by Bob Lupton
"Christmas again. Damn!” His words are barely audible, but his wife knows his feelings well. She sees the hurt in his eyes when the kids come home from school talking about what they want for Christmas. It is the same expression she sees on the faces of other unemployed fathers around the ’hood.
She knows this year will be no different from the last. All her husband’s hustle, his day-labor jobs, his pickup work will not be enough to put presents under the tree. They will do well to keep the heat on. His confident, promising deceptions allow the children the luxury of their dreams a while longer. She will cover for him again because she knows he is a good man. His lies are his wishes, his flawed attempts to shield his children from discovering what the older ones know but never admit: the gifts are not from Daddy.
He will not go with her to stand in the “free toy” lines with all the others. He cannot bring himself to do it. It is too stark a reminder of his own impotence. And if their home is blessed again this year with a visit from a Christian family bearing beautifully wrapped presents for the kids, he will stay in the bedroom until they are gone. He will leave the smiling and the graciousness to his wife. His joy for the children will be genuine. But so is the heavy ache in his stomach as his image of himself as a provider is dealt another blow.
Christmas. That wonderful, awful time when giving hearts glow warm while the fading embers of a poor man's pride are doused cold.
I wrote this reflection just after the first Christmas we had moved into the inner-city. And just after I had spent a lot of energy matching up generous friends from around the city with needy kids that would not be getting anything for Christmas. “Adopt-a-family” I called it. “Adopting” families would go shopping and then deliver their beautifully wrapped presents to the homes of children in my inner-city neighborhood. I had organized this program for several Christmases and felt very good about it. Until, for the first time as a neighbor, I was actually present in the homes of some of the recipient families when the gift-bearing families arrived. That’s when I saw the hurt in the eyes of parents who were unable to provide for their own children. That was also the last Christmas we ever did our “Adopt-a-family” program.
The following Christmas we initiated “Dignity for Dads” (that later became “Pride for Parents”). Instead of giving toys to the children (which exposed their parent’s impotence), we opened The Christmas Store where their parents could purchase the toys they knew would delight their children at greatly reduced prices. Then on Christmas morning, parents in our community could experience the same delight that most parents in our society enjoy – seeing their children open gifts they selected and purchased through the efforts of their own hands.
And there was dignity in the process of exchange. If need, unemployed parents could work in the store to earn money to buy gifts for their children. This arrangement meant everyone could enjoy the excitement of finding and purchasing bargains. The proceeds from toy sales then went to create an employment training program to enable unemployed parents to enter the job market.
“Pride for Parents” has become the highlight of the Christmas season in our community. It is not only a joyful, dignity-enhancing experience for our neighbors. It is also an opportunity for our supportive friends to participate in the richness of Christmas sharing with the assurance that their giving is strengthening, rather than undermining, struggling parents. I invite you to join with us in the celebration.
With warm and grateful wishes,
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