For the last six years, Christmas has been a looming black fog, an ominous two month event I must endure. From the moment Halloween decorations are replaced with Christmas ones, it begins as a sinking feeling in my gut. All the symbols that once meant so much and brought me so much joy, now serve as an extended reminder of everything my ex-wife stole from me seven years ago when she chose December 25 as the day to tell me she wanted a divorce. She and I both knew our marriage was over well before then, but the way she went about it, that level of a betrayal, left a deep scar that I get to relive every year.
The betrayal on that magnitude is what gets to me. While I may not have been the perfect husband, I never did anything to warrant such viciousness. I didn’t cheat, wasn’t abusive, didn’t spend all my free time with my friends, and didn’t drink or use drugs. I always held a job, usually two, provided to the best of my ability, spent quality time with my children, and sacrificed more than I can ever express to live up to my responsibilities. I had stood by her through years of fertility treatments and gave as much as I had to give to the marriage up until the last year or so. I freely admit that during the last year, I gave up and stopped trying to please her because I had grown to accept that nothing I could do would ever be enough.
I was in the floor with my sons, playing with their Christmas toys when she came out of the bedroom and told me that we needed to talk. It took her an hour of beating around the bush to get to the point; for a solid hour she hemmed and hawed and worked up the courage to tell me that she wanted to move to Florida to be with a man she had been friends with for years. I later learned that she had lied to me about the nature of their “friendship” for virtually our entire relationship. In the bedroom closet, I found countless cards and love letters and notes that he had sent her over the years. I also found countless places where she had sat and written his name over and over and over in notepads. However, even those added layers of betrayal pale beside the choice of Christmas as the day.
I’ll write another night about the kids and why I allowed her to take them to Florida. For this entry, I just want to write about the holidays and how I’m trying desperately to reclaim them as something new. But it’s so hard. Christmas had always been a big deal for the two of us. We had so many traditions that meant so much to me on a deeply personal level. Every year, I read aloud How the Grinch Stole Christmas and sang Christmas songs. Only in the last year or so have I been able to sing Rudolph to my kids again. Every year, we watched It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Story, neither of which I’ve seen since. Now, all of those things and trees and lights and ornaments and all of it seem like gilded lies.
That suckerpunch on Christmas morning was a harsh blow, and today, she likes to act like I should just forget and forgive because she has said she’s sorry a couple of times. No apologies will ever give me back the holiday spirit that was snuffed out that day. No apologies will ever give me back the years of being Santa for my sons. No apologies will ever give me back all the time with them I’ve lost and all the firsts that I missed. Only fathers who have experienced it firsthand can understand just how deep and painful those wounds are, and only parents who have lost Christmases with their young children can relate to those wounds.
It would have been easy for me to use that suckerpunch as an excuse to give up trying. Few would have blamed me. But that’s not my nature. Even now, with this neurological disease crippling my body, I refuse to quit. My whole life has been dedicated to the ideas that dreams are worth pursuing and that persistence is the key to success. If I ever give up on those notions, my life will have been in vain, so no matter how much physical and emotional pain I have to endure, I will forge ahead because my sons deserve that example to follow. This year, I will grit my teeth and get through these holidays and get through not having time with my boys because of this illness. It will hurt, and I will probably shed more than a few tears over it, but I will get up again. I will press on. And maybe next year, the holidays won’t sting as bad.