Last week, The Oregonian published a story describing the growing number of people who were tuning to the Hallmark holiday series, in many cases trying to escape from the news of the day. We live in unsettling times and as the holiday season moves into full swing, it is important we find sources of reflection and comfort that remind us of the true joys of this magical time.
I love that old Hallmark ad where the farmer dons a wool coat, puts on his gloves and boots, picks up his lantern and trudges through the snow to the top of a special hill where he stands looking wondrously at the clear winter sky and watches Christmas Eve fold into Christmas morning. There is no doubt this is a tradition he has maintained for several decades.
Just before the transition takes place, he reaches into the pocket of his coat and brings out a card written to him by a daughter who lives far enough away that on this night, she is not able to share the moment in person with her father. It is apparent that on many such previous occasions, however, she was with him for this magical moment and she reminds him in writing that while she cannot be standing beside him on the hilltop, she is still there in spirit and in memory.
His face becomes a mixture of reflection and guarded emotion.
Oh, I know it’s only an advertisement, but Hallmark has a way of capturing the moment and while their programming for their special movies is superb, it’s their ads that I find the most intriguing. The formula for their movies is also pretty predictable but it doesn’t stop them from being a marvelous escape.
Somehow, they know what moves us.
Dads are the members of the family whose emotions are expected to remain somewhere on a shelf. It’s all about the “guy thing.”
In the case of sons, there are male outlets that, while not classified as emotional experiences, are macho events that are physically manifested in things like hunting, fishing, attending sports events, chasing cows, watching Monday Night Football or a host of other similar activities. When it comes to those sweet young girls who are now wives and mothers or on the verge, well, we don’t know exactly where we fit in anymore. For dads who have daughters who have now grown up, moved away and started families and lives of their own, our opportunities to bond are more limited.
When I first wrote this column, my own two daughters were in their 30s and I was blessed with a new generation who were 7 and 4 at the time. Now, that 7 year old is only months away from high school graduation.
When I first wrote, I talked about my daughters as the same young ladies who, just a few years ago, were happy to sit on our laps, beg us to take them shopping because they knew dad was a little looser with the wallet, or stand awkwardly in the living room while a shaking young 16-year-old tried to pin on a corsage as we snapped multiple photos.
Ten years ago I was comforted by the fact they had provided me with little ones who were only too happy to sit on my lap, listen to stories and be reminded the old guy they call papa actually once looked like their own dad, amazing as the concept might seem. These same little ones looked through old pictures that provided evidence there was once a lot less of papa except on top where once upon a time he had hair.
As they transition to adulthood, these girls become a new source of pride in other ways as they increasingly take on important professional and leadership roles in the communities to which they have migrated. That phenomenon, perhaps, makes the equation even a little more confusing.
Christmas is just a few days away and dads all over Eastern Oregon will be having another chance to spend a few hours or a few days with those little girls.
Sadly, like the lonely farmer who walks solo to the top of the hill, some only will be able to talk by phone or read a message. In other cases, there might be a chance to travel across the country to join them.
In all cases, they will be in our hearts.
Many of us grew up in an age when communication meant writing and we still have the cards those little girls made for us on special occasions. Many of us also have letters and cards sent by special people in our lives who are now only a memory.
My two daughters and my two granddaughters live not far away and we will be together for part of the holidays, although we now share them with other families.
As their father and grandfather, I’m not exactly sure what the equation is supposed to look like now that they are in their 40s and late teens, but somehow the Christmas season always serves as a reminder of the joy they have provided throughout each transition in their life and mine.
And I can’t think of a more meaningful gift to reflect upon.
George Murdock is a Umatilla County Commissioner.