The Unassuming Santa

When my dad retired in 2002 at age 71, he decided he’d never shave again. He trimmed his beard and mustache once in a while and got his haircut when it fell too far past his collar, but otherwise, he let his thick gray hair grow.

He never really said why he chose that look, but I know it wasn’t because he wanted to play Santa. He was turned off on that idea when he was asked to play Santa for a neighborhood Christmas party, well before retirement and the growing of that authentic beard. It was 1984, when my first born, Carlene, was twenty-one months old and I was two weeks away from having daughter number two. Dad walked in the room in all his fake Santa attire and Carlene freaked out! She clung to me and her naked baby doll, her face skewed up in complete terror.

“Carlene! It’s grandpa!” he said, but no WAY was she believing that red-suited man was her grandpa.

Carlene with my mom and “Santa,” post-freakout

He felt terrible and vowed to never play Santa again.

He should have known that, years later, when he chose his new unshaven look, he couldn’t escape the comparison to Santa, and in time, he played the part when warranted. Like when we were sitting in a booth having lunch and a little girl, maybe three years old, snuck looks over the back of the booth behind Dad. After a few of her glances, he said to her, quietly, “Have you been a good girl this year?”

Her eyes got wide and she immediately sat down. We heard her say to her mom, “That’s Santa!”

Four years ago, I took my two youngest grandchildren, Mae and Audrey (who were four and six), to Eat n’ Park for lunch. Mrs. Clause was sitting on a bench in the foyer next to a bag of toys. She greeted the girls and explained that Santa was in the rest room.

Mae said, “My grandpa is Santa!”

“Yeah, Santa!” Audrey chimed in.

Mrs. Clause, as kind as could be, said, “Well, my husband is Santa’s helper. Santa can’t be everywhere, so he has lots of people helping him this time of year. Tell your grandpa that you saw one of his helpers!”

I thought the girls would burst! It’s all they talked about through lunch and on the way home.

Dad with his great-grandkids and some of his grands, 2019.

I miss my dad all the time, but especially at Christmas, when I know children would be looking at him, thinking, Is that Santa? I know his kind heart would say, “Have you been good this year?” and give them a smile that I hope they would never forget. I know I never will.

Merry Christmas, everyone! May the spirit of Santa, no matter how old we are, live in all of us.

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