I don't think that a social media presence should be scrubbed clean or saccharine sweet, devoid of all the real life issues that we face.
I mean, this medium is the new norm, and it's an extension of us. I like the idea that someday, if anyone should want to look back on my life, to get a glimpse of who I was as a person, they can look back to things like Facebook, and find pictures, and posts, and my writings.
I try to not write about solely the good things. I find it comical, and equally sad when you see a family post a lovely and loving picture for the holidays, and think to myself,
"They didn't look so happy when they told me they were starting divorce proceedings, and far less happier now that it has gotten bitter, and they're in third round of 'that's yours and this is mine!'"
So who are those pictures for?
It's hard to show your shit though. This I know. However, it can be oddly liberating and cathartic as well. This is something I learned as a teacher. Once, a student asked me, "Mr. McGill, what's the most embarrasing thing that happened to you when you were in school?" to which I replied with a straight face, "I got diarrhea once and pooped my pants in the middle of class." He looked shocked and appalled. Yes, Mr. McGill may look like the coolest guy since Zack Morris, but even I have faced unspeakable embarrassment. That's life kid.
And so, my Christmas was neither amazing or saccharine sweet. Allow me to explain.
I went to Florida to visit my daughters for Christmas. Ugh...Florida is god awful country. I was very fortunate that the weather was stupendous. While I ran around in a hoodie at the coldest point, Floridians ran around in parkas. The second night of my trip, I had a dream that we were in the midst of a second Civil War, and I was a General, riding through the countryside of Florida on the back of a big white horse, throwing ice at Floridians, to which they would cry and admit their surrender to the Union.
Ok, maybe that wasn't a real dream; more like a fantasy, but Floridians have thin blood. God awful country.
And so I traveled to Cocoa, Florida. My original goal was to travel nearer to Thanksgiving, but with my new job and not being able to utilize PTO during my probationary period, it just wasn't possible. Fortunately, I worked on a weekend, which earned me a comp day. I also had a few bucks saved up in the bank (A 3-day trip to visit my daughters hovers around $900) and was able to make the trip.
My daughters, let's call them C. and A., are amazing little people. They're 13. They are beautiful, and interesting. They do well in school, they excel at their hobbies. They're bitchy and catty, and they are snapchat zombies, which horrifies me, but for all intents and purposes, they are average 13 year old kids.
And, they hate me.
Hate is a strong word. And while I'd like to believe I'm being dramatic, they don't both hate me. A. is fairly ambivalent about me for all intents and purposes. C. however, she definitely hates me. You can see it, teeming beneath the surface.
Our relationship has always been tenuous, but I always hoped that as they got older, it would get better. Long story short, I didn't know they existed until they were 3. That was when their mother reached out to me with 2 little girls in tow. The next 3 years were a lot of passive aggressive bullshit, and so it goes. I've had a limited number of years to establish a relationship with them. I've always been a long distance parent to them, which is tough. I'm not there every day, and I don't get to see the little things that make up the totality of a young life. I don't get to offer a daily influence, or have the small, intricate conversations that take days and weeks to hash out, trying not to be overbearing, and allowing them to form their own opinions.
They haven't always lived in Florida. They once lived in Germany. I hate that they no longer speak German. Their mother once talked about moving to Michigan. I think she sensed the joy in my voice, and that thought went away quickly. To call our relationship icy would be an understatement. The word frigid would be too hot. I spent some years trying to improve upon it, but around the time of my sisters death, that went away.
My sister loved her nieces. She would talk to them weekly. Sometimes multiple times a week. As she saw the end drawing near, her desire to meet them in person become more prevalent. I attempted to make that happen, and their mother wasn't going to let that happen. Oh no. I don't think I'll ever be able to forgive.
They've never been to Chicago. They've never met their maternal grandmother. All they know of my city is from my mouth, and pictures, and from their friends, who assure them "you'd never last a day on the streets of Chicago." Now that made me laugh. They might be right.
There were bright moments to my visit for sure. We had a lovely lunch the day I got there, and had great conversation about college (one daughter wants to maybe be a pediatrician, the other wants to be a photographer), and what their dreams are for the future, and boys, and their friends. That was the best day, and the highlight of my visit for sure. We took some selfies together, and I got quite a few hugs. We went to the Christmas Tree Trail at Disney Springs (an hour away) and looked at tons of awesome Christmas trees, heard awesome music,and it snowed a little bit.
The other days were far chillier. The shift was more than a little off-putting, and I wonder what conversations may have been had in the interim.
The second day, C. bailed out on the planned morning outing, so A. and I went to see the Surfing Santas. Now this event is the equivalent of the Chicago Polar Plunge, for sure my kind of Floridians. 6 miles from their home, and my daughters had never been, which irked the fuck out of me. Their mother and I are very different in this regard. She's not an adventurer. The girls were shocked that I would drive an hour just go to "see" something. Cocoa, much like Tishaminga (who caught that reference) is a geographic oddity, in that other than Cocoa Beach, it's an hour from everything. But A. was totally into the surfing santas, which led to an awesome conversation about goals and trying new things. She wants to learn how to surf, which I thought was awesome. I told her if she finds lessons, I will pay for them, and that if she was a Surfing Santa next year, not only would I be there to watch, but I'd wear a totally ridiculous shirt that says "My daughter is a surfing santa" and I would act a complete fool. She was beaming in the Florida sun. She likes my personality way more than C. She has this huge and amazing quirky imagination that mirrors my idiosyncratic personality.
Later in the day, the 3 of us went to Celebration Florida, also an hour away. A. was blown away by the beauty of the town, which I can vouch for, it kind of looks like something from Pleasantville. We went there for the Now Snowing event, in which it snows in the town center. It was beautiful, and magical, and it was pleasant to see the girls lose their "too cool" demeanors and get lost in the bubble snow, smiling and spinning.
Christmas was absolutely frigid. I'd hoped we could watch some movies and just chill. Well, instead, A. and I played some board games. I actually spent a good part of the day with their younger brother, who was tickled pick to have "A's Dad" around, and we played football, and played with some of his new toys. Their mother worked most of the time I was there. I gave them their gifts, to which their reaction was fairly null and void.
And so it goes. I know that if their mother were in a relationship, or got married, I would likely be effectively replaced, and I can only imagine what kind of f'in dirtbag that guy would be. I also suspect that at some point in the not too distant future, the girls may ultimately say that they don't want to see me. I feel that reality creeping along the floorboards, just out of sight, but letting it's presence be known.
The only glimmer of hope I find in the situation is that my relationship with my father was very similar. I didn't see him frequently. He worked 365 days a year. He traveled a lot. I often opted not to spend time with him growing up, to which he would occasionally say, "You'll miss me when I'm gone." I would never say that to my kids, because it is so painfully true. There isn't much I wouldn't do to have my dad here for one more day, and if that meant dying the next, I'd pay that price. But it wasn't until late in my teens that I realized how amazing my dad was. It wasn't until my 20's that I fully appreciated who he was as a person, his adventurous nature, his laid back approach to life, his quiet wisdom, his incomparable humor, his ability to tell an amazing story, and his deep knowledge and fondness of people and experience. Those who know me well, can tell where I get my finer points from, although I spent a majority of my life physically living with my mother.
A. walked me out to my car as I prepared to leave. She gave me a long, lingering hug. We chatted for a few moments. I held her face in my hands, and told her I wish I could just stare at her for a few hours, to take in every wrinkle, every pimple, to just admire such an amazing person. I asked her how I got so lucky to have her and her sister in my life, she shrugged and gave me a look that I've given other people many times in life (it's uncanny how similar our characteristics are, even down to the facial expressions) and said "I don't know." We hugged a few more times, and I told her to go on into the house before I started crying.
I got about 3 miles up the road before I actually did start crying.
An acquaintance asked me some time ago, "Why aren't you in your daughters' lives?" The answer is, I am. At least I try to be. Phone calls, letters, texts, gifts, trips when I can afford them...I've tried hard. At this juncture, I feel uninvited. It doesn't mean I won't continue trying. It just bums me out that so many people think I'm a great guy...except for my own daughters. The one thing in life I've always wanted to be, a great father, and I've failed. Miserably.
And there you have it. It wasn't a White Christmas, there were no miracles, and the ugliest truth in my life isn't a sweater. And so, I'll face today, and tomorrow, with the same verve and positivity that I face every day. Pathological positivity I've heard it referred as. Well man, in all honesty, that's all I got.
As a side note...after nearly 40 years on this Earth, I am convinced that my mother still has no idea who I am as a person. However, I found that she knows me well enough to know that Michelle Obama's book would be the perfect Christmas gift. That made me smile.
So, who else had a shit Christmas? Misery loves company, so let's commiserate in the comments below.
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This post was created on an iPhone 6S