This morning I thought about that first Christmas after my mom died. 22 years later and only a single scene comes to mind. I am standing in the middle of our living room on Christmas morning and my dad walks in carrying a plastic Wal-Mart shopping bag in one hand while hiding his other hand behind his back.
“Merry Christmas,” he says and then hands me the shopping bag.
I open the bag and pull out a 12-month planner. “Thanks, Dad.”
“Okay, I need that bag back to wrap your next gift.” he says to me.
I hand him the bag and he briefly turns around and “wraps” another gift for me.
“Merry Christmas,” he says again and we repeat the scene.
This time, the gift I retrieve from the bag is a slightly larger 12 month-planner. “Umm, thanks, Dad.”
He reaches out to reclaim the Wal-Mart bag again and I hand it to him. I know the routine. Again, he turns around briefly and wraps my third and final gift.
It’s a leather-covered notebook with legal size yellow paper on one side and a giant solar calculator on the other side.
I’ve relayed this story to a few people in my life. It tends to come up during this time of year whenever I’m asked to share any unique gifts I’ve received. Until today, whenever I’ve felt prompted to share it, I’ve always left out what my dad did next…
“I didn’t know which day planner you would want so I got them both. Whichever one you don’t want I’ll take back and use.”
I can’t remember which one of the planners I chose to keep, but I do remember handing one back to him.
When I share this story, I’m not sure why I tend to omit the part about giving one of the gifts back. I guess because the whole scene is weird and I haven’t quite figured it out even after all these year.
As you might be able to gather from this story, my dad wasn’t in the habit of picking out gifts. My mom (thank the Lord!) was usually the gift picker outer and gift wrapper in the family. Since her death, I’ve received some unusual gifts from my dad. I would say the box of herbal vitamins and the jug of organic household cleaner rank up there as the most memorable. However, in his defense, he did get to a point where in between the bizarre gifts he would occasionally send one that made a little more sense…such as a gift card to a local restaurant. He would even “wrap” it up in a nice greeting card.
It’s interesting to me that this is the only memory I have of that first Christmas without my mom. And you know what? I’ve really come to appreciate and cherish this memory as weird as it is. It makes me laugh. This scene is so my dad. For me, this memory is a reminder that the loved ones in our lives aren’t perfect. They just aren’t. They will fall short. Yet, when they do, it is always our choice as to how we respond. And, I pray, each time I fall short (and I do on many occasions) the loved ones in my life will choose to extend me a little grace too.