It's just the second day of December and yet I'm actually starting to feel the Christmas spirit.
I live on a tropical island, so there's no cold weather, no snow, no icicles hanging from the roof. There are no reindeer, only karabao. No winter wonderland, just palm trees and sun and blue sky for miles and miles.
Yet I'm getting giddy. I can't wait to start wrapping presents. To hear more Christmas carols. To see the excitement of my godsons and all the little kids in my life.
People always seem nicer at this time of year, friendlier. I love exchanging "Merry Christmas" with strangers. Seeing acts of goodwill toward fellow men.
I dread the craziness of shopping malls and stores, especially with the tax refunds going out this weekend and lots more crazy sales just a week after Black Friday, but I'm still eager to shop. I'll just make sure I go when it's the least crazy.
This time of year I especially miss my family. My mom's in the states, as are two brothers and a sister, who I haven't seen in soooooo long, and her beautiful daughters, my nieces, as well.
And I miss my father even more. He died 15 years ago and yet it still seems so recent. I can't think about him without tears welling up, without my heart wrenching and aching. He died far too early.
My dad reveled in Christmas, though he wasn't blatant about it. But I think of all the little things. Making holiday wreaths from the computer punch cards they used back in the '70s. The boñelos aga and dagu. The late brunch on Christmas day. The sleepy Midnight Masses. Opening one small present after coming back from Midnight Mass and trying hard to fall asleep. Waking the next morning to find presents under the tree that hadn't been there when we went to bed, especially the year he had to put four bicycles together between us coming home and going to sleep, and the children waking up early.
I remember the times he would have me wrap his present to my mother, some surprise out of the blue.
I remember him telling me and my brothers and sisters not to "waste" our money buying him presents. And him keeping all the bad ties and cologne we got him, even if he never used them.
I remember him going out to the jungle to cut down our "Christmas tree."
When I became an adult, I realized that my parents always did their utmost to get us good Christmas presents, even if it was just one small stocking stuffer and one main present.
My dad was an NCO in the Air Force and my mom didn't work full-time till I was in high school — that means we didn't have a lot of money, but they always managed it. I remember my dad saying he liked the back and neck of the chicken, not realizing until later it was so the rest of us could have our favorite pieces. How he never through much away so he could use things later — hammering out bent nails, having coffee cans filled with nuts and bolts. Fixing our old washing machine or doing the brakes or changing the oil on our cars ... and trying to teach us to do the same once we were old enough.
I remember going out to the jungle with him and my siblings and cousins, to get betel nut for the family, and how he let us sell the excess so we'd have our own money.
I remember his delight when I was working and able to afford to get him gifts I knew he'd like, such as a big television, a recliner or a bush-cutter.
And how he'd revel in the joy of his grandchildren, especially at Christmas. He was so patient, so loving, so giving, so caring.
My one regret is that I don't think I will ever be even close to the father he was ... mainly because I have no kids and doubt I'll ever have any, let alone meet a woman who'd want to be with me and bear those children. Likewise, I'll never be able to be the kind of grandfather he was.
I can only try to live up to the standard he set by trying to be the best man I can be, by living the kind of life he wanted me to lead, by following the example he set in the way he lived his life. By being kind and generous and helpful. By being there for others. By not bitching and complaining about the little things. By being strong and good and virtuous.
Merry Christmas, Pop. I love you. And God how I miss you and wish we'd have had more time together.