Father Christmas

by Kaye Barrett

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    When the bishop asked him to play Santa, Dad was rude. It would take a miracle to get him back to church. Then someone slipped an envelope under our door.

    He was a mean, gruff man. Every word that came out of his mouth was angry and sharp. His words always dug into us. He was mad at the world, mad at life, mad at God.

    We hoped that the Christmas spirit would flicker in his soul. But, as with the rest of his dreams that year, the candle was being snuffed out.

    Oh, he hadn’t always been that way. He used to be loving and funny. He had a quick wit. That disappeared when he stopped going to church.

    I can’t remember when my dad became mean and gruff. It happened gradually. He sort of shifted that way like sand.

    Mom and I are regular churchgoers. Maybe that’s why we can deal with anger so well. We know God loves us. We know that he loves Dad too. Though I guess it’s sometimes hard even for Him.

    Dad was a big man. The kind that could play Santa Claus without the pillows. The bishop must have thought so too because he marched right over to our house after church and asked Dad to play Santa Claus that year.

    Has he lost his marbles? I thought. Who’d want a Santa that would yell at the kids?

    Dad thought it was just silly so he laughed sarcastically. I heard bitterness in his voice as he said, “Inactive for years—now he’s giving me a job that I don’t need any brains to do.”

    The bishop stared and so did I. He should have known, I thought to myself.

    “You think it over, Brother Henderson,” the bishop said and made a speedy exit. Dad just grunted and turned on his noisy TV.

    “Think it over all right,” I complained to Mom later. “He wants a miracle.” I was disgusted with the whole thing by now. “Dad will never do it.”

    Mom just stood there listening. She was a quiet person—the type that would take lots from Dad and never say very much. The type that sat alone in church every Sunday while I sat with my friends. The type that taught a rambunctious Primary class and smiled.

    “We mustn’t give up, Andi. There’s a part of him that someone still might reach,” Mom said. Here was a woman who hadn’t heard a home teaching message for years because Dad refused, and she was telling me about miracles.

    “Hogwash!” I answered. I hurried out the door to catch a movie.

    I suppose that I should have been more understanding of Dad. After all, his business had been ruined. He had lost everything when his store burned down. We had lived on borrowed money until he could rebuild. He must have felt defeated. I guess that’s why he wasn’t going to play Santa—mainly because he had stopped believing there was one. He had stopped believing in himself. He just sat there in his chair watching television reruns. I sometimes thought he didn’t really watch them. Maybe it was just there to keep him from thinking or hurting. I was beginning to think that no one could help him. But there was Brother Darrin.

    Brother Darrin was our long-suffering home teacher. He came every month. He always acted like he expected Dad to let him give a lesson. Brother Darrin was short and thin and soft spoken. Dad couldn’t wait to give him a hard time. The teachers quorum had to draw straws to see who would come with poor Brother Darrin. Dad had scared them all, one by one. But through it all, Brother Darrin was persistent.

    I listened just to see how Brother Darrin would sneak the gospel in. One minute he and Dad would be talking about fishing, and Brother Darrin would put in loaves and fishes before Dad could get his next word out. The strangest thing was that Dad liked Brother Darrin.

    I knew that Brother Darrin must have said his prayers the week before the Christmas party because he was starting out rather boldly. “Brother Henderson, do you believe in miracles?” I just gulped and pretended to be a fly on the ceiling. I knew Dad was going to explode. When I finally started to breathe again, I heard Dad say, “No, not anymore.” The silence hung heavy in the air.

    Brother Darrin continued, “Well, I do, Brother Henderson. I’ll see you at the Christmas party.” He added quickly—“in a Santa suit.” Out he went, leaving Dad to glare at Mom and me as if it were our fault. He got up and turned on the TV.

    “Doesn’t even faze him,” I whispered to Mom. “He’s as hard as an old rusty nail.” That time I said it pretty loud.

    I soon learned from Tricia Darrin that her father had been fasting and praying for Dad. “Won’t help,” I promptly informed her. “Tell him to stop before he gets anorexia.”

    She giggled for a minute. “He’s serious, Andi.”

    As I knelt to say my prayers that night, I found myself thanking Heavenly Father for a dedicated home teacher. I even began begging to somehow get my dad back to church even if it was just to the cultural hall to play Santa.

    The night of the Christmas party finally arrived. Mom and I carried our fruitcakes to the car as usual. When we came back in the house, Dad was in his chair watching television. “Good-bye, we’re leaving,” we announced. He grunted a good-bye without even looking up. Suddenly an envelope slid under the door. I handed it to Dad since it had his name printed on the front. We left feeling empty and downhearted. I knew Mom felt worse than I did because she started to hum. Humming usually meant tears.

    We went to the program and watched the Primary act out the Nativity, including a sheep that fell off the stage during the big scene.

    We tried not to think of Dad sitting in front of the TV when he should be here with us. Across the aisle was Brother Darrin.

    Soon the big announcement came for Santa. The air filled with anticipation. “Wonder who they got?” I asked Mom. She just answered, “Some unfortunate stand-in.”

    “Ho ho ho!” the shouts soon resounded in the hall. The children started to squeal in joy. The jolly Santa sounded familiar, like a sound that I had heard long ago. As I turned I gasped, for I couldn’t believe my eyes. Mom must have turned about the same time.

    “Dad,” I said in a strange voice.

    “It’s a miracle,” said Mom. Her voice was strange too. Her eyes were swimming in a pool of green. I looked over at Brother Darrin. He just winked and smiled.

    Mom went up and got in line to sit on Santa’s lap. “Hi, good looking,” he said to her. “I think I know what you’d like for Christmas.” By this time her tears were spilling over into his glued on beard. “You’d like your husband to come back to church.” She just nodded and cried. “I think Old Santa can arrange that.” He gave her a quick kiss, “Move along, kid. Santa’s got others to see.”

    I’ve never seen Mom look so happy, nor the bishop and Brother Darrin for that matter. They all looked like they swallowed chocolate-covered ice cream and it tasted sweet.

    I couldn’t understand miracles right then, but I remembered the note that came under the door. I decided that it must have had something to do with it. I ran the whole block home just to read it. What it said shocked me. Scribbled in uneven handwriting were the words:

    Dear Brother Henderson:

    I believe in you and I love you.

    Brother Darrin

    I guess that’s why it was the best Christmas ever. Dad thought so too. He’s now the second counselor in the bishopric, and that, he says ironically, is a job that nobody should have, not even Santa Claus. Secretly he loves it—just ask Mom. Too bad she still has to sit alone in church. Now, though, she probably doesn’t mind so much.

    Lettering by James Fedor

    Photography by Welden Andersen