By Scott Beller
My family wasn't too extravagant during the holidays. We didn't do holiday photo cards or go to see many holiday shows, decorate outside the house, or hunt elves on shelves. One thing my sister and I did enjoy was writing letters to Santa. Later, these became wish lists to our parents.
Once Halloween passed, we eagerly awaited the arrival of the Best, Sears, Montgomery Ward, and Toys r Us catalogs in the mail so we could spend hours flipping through and circling all the items we were sure we couldn't live without. They were legit WISH lists. They included at least half the stores' inventories and not a single mention of underwear. But somehow, even though my sister and I painstakingly compiled these wish lists every November for our mom (the gatekeeper who allegedly made the lists known to other relatives), it seemed to us that our most coveted requests were rarely granted.
At some point growing up, maybe after not finding that Space: 1999 battleship under the tree, I promised myself that, one day, I would try to do better for my own kids!
As a dad, I've entered each holiday season determined to plan and create the most festive, unique, and wonder-filled experience as possible for my girls. To focus on their dreams and do my best to make them reality. I have just a few childhood memories of my own from which to draw inspiration: Christmas Eve and presents at my grandmother's, the menagerie of wind-up toys beneath my Aunt Ginny and Uncle Ford's tree, Merry Christmas Johnny Mathis playing me to sleep on the record player, occasional holiday dinners at the ornately decorated Mrs. K's Toll House being the most vivid.
For 16 years and counting, we decorate inside and out, we maintain an Advent calendar and a Shelf Elf, and more often than not, we succeed in fulfilling our kids' wish lists. Thankfully, their lists usually have been much more modest and reasonable than mine ever were, and, fortunately, our family also has more means than my parents did to make gift wishes come true.
I think I've done pretty well keeping that promise made many years ago. I haven't made a Christmas wish list since the 80s. But now that my kids are independent, distracted teenagers, and I'm a mostly-sidelined dad who finally has his health back, I have a few 2023 gift requests to make of the daughters for whom I've helped create a winter wonderland these past 16 holiday seasons. I trust they'll find everything on my list reasonable enough to consider. I promise it won't cost them a thing:
Turn off your lights and bathroom fan before you leave for school.
Do a few chores without being asked. You know, like you used to in your Tae Kwon Do days when you needed a note from home describing your good behavior in order to qualify for the next belt test. Here are a few simple suggestions: clean up empty food wrappers and dishes in your room, put those dirty dishes in the dishwasher, empty the dishwasher when you see the sign say "clean," better yet, clean out the litter box before Moose and Remy track unwanted "presents" around the house.
An occasional hug without having to ask.
Read a book with me. If we can't read aloud anymore, I'd love to create something like our own family book club that would meet twice a year. You get to pick the first book, I get the second. Because, while I like sharing Insta memes and funny TikTok videos with you, I'd really love sharing good stories together like we used to.
Make me something – a drawing, painting, take a cool photo and frame it, a bracelet. Again, just like you used to.
Sit without your phones and watch a movie with me. You can choose the movie but, please, no Hallmark Channel or Lifetime Originals!
A dad-daughter, 1-on-1 overnight trip somewhere in 2024 with each of you. Because of high school crew team travel, we don't get spring breaks together anymore. Again, you can choose where we go. Suggestions for my HS junior, could include a campus visit. With my freshman, how about Boston (even if our Sox aren't looking too good right now)?
Take a walk with me...like we used to. Would be great for our health and fun conversation. Don't worry I won't make you hold my hand...but you can if you want.
If my girls could give me one, some, or all of these things, I'd be happier than Ralphie clutching his official Red Ryder, carbine action, 200-shot, range model air rifle, with a compass in the stock and this thing that tells time. But, honestly what I most want this year is what every dad wants and that's for my kids to be safe, healthy, confident, respected, and as proud of themselves for their efforts and accomplishments as their mom and I have always been.
Happy, healthy kids are the ultimate gift to parents. Something I continue to learn as a dad is that if I do my best to stay involved, listen more than talk, and be mindful of my own behavior and how I treat them, regardless of life's ups and downs – i.e., the things I can control – my "wish list" often takes care of itself.
Oh, one more thing for my wish list, and I'm not sure who's the right person to ask – Santa? Christmas spirit? Cthulhu? Tarzan? But it would be great if the cats could stay out of the Christmas tree tonight. Thanks.
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Scott Beller is the proud, imperfect dad of two mighty girls, imperfect husband of a rock-star mom, truth teller, former soccer coach and current equipment hauler, part-time driving instructor, photobomber, purveyor of banned books, Editor of the Daddying blog, and Director of Communications for DCG and D3F. He's a seasoned writer and PR agency veteran with more than 30 years of experience helping organizations of all sizes reach audiences and tell their stories. Prior to launching his own creative communications consultancy in 2003, he led PR teams with some of the world’s most respected agencies, including Fleishman-Hillard and The Weber Group. As a consultant, he’s helped launch two other parenting advocacy nonprofits with DCG founder Allan Shedlin. His first book, Beggars or Angels, was a ghostwritten memoir for the nonprofit Devotion to Children's founder Rosemary Tran Lauer. He was formerly known as "Imperfect Dad" and Head Writer for the Raising Nerd blog, which supported parents in inspiring the next generation of scientists, engineers, and creative problem solvers. He earned his BA in Communications from VA Tech.