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Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Cheer

A Prayer for Family Togetherness

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. As the Yuletide dawned, two things happened: our married daughter moved in with us to spend the Christmas holiday and together, we went to the airport to receive our younger daughter who came to visit us from New York City. We were a family again, together after long. It is magical: the years drop away and we indulge in the same madness we did years ago when both our daughters lived with us

You say yes, I say no.
You say stop and I say go go go, oh no.
You say goodbye and I say hello
Hello hello
I don't know why you say goodbye, I say hello

For the moment, we’ve said our hellos. We know full well that in a matter of days, it will be time to say goodbye. That is inevitable; what’s important is to stretch the days to enjoy every single moment we spend with our daughters. It isn’t easy because they’re twenty-somethings and strew a few hours around to spend with us. We lap it up and try to make them feel at home with Christmas music, decor and comfort food.

Sometimes I wonder whether ten or 15 years down the line, when we are older, that we can still work the magic for them. These are fleeting thoughts as we try to spend every single moment we can with them. Our love for them is unconditional, not sentimental because we are hugely aware they can be a great pain in the derriere, much as they remind us we can no longer assume they will spend time with us

We take time off from work and bring our social life to a standstill only to find they have their own plans that exclude us totally. Their mother is more sensible about this and while catering to them, she still has her own life. I am a sucker for my daughters and will give up the world to spend a few hours with them and sit on my hands until the next time they deign to spend some with me.

My wife’s approach is a lot more pragmatic. As such, they don’t take her for granted. She makes the most divine food for them which they beg for and lap up. On the other hand, the father has very little to offer. There is a sense of being bereft. When they were younger, I introduced them to the computer, Inspector Clouseau and the music of divinity. I realize with some chagrin, I have very little to offer them now.

It’s easy to get depressed about the situation. But my spirits are uplifted when I listen to them hold forth. They are fearless and opinionated. In those qualities, I see my contribution, especially when it comes to political correctness. But that is hardly the basis of a relationship. We clash increasingly about intellectual issues. They see me as some right wing mastodon.

This is the worst indictment for a liberal soul like me. I wonder if I had been sterner, would my daughters have imbibed the values I hold dear: of dissent and activism? Our daughters are in many ways traditionalist and conservative. The 60s word "groovy" comes to mind; they come unfailingly to midnight mass, for example. They dress for church and ask me to play the wonderful "Jingle Bell Jazz" compact disc through the season. They play in the same groove and seem to resist any change.

In the end, I’m happy we share Christmas together. as a family. Of course, I don't hide and shake a tambourine at midnight to announce the arrival of Santa or leave milk and cookies out for the jolly fellow. Those were magical days when they were still babies; today the charm is about being together.

It is increasingly difficult to believe, as we get older, that things will be the same. They have their own lives now and I'm grateful they find time to spend time with us. They think I'm passe; I think they are uber cool. They have things to do, places to go, people to meet. and as such, less time to spend with me That doesn’t mean they love me less or I them; it is simply an anticipation of the future. Loneliness is writ large on that parchment

When the hurly burly’s done, I will have to look in the mirror and ask myself: were you a good father?

Having said that, it’s Christmas and my immediate goal is enjoy it with my girls in whatever way I can. The music’s on all day at home; the wondrous scent of good food wafts through the house and the togetherness is a great Christmas present. What happens in later years is a cross I must bear on my own. "One" could indeed be a lonely number.

Growing older, or being of “non-traditional age” as a friend’s daughter told me, is to lose hope in the future because of the inevitability of death.. But that's not the point: in the use of that new-fangled phrase, however, our children and their friends firmly place themselves in the "traditional" category. Call it the Woodstock revenge. My Yuletide wish is for the family to be close forever.

Happy Christmas!

Copyright Rajiv Desai 2009