The Goddess Speaks

By Jennifer Hale

Tuesday, December 21, 1999

Memories of
father Christmas

I miss my Dad at Christmas more than any other time of year. It's been 18-1/2 years since he died and I've had plenty of wonderful holidays since he's been gone, but when December rolls around and the countdown to Christmas begins, I think of him more often and the healed over break in my heart aches just a little more.

It may be because he believed in the goodness of human nature, and the warmth, kindness and forgiveness of the season restored his faith in mankind. But I think it's mostly because he was the best Santa Claus I've ever seen.

I don't mean he looked or acted like Santa, in fact, quite the opposite. And I don't mean he was a hired Santa at a department store or mall. He was, however, renowned for his portrayal. He owned a Santa costume and when called upon to reprise the role each year, he took the job seriously.

It was a calling for him - a gift. And he was happy to share it. He started with visits to our family home each Christmas Eve. But his reputation grew and he played Santa in many venues, including my grade school, where he tirelessly visited with each child in each classroom on the last day of school before Christmas vacation.

Being the youngest child in my family, I learned early from my always eager-to-inform older sib- lings the truth about Santa Claus. But knowing it was Dad never diminished the magic for me.

Each Christmas Eve, sometime after dinner, Dad would conspicuously stretch his arms and yawn a big yawn and explain loudly with a twinkle in his eye how exhausted he was and how he going to take a nap. No matter how vigilantly I guarded my parents' bedroom door, in a little while the doorbell would ring and in would walk Santa with a huge "Ho Ho Ho! Merry Christmas!!"

EACH of the four children would take turns sitting on his lap to discuss whether we'd been good and what we were hoping to find under the tree the next morning.

I used to think all dads dressed up as Santa and paid visits to their families on Christmas Eve. One year I remember peering out our entry hall windows certain I would see one or two Santas walking down the street on their way to visit their families. But somewhere along the way I realized his talent was unique.

And once Dad was in the costume, he never broke character. One December, my sister Beverly brought a new boyfriend home to introduce him to our parents. Dad had an engagement at the local kindergarten and came down the stairs in full Santa costume. "Hello there, Mike! And what would you like for Christmas?" he bellowed.

Much to the young man's credit he didn't miss a beat and said to my sister, "You never told me what your father did for a living."

The thing is, Dad was not a silly man. No one would ever have described him as "the life of the party." He was a serious man who thought serious thoughts. He didn't do voices, make funny faces or tell jokes regularly. He had a dry sense of humor I only began to appreciate before he died.

But inside this quiet, serious attorney was Santa Claus. A jolly, loud, boisterous Santa whose "Ho Ho Ho" is the standard by which I compare all others.

In his everyday life, my father taught me the most important lessons: to be honest, to have integrity, that virtue was it's own reward and to be responsible toward my fellow man. But each Christmas, through his transformation into Santa Claus, he taught me to believe in magic.

Jennifer Balch Hale is a mother of one who has lived
in Hawaii for four out of the last eight years. She will be celebrating
a white Christmas in her home state of Michigan.

The Goddess Speaks runs every Tuesday
and is a column by and about women, our strengths, weaknesses,
quirks and quandaries. If you have something to say, write it and
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