“This is the only time of year he opens up, drops his guard and becomes like a normal person,” my mother always said. She was referring to my father. And she was right, of course.
The glowing bulbs of blue, green, and red, the tree and all the other seasonal trimmings meant much to my mother and I because they symbolizes our brief annual oasis of warm, loving humanity in an otherwise cold and dark emotional landscape. Instead of the arrogant, condescending MIT electrical engineer who made his wife and child feel like unwanted, excess baggage, my father actually became fun to be around. He made us feel like we mattered, he stopped lecturing and really listened, he showed us his heart.
“Why can’t he be this way all the time?” I asked her.
“I don’t know honey. It’s just the way he is.”
Years later, long after my mother had passed, I visited my father. He had mellowed considerably and when I asked him he jsaid, “When I was a little boy Christmas was the only time my parents stopped fighting. I learned very early that the rest of the year it was not safe to let your guard down, unless you wanted to get hurt. It was the only way I survived it. I know I put your mother and you through hell and I’m more sorry for that than anything else.”