My family values | Chuck's World

By Chuck Sigars | Dec 11, 2013

If you spent last week as I did, wearing eight layers of clothing, going down to six only to bathe, then I don’t need to tell you what time of year it is.

As soon as the Thanksgiving turkey was carved, in fact, lights were strung, carols began to play, the War on Christmas heated up, the temperature cooled down, and everyone’s offspring became, like the children of Lake Wobegone, above average.

Way above average.

You nod like you know. Good. I won’t get into too much detail then.

I’m talking about Christmas letters, of course, a wave of sharing that took off with the microprocessor.

The rise of personal computing and desktop publishing in the early 1990s resulted in many, many of these multi-page December newsletters, beautifully designed and dedicated to descriptions of superkids.

This is all from memory, of course. I’ve aged myself out of this stage, as my contemporaries are now mostly empty nesters, sending us Christmas letters from Hawaii and bragging, if at all, about grandchildren.

And everyone’s allowed to brag about grandchildren. It’s the law.

But I remember those days, letter after letter of superlatives about the next generation. Grades, sports, music, skills, tastes, future glories just lining up: I would read these every year and start to get gloomy.

I was proud of my own kids, but neither of them had won any MacArthur Genuis Grants and they were already in, like, elementary school.

For a few years, I tried to counter this with satire, sending out Christmas letters that described the dysfunction of my own family in great detail, although sometimes people would miss the attempt at humor.

“Did your 4-year-old son really rebuild your transmission?” they’d ask.

“Not really,” I’d say, and then they’d smile and go on to tell me about Ashley, who was very good at gymnastics.

As these annual letters go the way of the dinosaurs, though, replaced by personal websites and Facebook pages, all my past eye-rolling and sarcasm reminds me that I was lying.

I really like reading about families, baby Einsteins or not.

I was reminded of this a few weeks ago, when I had a little family reunion. My niece was getting married in Arizona, and I took advantage of the guest list to catch up.

Brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews all came to town for the big event, and I got to watch.

An outdoor wedding in November is a risky proposition, even in Scottsdale, but it went off smoothly, a couple of puffy clouds in the sky, temperature in the 70s.

My niece and her new husband glowed, surrounded by family and friends, the way weddings are supposed to surround us.

There was a cocktail party on the roof of the hotel following the ceremony, prior to the dinner and reception, and I wandered around, not being a cocktail party person, taking a million pictures with my phone, hoping one of them was decent.

I looked over these when I got home, and that’s where I spotted him.

Arm around the mother of the bride. Kidding my nephews. Chatting up the bartender. Gazing out over the Valley of the Sun, the city he lived and worked in for so long.

He looked like he always did, a little older, a little heavier, glass of Scotch in hand, just enjoying his granddaughter’s big day.

Except he didn’t have a cigarette. I just couldn’t do that, even though he holds one in virtually every picture I have of him, from his teenage years on.

Four packs a day for half a century means you’re nearly always smoking, but cigarettes killed him, so.

In this fantasy I saw my father, gone 10 years this week, four days following his 67th birthday. That would have been a long life a few generations ago, and it’s not young even today, but it still feels too soon.

This is nothing new for many of you. Everyone passes on, including parents, leaving holes where we didn’t know there were places.

We grieve, we remember, we adjust and we move on, as people always have, but the holes will now always be there. Of course I still miss my father.

But I was surprised to see him, flitting through my imagination as I looked at pictures of my family. I could visualize him there easily, doing what he always did, being where he always loved to be, in the middle of a crowd of his very own making.

This little fiction reminded me of why I love this season, long underwear and all. It’s intrusive and overly commercialized, too bright and too loud, too sacred for some and not enough for others, but for me it’s mostly about families, and I’ve got a bunch.

I do, too. They say you can’t pick your relatives, but we do it all the time.

I’ve got several different families, genetic and not, and this is the time of year when I think of them the most, and how fortunate I am to have them. And how I still grieve for the ones I miss.

So I say yes to Christmas letters, cards, Facebook posts, tweets, text messages, or smoke signals. It reminds me of how connected we are, just as those wedding photos did.

I looked at pictures of my happy family, and saw my father in them, and of course he was.

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