Saturday, December 22, 2007

Not All Christmas Memories Are Happy Ones

It's so nice to have the happy childhood memories of Christmas I've shared with you this month. Unfortunately, those aren't my only memories. There are others that are dark and ugly. I'm re-posting something I wrote last year at this time because the memories are still just as clear, the message is still just as timely, and it was a significant part of my childhood Christmases that needs to be included in my Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories.

My father was a mean drunk and he always had to have a drink at Christmas (and New Years). Unfortunately, it never ended with one drink. One led to another and another. There aren't too many of those wonderful Christmases that didn't end up with my dad beating the heck out of my mom. As a child with limited options I was forced to witness it and helpless to do anything to effectively intervene. I loved my dad and when he was sober he was a reasonable and nice guy. But when he drank he was as mean as they come. I debated about whether to mention the ugly part of my Christmases in this Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories, but if I didn't my retelling of things would have amounted to deception by omission. If I'd only told the pretty part of the picture that would not have been honest.

Back in those days, divorce was not an option for Catholics. And things like spouse abuse were never discussed. It was our family's dirty little secret. Except that it was never a secret. The reason we celebrated Christmas with just our immediate family is because my dad had been thrown out of most of his siblings' and all of my mom's siblings' houses over the years. They were fed up with his drunken nastiness and forbid him to come over on Christmas Eve. When we did go to visit with family on Christmas Day it would only be long enough to have a drink (yes, they knowingly contributed to the situation by offering him a drink "because it was Christmas") and then we'd be hurried out the door. After a few visits he'd be lit up, we'd return home, and my mom would end up the target of his drunken rage. Again.

I wish I'd had a Normal Rockwell, Donna Reed, or Ozzie and Harriet family, but that was not the case. No, we were a dysfunctional family with lots of warts and thorns in our makeup. It's a tough call when recording one's family history to decide what to include and what to omit. I was always told not to speak ill of the dead. And maybe I shouldn't be writing about my dad this way. But on the other hand, maybe someday my children will read this and gain some insight. Maybe there's someone out there reading this right now who has a drinking problem and will realize how their drinking impacts their family and how their ugliness will be remembered.

I'm not bitter about my dad's drinking and his violence against my mom. Perhaps I should be but I've long ago forgiven him. Now I try to remember only the good times and for the most part I'm successful. It serves no purpose to taint my current Christmas spirit by dwelling on the dark side of my childhood Christmases. I'll pray for peace on earth and hope that no family will have to face the ugliness of fear and violence in their own home at Christmas.

May your home be blessed with joy and happiness and be violence-free this holiday season.

[The Advent calendar number graphic used in this post was created by NicNic at the NBK blog.]