Fathers, Children, and Christmas
Posted on DECEMBER 23, 2013 Written by
This morning I discovered that my most recent novel, “The Christmas Daughter,” is listed in Amazon’s Top 100 Sellers in the categories Family Relationships>Fatherhood, and in Parenting & Relationships>Raising Girls. Before I got too excited I had to remind myself that you don’t have to sell a whole lot of books to get into those categories, but it made me stop and think. It made me think how interesting it is that those two categories even exist as specific categories on Amazon. The book is fiction, of course, the story of a tough-guy loner—a former biker, rock and roll roadie, and cowboy—who suddenly, in his early forties, discovers that he is the father of a twelve-year-old girl by an old girlfriend that he left because of her self-destructive behavior. Now the girlfriend is dying and he has to assume custody of a child that has been sadly neglected, has never been able to trust anyone, and is fearful of everything.
This was a hard story to write not in the least because it contains elements of a couple of real-life situations I was unfortunately familiar with. It has always been my belief that the harder the story is to write, the more it needs to be written. I framed it in a story about Christmas because the girl’s father—a guy who wasn’t real comfortable with his own emotions, let alone those of a young girl—had grown up in a loving family and Christmas was one time when he could allow himself to soften and even be a little sentimental.
Shortly after the book came out I got an email from a reader who said that he loved the book and then he added, “I became a fan of yours after I read the Christmas book you wrote a couple years ago called ‘The Reluctant Belsnickel of Opelt’s Wood.’ I think it is interesting that both of your holiday books are about men forced to become fathers even though they never intended to." I hadn’t thought about it but he made a good point. In my Belsnickel story a single man assumes responsibility for two little boys, whose mother is too young and too self-absorbed to be a good parent. My reader also wrote, “We read so much today about men who abandon women and children or who are abusive toward their families that it is such a relief to read stories about good men who try to do the right thing.” I appreciated that.
After reading his letter I started thinking about how this had happened in my stories—I certainly never intended it to turn out that way, but it also made a strange sort of sense. As I’ve written before on this blog, I am a lover of story-telling, not only because it is great entertainment but also because it is instructive. The stories that endure, the myths and legends that last over time, are the ones that show us truths—truths about humanity and that serve as models of how we can endure and move forward. At this time of year, what story is more enduring and more poignant than that of a man, a good, decent, hard-working man, who finds himself in the position of having to be a father to a child that needs his love and protection, even though the child may not be his own?
Over the years I’ve thought a lot about Joseph, the carpenter from Nazareth. Whether you believe in the story of the Nativity as absolute truth, or as allegory, or as fairy tale, Joseph of Nazareth is an enigmatic figure. We know little about him except that he was the husband of Mary, the mother of Jesus, whose birth is celebrated at Christmas time. We also know that he is, according to the Bible, not the biological father of the baby. Yet, he does his duty and cares for his wife and her child, taking them to Bethlehem when it is required by law, taking the boy to Temple to fulfill the rites of their faith, and raising him to work beside him as a carpenter.
My father was a carpenter and, because we were Catholic, a statue of St. Joseph stood on top of the refrigerator and looked down on us as we ate our meals. My dad had his flaws and failings like a lot of fathers do but he was there. He was the one who used to tell me I was good at telling stories.
“You have a knack for it,” he used to say.
This week is Christmas, and whether you celebrate it as a religious holy day, or a secular holiday, I wish you a wonderful day and that your life will be filled with stories, and that some of those stories are about people who found out that they could be better people than they ever intended to be. Merry Christmas, Happy Holiday, Peace, Love, Stories.