It’s Christmas Eve. 2:45 pm. I just finished watching A Charlie Brown Christmas with my three daughters and son-in-law, and the dog and cat. Now the humans have gone out and I’m sitting here in my recliner, surrounding by brightly colored wrapping paper, bows and bulbs, and Quality Street chocolates.
I finished most of the gift wrapping last night, but still have all the stocking stuffers to wrap and to later slip them in beside the ones Santa will bring. We’ll all be heading out to church in a few hours, and then there are cinnamon buns to make. A lot of work too, but one of my favorite Christmas traditions.
We won’t talk about the cleaning.
This is my eleventh Christmas as a single Dad. I’ve never written or talked about it much at all, although a few people close to me would probably say I never stop. As far as single parents go, I am certainly blessed beyond measure. At least two and often three of my daughters are here pretty much every day, and I have wonderfully close relationships with each of them. Even if nothing else was going well, that alone would make everything all right. The dog and cat even seem to like me most of the time.
The rest of my life is very good too. My work as a marketing consultant has allowed me to meet some great companies and incredibly nice people. I call some of them “friends” as much as I do “clients.” If I could pick any job in the entire world, I’d pick this one… although being a surgeon would be cool. Or maybe a guitarist.
I never imagined I’d be a parent all on my own. It wasn’t something I ever planned for, and definitely wasn’t something I wanted. The first couple of years were absolutely overwhelming. I spent so much time just hanging from the brink as I tried to learn how to cook and be a full-time Dad to three girls moving into their teen years, dealing with situations I had no idea how to face, while also trying to be the best consultant I could be. I missed having a spouse there beside me to face each day’s new territory together. I remember being surprised how much I missed having someone to just flop down on the sofa with me at the end of the day, to talk out what had happened that day and what went right and what went wrong, and how to do things differently next time. When you’re on your own, you’re really on your own.
Several times, when things got completely overwhelming, I called other parents and asked for tips. Some of them I knew really well; but some were no doubt surprised I’d called them. We had probably hardly even talked much before. I just saw them as great parents, and people who were very much my role models. One night, after a particularly exhausting day, I was near despair and feeling like I had absolutely no strength left to face the next day. I called one super couple from my church. They had two kids around my daughters’ ages who were absolutely fantastic, and the parents were the sort of parents I desperately wanted to be. So I just called and asked if I could come over to talk with them.
They were kind enough to say yes, and so for the next two and a half hours, until midnight or so, I sat in their home and shared and listened and learned. I said thanks as profusely as I could as I left, but it still didn’t capture how much I truly appreciated their kindness. I think they saved my life that night, or at least my sanity. To clarify, I wouldn’t have done anything to end my life, but had gotten to the point where an aneurysm or spontaneous combustion was coming any minute. That couple, and others like them, gave me the strength to keep moving on.
My clients and associates also were especially fabulous during those first few years. There were times when I knew I wasn’t in top form, and my head and heart were just not responding no matter how hard I tried to focus. They stuck with me and showed tremendous support on the days I couldn’t remember my name, and in return I went out of my way to deliver above and beyond on the days when I was indeed the consultant I wanted to be.
A decade goes incredibly quickly, and now here I am on Christmas Eve with three young ladies where there were once little girls, and a Doberman where there once was a German Shepherd pup. I still haven’t figured that transition out. Life is generally very, very good, although there are certainly still times when I wish I were wiser and two rather than one. Most days I’m pretty in control, but sometimes, like this Christmas, I’m reminded how much I’m still very much just me. Life is not what I want it to be in many ways, but I am so blessed compared to some others I know. I know that, and I try very hard to never complain.
Still, if you know a single parent — even one who seems to be very happy and doing incredibly well — my Christmas wish is that you’d take just a few minutes to ask how they’re doing, and remind them they’re not alone. Maybe send over a meal, or invite them out for a coffee. You might be surprised at the difference a few minutes of your time can make in their lives. You might stop a spontaneous combustion, or at the very least, bring a smile to a face that hadn’t known one all day.
And if you’re a single parent, hang in there, and don’t be afraid to reach out to someone you know in a local church or with family or friends. I have heard it said many times that Christmas is one of the most depressing times of the year for people who are on their own. It hasn’t been as bad for me, but I do know all too well how brightly those colored lights illuminate the empty half of the sofa.
Merry Christmas, single moms and single dads. It still gets lonely this time of year, but it does get better. And even better again.