Your first Christmas, you were only six months old.
Being a dad for the first time was the only present I needed.
You had no idea what was going on, but your mom and I did.
Every smile. Every laugh. Every single second was a Christmas present from God to me.
By your second Christmas, we weren’t a family anymore. You were still too young to realize what was going on in your world, but I knew. I knew you’d never have a Christmas again the way it was on your first one. Never again with both your mom and me together with you. I swore I’d never introduce the word “divorce” into your world. I can’t remember being more sad at Christmas than I was that year.
But I had you… and that made it Christmas.
The years flew by. On the Christmases you were with me it was joyous. We went home every year. Remember the first time I took you to Wannamaker’s in Philly and showed you the lights? The very same lights I went to see when I was just a little boy. We have always been great connoisseurs of Christmas lights, you and I, and with technology being what it is; you weren’t as impressed with the Wannamaker light display as I was as a child. But you smiled and we took pictures and made a day of it. I wished the monorail was still there. And the big toy department. You were always so happy. Always so caught up in Christmas, like I was when I was that age. To be honest, you helped me survive those Christmases.
All I ever wanted for my whole life was to create the family I didn’t have. The home I never knew. I wanted you to wake up every single day of your life, knowing…almost taking for granted…that your daddy loved you, that your parents loved each other and that home was a safe haven. Not the place you wished you could get away from. I couldn’t give you that. That wasn’t my choice but I had to live with it just like you did.
You made it possible. You and Christmas.
You got older. Finding the perfect gifts got a little harder each year. You weren’t satisfied with just “Dollies and Dishes.” You loved music. Loved it. I don’t remember a time when you weren’t singing. Making up little songs in a voice that had no business coming from a four-year old. You were born with that gift. It showed up almost as soon as you could talk. Christmas gifts always included something musical. You still believed in Santa, and I still climbed up on the roof on Christmas Eve and shook sleigh bells and stomped around and “Ho Ho Ho’d” and called out to invisible reindeer as you shut your eyes tight and listened as Santa delivered his packages. I lived for those Christmas Eve, rooftop adventures. I loved being your daddy.
Just as you were turning ten, my world collapsed again. I was just getting back to normal. Just feeling like a whole man again after years of heartbreak from being divorced and missing you so much when we weren’t together. Then my world spun the wrong direction again and everything was gone. No job. No success. And not long after…no home. Our beautiful little ranch house in the country was gone. And with it, our garden, our dogs and our cat and your beloved pony “Silly Willy.” Gone. You were ten. I’d spent ten years very carefully trying to never fail you or let you down. But I couldn’t stop it this time. It was out of my control, and when you’re a dad, you are supposed to be able to fix everything. I always could. I used to make little repairs around the house and you would be so amazed at what your daddy could do with his hands and some tools. But this time, I had no answers. This time I was helpless.
That was the Christmas that you stopped believing in Santa. Your cousins had told you about him, and you told me late that fall. We stopped doing the Advent Calendars too. And there was no longer any need for the sleigh bells, or the ladder to the roof.
But it was still Christmas. We still had Uncle Franny and Cousin Toni and Sissy and Nick and Feast of Seven Fishes. And I still had you.
This year will be the first Christmas in about five years that we won’t spend together. You’re with your mom…and I understand that. I love having you living with me now, and life is beginning to rebuild. But I miss Christmas.
I miss you being little, and I miss being your hero and your favorite person. I miss making you laugh with my Winnie the Pooh impersonations. We won’t be watching Christmas movies this year. Or listening to our traditional Christmas music. Or decorating our house.
I miss our house. I miss Christmas. I miss my little girl.
Next Christmas will be the last one before you go off to college. It will be like all the others you have ever known, except that first one. It will once again be spent away from one of your parents. I’m still sorry about that. It still hurts. I would have endured for your sake. I would have chosen to give you your family, if the choice had been mine.
I don’t know what future Christmases will look like, or where you’ll be. One day, some young man will come and win your heart. And you’ll begin your own Christmas traditions. I hope you’ll have better success at it than I did. I think I’ve been a pretty good dad. I think I did Christmas pretty well, given the circumstances. I wish I could have a few more of them with you. Like when you were little. Like the time we drove to the beach on Christmas Eve day and saw deer feeding by the side of the woods, and you turned to me and said; “Look Daddy! It’s Santa’s reindeer getting ready for tonight!” And you were pretty sure you saw Rudolph’s nose blinking. And for a minute I felt like the best dad in the world.
I miss you at Christmas. I love you more than ever, even as you’ve become a wonderful, beautiful young woman. But I remember that first Christmas. And how much promise it held. You are still the greatest gift I ever got. And you always will be.
Merry Christmas, Morgan. My beautiful Daisy. You have always meant Christmas to me.
I love you.