A couple of weeks ago, The Kid posted her Christmas wish list on the refrigerator door. As usual, her wants are very modest: a bathrobe, slippers, cozy socks, books. She never asks for electronics or big-ticket items because she knows she won’t get them. Nevertheless, I have been feeling increasingly perturbed by the “wants.” It’s a parenting issue — more specifically, a parenting failure. No matter how modest her wants, the thinking behind them is completely decoupled from what Christmas should be about.
The Kid, like me, is something of a heathen barbarian: despite my very Western upbringing, Christianity is not part of how I think or who I am. Christian thought is an intellectual curiosity and challenge; I will never feel the passion of St. Augustine, the being of St. Benedict. DH, on the other hand, believes in the grace of God, although he is very careful to clarify, for himself, the difference between faith and religion.
This year I am not “doing” Christmas; it is a reversion to my childhood, when Christmas meant two weeks off from school but otherwise passed without remark. DH, however, still insists on giving presents to The Kid: because he’s her Dad, because she expects it, because it’s just the way of things. And I think it’s wrong. It is our fault for going along with the cultural norm for twelve years, for the giving of the gifts without the feeding of the soul. But DH has a plan — he is going to talk to The Kid about the “meaning” of Christmas in the coming weeks. Like many last-minute ideas, it has the feel of a desperate cramming for an exam. The Kid will memorize some basic tenets, and like most things we “expect” her to learn, she will not. She will sit with her Dad, listen patiently, nod when he asks — as he is too apt to do –“Do you understand?” — and he will keep talking and she will keep nodding.
Back in my doctoring days, the one universal question was: Are you treating the patient or the physician? Quite often I would have to admit, ” The physician …” It was not necessarily a bad reason, but it was an essential pause for clarity. These sessions with The Kid will be for DH, not for her; it will be a way to assuage the guilt of not having shared an important part of himself with her, of not having given her the gift of his convictions and beliefs. And that’s not necessarily a bad reason — and if I were a more optimistic sort of person, I might even think, like him, that it is never too late.