And so this is Christmas

And so this is Christmas
And what have you done?
Another year older
And a new one just begun.

Happy Christmas (War Is Over) – John Lennon

This isn’t going to be one of those funny, heartwarming Christmas blogs. This one won’t put the fun in dysfunctional. This one’s pretty much all dysfunctional. So, if you’re looking for funny, if you’re looking for heartwarming, look elsewhere.

Every Christmas is a struggle for me. I have a family that loves it. The Girl will start looking forward to Christmas carols as early as July, and the second Halloween passes, she’s playing them. The Wife spends hours making the house look beautiful and Christmas-y, warm and inviting. The Boy starts throwing out hints for gifts as early as October.

Bauble On Christmas Tree Background by Petr Kratochvil

And then there’s me. I tend to try and shy away from the season as much as possible. Every year it’s a struggle to get me to decorate the outside of the house. It’s not that I hate Christmas, though that’ll always be my pat answer to anyone that asks. No, it’s just that I absolutely want to avoid it with all my soul.

When I was a kid, I loved Christmas. Even when there wasn’t much under it, I didn’t care. It was just a wonderful time full of anticipation and wonder. The world was white, perfect for showing off all those lights and decorations. The smells of the food that would be prepared days in advance would drive me crazy. Family was always stopping by, or we were visiting.

Christmas Tree Lights Effect by David Wagner

Christmas Tree Lights Effect by David Wagner

Maybe this all started the year my mother and step-father broke up. Because it happened Christmas day.

Or maybe it started the year after, when my mother was alone, and none of us had any money for gifts. But still, we were together.

Even if it was then, I should have gotten over all that in the years since, when I got married and had children of my own. And for a time, I must admit, it abated somewhat. It never went away, but it lessened for a while, this desire to avoid it all.

God knows my in-laws make it amazing. My father and mother-in-law are absolutely amazing, and every year, they come over Christmas morning for a big breakfast. Then we all head over to the Wife’s sister’s place where she and her husband put on a ridiculously amazing Christmas dinner. All of the Wife’s family is there, including all our nieces.  There’s always a lot of laughter and fun.

Yet still, for all of that, in the back of my mind, a big part of me just wants to go home and avoid it all.

I love the family I married into. I couldn’t have found a more amazing group of people. They’re funny, supportive and they treat me as their own. And our friends always make it better too. Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve wouldn’t be the same without the Hickey family. There’s no one like them and I’m thankful for their friendship and love and support every day of the year.

I have other friends that know what I’ve gone through and are always there to talk me through it.

And maybe that’s it.  Maybe it’s the fact that, because my mother has never accepted my wife, she is no longer welcome in my home. Maybe it’s because my brother can’t be trusted with anything. He made the choice a long time ago to not act as a brother would. Maybe it’s because I haven’t really talked to my sister in almost three decades because she made the choice to live in a paranoid wonderland of hate and poverty. Maybe it’s partly due to knowing I have this other group of nieces and nephews…Todd, Tabitha, Ryan, Kelly, Buddy, Genevieve…probably even more that I don’t know about…all these people that I last saw as young children that are now all adults…and I know nothing about them. I haven’t seen any of them in far too long.

My brother and sister I’m done with. My mother I’ll visit at times during the holidays, to be served up the usual helping of guilt and sadness. It’s something I refuse to subject my family to anymore. So I guess I’m part shield, part martyr in that respect. But I do it to protect them. I’m sure the rest of my family has heard a startlingly different view of this and view me as the asshole with a bitch for a wife. I’m past caring about that, to be honest. If I’ve learned nothing else, I’ve learned people will think what they want and I’ll have little control over it. The ones who have taken the time to know both myself and my wife know the truth.

Anyway, back to Christmas.

Maybe I’m being selfish. I have all the family that anyone could want. And I feel extremely selfish for wanting someone from my side of the family to treat me that same way, to give me that same courtesy that these other people–people who didn’t know me half as long as my family have–show me. I feel selfish because I already have more than most.

So, as I attend all these Christmas functions, there always seems to be this black hole that sucks and pulls at me. It shouldn’t be there, I shouldn’t give it that power. I know I should turn away from it and look at all I have and how incredibly lucky I am.

But I can’t help feeling like an orphan at this time of year.


So for any of you that know me, please don’t ever shy away from wishing me a Merry Christmas. Just understand that I may not wish it back with the same level of passion. This is the time of the year when those cracks in my own family have the most light shone on them. The time when, at least for me, they become most obvious.

And so this is Christmas.

19 thoughts on “And so this is Christmas

  1. Tobin…here come the cliches…ready? You can’t pick your family, but you can pick your friends; what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger; count your blessings; just because they’re your family, doesn’t mean you have to like them….there are more but do we really need to go through them all? Na…

    My dear cousin. I hear your anguish and I sympathize with you 100%. Our family is a poster family for dysfunctional…but you know what? YOU and I are awesome! We survived it. We have the wounds to prove it and we are still here and pretty fricken amazing people. Can you believe that? I know it’s sad. How can it not be? So much pain and sorrow and loss. So much guilt and rage and blame. Yet, we rose above all of it and we have triumped.

    Do you need proof? Look at your family. You have an amazing wife (screw your mother) and fantastic children. You have friends that you can count on and who love you as you are. You may not see your extended family much (except at funerals it seems), but there are members of this family that think you are an incredible human being (yes, that would be me). You’re funny, talented, giving and kind. You are responsible and devoted and loyal.

    Your sister and brother? I have them too….and I am eternally grateful that I am ME and not them! The crazy train ran right through that bunch and skipped you/me…be grateful for that.

    Christmas might not mean the same to us as it does to others, but find the silver lining (or tinsel) in the small wonders of life my dear, wonderful cousin and it will be Christmas everyday for you!

    I love you.

  2. From where I stand, you as a mature adult drew a line in the sand for survival. It’s the line in the sand you wish you could have etched into past relationships to keep from being hurt as a kid. But a kid doesn’t know that, and as much as you want to believe you’ve moved on, it’s that kid at Christmastime that wells up out of the black hole every year. Partly angry, feeling cheated, shielding himself from being disappointed again, preferring to pass up on the hoopla because you’re afraid it’s all a mirage, a hoax, a cruel joke, or feeling inadequate that you aren’t channelling the Griswold Christmas spirit.

    I know how much you love Sandy and the kids, and it appears you’ve found a home in the hearts of her family too. But all their inclusion can’t stop the lonely, disappointed, fearful kid from worrying that nothing he does will make Christmas happy time without a normalcy you dreamed of as a kid, but could not achieve with a dysfunctional family.

    You have an empathetic Sandra-the-cuz who gets you (and there are probably more of them out there). That’s a bonus. You can’t save everyone in your past who for reasons beyond your control lost their way. But Christmas is a good time to poke into the dustbin and pull out the good times. I admire you for visiting your mother. She was probably a victim of dysfunction and sadly never learned the skills you did to overcome, and never saw the value of seeing her son thrive with a supportive wife and family. It’s just sad, Tobin and you have a right to own that and keep it in perspective.

    So my armchair psychology may be off the mark, but my intention is to wish you a Merry Christmas, celebrating in the best way you can to make it a happy time for yourself and those around you. You’re allowed to have quiet times, sad times and regretful times now because your family understands where you’re coming from.

    • Actually, Mary, you’re pretty close to the mark, to be honest. And Sandra, yeah, you’re right too.

      As I said in the blog, I do have an awesome circle of friends and family (and an odd cousin or two…) who obviously care about and care for me. Thanks to both of you.

      Oh, and Mary, I don’t know what this mental block is with you and my wife’s name…Karen…not Sandy. I laugh every time you write it.

    • I think you’ve hit on something critical here; Christmas is essentially a kid’s holiday, and as such it’s about inducing wonderment. So Mary’s observation that the child’s identity comes forward at that time seems resonant.

  3. Tobin, I know you were blessed with an amazing wife and two kids to allow you to have a functional family life. I am truly impressed with your ability to rise above the conflicts (for lack of a better word). You rock cousin!! Hugs, Cheri

  4. I can empathize Tobin, truly. Ok to degrees and guess at some of what you might feel
    (i am only inputting some thoughts and opinions of what might be, wanted or not and to say Mary said it best and is more apt, kinder and definitely more knowledgeable and probably able to express her thoughts clearer right? lol)
    Perhaps it is a bit of survivors guilt? (Whatever that really means).
    Yep you made it over that boundary on to the other side past dysfunction yet are still touched by it in a deep recess you are unable to purge completely.
    So here you are in the middle of no man’s land, (because sometimes that’s just how it feels) your love, family, friends, dear children on one side of you, standing so very close and strong, beating the proverbial beat to your heart, assured, proud.
    …yet on the other side at a distance stands your other family, your other life, that family that brought you into this world, the one you tried to save or teach once you understood a different way of life, the one who still holds a tremulous side of you that you so hard try to protect and toughen up and say nope. You have worked hard to distance them, to protect others from, to protect yourself from all the crap, past and past, and still ongoing in their life but not yours and no matter what, deep down there is that niggling…what if, family or…they were a part of your life no matter how good or bad.
    Yeah, it’s the child in you, I don’t think we ever lose that part of hurt, that part of what we lived, saw, felt, needed…something dammit.
    I don’t think anyone can ever completely cut family out of their hearts. Life perhaps, but not heart.
    Screw punctuation and grammar, I am not in the mood right now to be diligent to spelling and writing.
    Bottom line, grieve your loss and embrace it without losing sight of what you have and I know you haven’t lost sight of this.
    Hell, not discounting others, but when a parent loses a child, they have this hole, feel the loss and it eases but never goes away, so when you lose a family, a parent, siblings, a life…and you have in a sense lost all these, these are losses, and Christmas is supposed to be about family, loved ones, dear ones…it is a celebration of life…of course you have this hole or darkness, this loss inside you.

    haha not Merry Christmas Tobin…just sing the song of the day, do the tiny dance when it strikes your feet, and smile when hit by the spark. Tinsel is the decoration but you are the tree.

    warm hugs

  5. Hi there. I totally and completely, get where you are coming from. I heard this quote the other day and I think you can relate to it. “A mother can only be as happy, as her unhappiest child”. So true. The children in the family who have made the most noise, caused the most trouble, and continue to demand the most attention through their negligence, lack of remorsefulness will always be the ones that the parents are drawn to and hold the most guilt over. The others who ask for no attention, fly under the radar and live their lives not beholding to their parents will always be judged unfairly. I have lived with it all my life – and now as a grown middle-aged woman I show up for family events, am polite, say little and leave. I refuse get sucked into the dysfunction that is my family as well. You are such a great man Tobin – and have a wonderful life that YOU have created. Not them! Try to enjoy the holiday season. I just want it to be over, quickly.


  6. I understand how you feel. For years my family didn’t get together because it was too painfull to silently share a family tragedy. We were never comfortable in the same room. Re. The wife: I’ve attempted to kill my in-laws with kindness and it didn’t change a thing. I simply represent everything their unable to be. It doesn’t make me feel any better knowing this and I’ve already started grinding my teeth over the thought of Christmas, but you’re not alone 😦

    • Thanks, Paula. Yes, my wife has bent over backwards for my family for the better part of two decades. When she received only scorn and hate for it, I finally said, no more. So, it’s the same situation.

  7. Sorry, KAREN, KAREN, KAREN. I can’t seem to unlock the tiny shift of remembrance. I feel like such a doofus every time I do it. KAREN, I hope you can forgive my senior’s moments (yeah, that’s plural).

  8. I may not be the deepest person around, but if it helps I’d like you to know this; my daughter meet you last Saturday, she said, “He laughs as loud as you do daddy, I like him”.
    Find something in Christmas and keep it for yourself. That’s not selfish.
    You and Karen are making your own traditions, ones your kids will honour, cherish and above all, remember.

    There is such a thing as a fresh start, a clean slate, a blank page.
    Remember, you are not THEM, you are you and that’s all that counts.

    Merry Christmas Tobin.

  9. It’s so inspiring to see all these wonderful responses to my husband and believe me he was not looking for empathy on this post. I think it was more of a therapic post for him.

    I’ve always told Tobin, that family are the people you choose to have in your life, not necessary the people in you blood line.

    I want to thank you all for being a part of my husband’s family.

    The Wife

  10. Pingback: Post-apoc-a-lip-service | My Dysfunctional Life

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