I had not seen my father for a number of years. There had been an acrimonious divorce. "Acrimonious" is an understatement. The five children, ranging in age from 13 to 19 at the start of the break-up, had mostly suffered in different ways. The eldest, a boy, always the good son, tried the best to walk the line equally between our parents. The next one, a girl, seemed most aligned with our mother but played our father well enough to suffer few recriminations from him. The next, a boy, seemed somewhat removed from both, but still managed to walk the line. The last, a boy, sacrificed much to ensure our father remained, while still unhappy, at least alive.
I was the fourth child, 15 at the start. By the time of my 16th birthday, I was done with my father. For too many reasons to go into, I no longer had anything to do with him. I lived with my mother and refused to see him. He would make threatening calls from time to time, when my youngest brother was not around and my father was able to drink to his heart's content. He said cruel things. He said scary things. And I dealt the same. "Right back at ya, Dad," I'd say in the teen-speak of the day.
Somewhere along the line, several years later, while I was away at college, we managed to reach across the miles -- the very safe miles, thank you -- and start, first, an exchange of letters, then phone calls, and, finally, a visit of two hours long my senior year of college. A negotiated peace of sorts, I suppose.
But when the offer to fly to California for Christmas arose, I was not looking forward to it. Too many of my siblings I did not like. Too fearful of him. In the end, I went, dragging a close friend with me for part of it.
Gradually, I needed fewer and fewer buffers around when he was near me. By the time my friend flew home, I was all right alone with my family, sans my mother, of course. I tread carefully the entire time. I helped around the house, I helped with the cooking, and I took interest in his stepson and, to a lesser extent, his visiting stepdaughter. For all my overtures, my stepmother was appreciative and we got along famously.
By no means was this my favorite Christmas. In fact, I'd have to say nearly ever Christmas before and nearly every Christmas after tops this one. So why is it that Christmas of 25 years ago that comes to mind? Because it was at that Christmas that I was able to forgive it all, that I was able to let go and be at peace. Peace at Christmas, that's what I remember.