At RevGals this morning the Friday Five asks about the family traditions of Christmas, particularly as they pertain to the necessary adjustments when families begin to take new shape through losses and additions. Except for one, I find that I can't really answer the questions posed because they simply don't pertain to my/our new reality. That doesn't mean that the "five" hasn't spurred a whole lot of reflection. If anything, it has spurred perhaps a bit more than I would like to consider.
The gist of it is this. Our general experience--that of my husband and me--is that Christmas tends to happen without us. It is problematic that we don't live near any of our family, but that seems to underscore an emotional reality. When we are able to enjoy holiday time with our daughter or son and their respective families we are accommodated. We have never been invited to join either for Christmas Day. Some years we have managed celebrations before or after, but the heart of the day has never included us.
This isn't uncommon for divorced fathers, even when geography isn't an issue. When I was growing up my parents divorced when I was 13, and with rare exceptions Christmas Day was celebrated in the home of my mother. Even when Mom remarried and moved to another state, my brothers and I trekked to her abode, relegating my father to second-class status. This happened for all kinds of practical and noble reasons, but it was perpetuated because my brothers and I made the convenient, self-justified choice of keeping my father second. Through those years my father enjoyed being part of the lives of the families of the women with whom he shared his heart, and I like to believe that those bonds offered balm for his battered family soul. The truth includes the reality that we never put him first.
I have no children to bring to the present equation. My husband's family is now mine, so I am experiencing his place in the equation as my own. As he laments being "the hind tit" in the life of his children (his words) I feel a double dose of pain--his, as well as mine. Add to that my own, later-in-life perspective and new empathy for my father's experience, and regret taints the mix. What was once my favorite holiday has become a source of deep pain and longing for inclusion. We have few friends who might embrace us, taking the edge off the isolation we feel, and so we muddle through.
I wage a debate within myself about speaking up, of being honest about feelings. The one time my father shared his feelings with us was on the occasion of my mother's remarriage. Still carrying a torch for my mother he lambasted us for not considering how the day affected him and showing some sympathy for him. I seem to recall that my brothers were dismissive of his tirade, and frankly I don't remember how I responded to him. During a recent conversation with my daughter-in-law about managing the "family juggle" I mentioned that they hadn't been to see us since they were married three and half years ago. She acknowledged that truth with silence, a far better response than excuses or empty promises about different patterns in the future.
Somewhere in the mix we hold a share of responsibility in how this plays out--family dynamics are a reflection of all the players in the pool. I suspect we all lack the courage to face and address whatever hurts lie beneath, or attempt to clear the clouded air that perceptions, accurate or otherwise, have created. Somehow or other we haven't learned how to love adequately, either, so that respecting the dignity of each others feelings can be something that is honored and cherished, rather than held hostage (which is sometimes how it feels).
I don't have answers, but I do know that honesty and effort need to be part of whatever will help move us through our present experience of feeling marginalized. Most importantly, love will need to lead the way. For that, I pray.