He despised it when people called him Santa Claus. Signs of his outward age included thinning hair and a full white beard. His body was aging, but his personality was still that of a young man, brusquely spirited and a bit rough. “Good Afternoon, Sir! Has anyone ever said you look just like Santa?” the bank teller jovially commented after seeing the full and finely manicured layers of white coming from his square jaw and handsomely protruding chin. He glared at her with steely blue eyes. “I don’t like it when people call me that and you needn’t ever do it again.” He finished his business and sauntered out of the bank. He was sick and tired of hearing about “that damn Santa Claus.” It irritated him and he was quick to correct anyone — he didn’t care who it was — with his slow, but piercing southern drawl.
He was a hard man. He’d learned to drive a car just a few years after he could walk. His daddy piled books in the driver’s seat and let him learn the hard way, which pedal was stop and which one was the gas. Work was priority and there wasn’t time for much else. He was the second of two sons and he wasn’t the favorite. He was different. He belonged to himself. He had his own mind with differing thoughts and opinions and that’s why his father hated him. They had nothing in common and their relationship suffered because of it.
Now, here he was many years later with barely an eighth grade education, calloused hands from a lifetime of hard labor in the paving business, and the same gritty attitude inside an 80-something year old body that was slowly failing him. He blamed his daddy for his lack of education. “That’s just something I have always held against him. I promised my boys — and I kept my promise — that they would always have a chance to get an education and I provided that for them.” Although his dad put him to work early, he was bitterly committed to the idea that the lives of his sons would be different. He stayed true to his commitment, and although his life had been very different from the life he had provided for them, he wasn’t resentful anymore. His animosity melted away with each year that had passed. He remained a hard man, but he wasn’t bitter. Bitterness would have killed him long ago. His independence and his strong sense of self never left him and he was never afraid to say what he thought, including when people called him “Santa Claus.” But one day that all changed.
He was down at the bar one evening — he says that’s what keeps him young — when a gentleman walked in with his young daughter. She was about 8 or 9-years-old from what he could tell. He was wondering why this guy had brought his young daughter into a bar, but had no chance to think further before she began yelling, “Daddy! Daddy! Look! It’s Santa Claus!” His beard twitched and the corner of his mouth turned down in frustration as she ran toward him. A bit softened by the wonderment in the young girl’s eyes, he sat down. She hopped on his lap and squirmed her way into the nook of his arm and belly, not wanting to move or let go of him. He remained there for a long while, until finally she looked up at him, smiling, with glassy eyes from a tearful mix of happiness and relief. “You have no idea what you’ve done here today, Sir,” whispered the young girl’s dad. “She watched her mother slit her wrists. She saw it happen — she saw the blood spill from her mother’s wrists — and she hasn’t smiled since,” he choked as tears rolled out of his hollow eyes and down his boney cheeks. “Well, until today. Thank you. Just, just, thank you.” He watched them walk out of the bar, gripping each other’s hands. It was the last time he ever had a problem with being called “Santa Claus.”
Originally published at medium.com