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" imitating the shaky, little-boy voice in which it was recorded. He never tired of hearing me sing it--even in my adolescent arrogance when I sang it as quickly and dourly as possible. To his credit and my relief, he never asked me to sing it for friends or family. It was a silly little private Christmas ritual, just for the two of us.

I still remember the stockings of my youth, stuffed with small toys and knickknacks, and later cosmetics and cheap earrings. Every year, beneath these little treasures, I'd find an orange or tangerine, some nuts and candy, which I'd immediately brush aside. …

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