Posted by: Ed Deiss | December 13, 2012

Gifts that were not under the Christmas Tree

Put up the Christmas tree with my trio. Candle Lights in the windows.  Lists are made.  My youngest wants two horses (real ones) and thinks we can just keep them in the back yard.  Can’t help reflect looking through my kids eyes to the wonder of it all.

My Dad has shared his childhood Christmas mornings as a kid with me.  His parents put up everything on Christmas Eve and as he and his brothers woke up and went downstairs, their jaws would slowly open and they would ‘tan their tonsils’ so to speak in awe.  Christmas morning was magical and my grandparents I’m sure were excited to see their faces and exhausted at the same time.

One thing I got accustomed to in Asia was not having a Christmas tree; evergreens are not indigenous to the tropics.  Palm trees are.  However, my Dad would string Christmas lights from the ceiling in the shape of a tree and wrap garland all the way around.  Simple and yet creative.  Was not used to a white Christmas either, the weather forecast in Singapore is quite consistent: sunny, hot, and humid with strong chance of thunderstorms in the afternoon.  Over again, lah. My ‘Singlish’ (Singapore English) is rusty. A world away from my sibling, my brother’s experience was entirely different with my Mom.  I thought of them at Christmas.  One of the realizations I had as a child of a single parent was that the connection with the other parent is always there, no matter the distance.  Same goes for my brother.

As another Christmas season is upon us, I’m in awestruck wonder as a Dad, as a son, and as a brother.  For kids of single parents, and single parents, decided to share a Christmas story about how my relationship with my Mom has been restored over time, with some younger brotherly encouragement and anecdotes.

For those of you with strained/distant or non-existent relationships with your parents, children, or siblings, Christmas is a message of hope and my hope is this story will encourage you.

First of all, my Dad.  Recently came across something I wrote on July 22, 1973 to him from camp as a kid:  “I am glad I have you as a Dad. Much Love, Ed.”  Just as true today as it was then.  I’m reminded of a quote by Charles Swindoll:

The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, the education, the money, than circumstances, than failure, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company… a church… a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice everyday regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past… we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it. And so it is with you… we are in charge of our Attitudes.” 

You lived it, I saw it, thanks for that gift Dad.


My Mom and I shared my first seven years and I know she treasures every memory.  Mine are vague and thankful for pictures from that time.  Norman Rockwell drew pictures of families like that of my Dad’s, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote about families such as my Mom’s.  No fault divorce was not an option for her.  In order to save herself, she had to pay for it with her oldest son.  Her heart froze as she faced a decision no parent wants to face, which child do you keep and which do you let go.  I was the one she let go.  Would come home from school, Mom is not there.  Dissillusioned, hurt, abandoned; all natural as you would imagine a seven year old boy would be experiencing.  Upon moving to Asia where I thrived with my Dad, all I had was just a few pictures of her.  I grew up without my Mom however knew we were connected.  At left is my Mom holding me at my first Christmas, courtesy of a good scanner.

I did not get to know my Mom until I was an adult, years passed.  It was something my younger brother encouraged.  Many times, the younger one is the insightful one.  In 1997 he wrote me a letter that  his heartfelt discussions with Dad helped him understand the storms and fog of our childhood and he encouraged me to do the same with Mom.  Easy to say, hard to do.  The road to heartfelt forgiveness is never easy.

My brother, Will.  We shared the same blood however our lives were torn apart and we were separated too soon. rsz_me_and_will Siblings are meant to grow up together and we can never recapture the time lost.  Robbed of so many memories that we should have.  The abandonment we both felt by the other parent is hard to reconcile.  We know we must not forget the painful lessons we learned and prevent any cycle from repeating.  We both learned how much our parents were hurt as well.  Wounds heal over time and a scar forms, if you look closely it is tougher and more resilient than what was there.  You can see from the picture to the right of me with a facemask with Will, my affinity for diving started early on in life.

My Mom was a public school teacher for 30 years, and in many ways it helped heal her wounds.  She went through a second marriage, shortly after the divorce from my Dad, that she knew was a mistake.  Towards the end of that marriage, it took a turn for the worse.

me and katieSheep dogs are very protective of their herd, and Katie was no exception.  On summer visits to see my Mom and brother, Will and I would try to run away from her only to have her catch us and bite our heels to get back in line.  She was herding her sheep, as in us.  It’s effective and for those that have had a sheep dog, know what I’m taking about.  You will feel it.  Also will not forget opening my eyes and waking up to her looking right at me and I could not see her eyes, however panting with her mouth wide open.  Mouthwash would have helped.

In the middle of a summer night, my Mom and former Step Dad had passed the point of no return in their marriage.  I was awakened by my Mom crashing the bedroom door open.  What I saw when my eyes opened is etched in my memory. My Mom’s life was in imminent danger, as my former Step Dad had a gun to her head and an arm around her neck when she flipped on the light  and yelled to wake us up. The adrenaline was in full throttle as I tried to awaken my brother and look for the baseball bat that was in the room to go defend my Mom. I was racing to beat the sound I feared hearing, gunfire.

Katie was barking her head off and growling fiercely at my former Step Dad downstairs.  Next thing I know, neighbors are there and so are the cops.  Katie:  Will and I will never forget you.  If it were not for you being alert and protecting your herd that night, a different ending to this story was certain.  The relationship with my Mom would never have become what it is today.

That summer of 1982 came to an end and my Mom moved back to her hometown of Chicago.  That is when she decided to face herself and what I’m proud of is her courage to do so; a gift she gave to me, Will, and many others.  She also gave herself the gift of forgiveness, and I knew I had to get there as well.  My brother’s letter in 1997 coincided with my move to Chicago with a new job.  My Mom was in a healthy relationship and married to my Step Dad, now nearly 30 years.  Our homes in Rogers Park were in walking distance of each other and we spent alot of time getting through the coconut husk and understanding each other.  That is where and when I started to really got to know my Mom again.  The connection was always there, even though all I could do as a child was look at pictures every now and then a world away.  Now that we were together again, it was real.   When she let me go, the risk was our relationship would be gone and nothing more than superficial.  She knew she had to save herself, taking that risk, and by doing that we could have the relationship we do now. One that we could not have possibly foreseen the day her heart froze.

My brother is now a public school teacher and lives in Charlotte, NC.  My kids love their Uncle Will, always wanting to bePicture 332 around him and look forward to being part of his audience.    He and my sister-in-law have two children and though we did not grow up together, I don’t know where my life would be without him.   He always, and I mean always, has my back.  Our shared experience of growing up apart is certainly not something we would recommend and was due to circumstances we could not control, nor desire.  What we could do is what we are doing now, being there for one another, rebuilding our relationships with the other parent, and doing our part to not forget the painful lesson we learned that has strengthened our brotherly bond.  You are a great brother Will, thanks for being there.

As I look at the tree this year, and the presents my kids and I will open, I’m in awe at the gifts we don’t naturally look for nor find there.  They do not neatly fit down a chimney, and debris may be kicked up in the process, however they are there.

Will, me, Ma, ZoeThe gift of forgiveness I gave my Mom and myself for holding on to ‘stuff’ that needed to be let go.  The gift of strength, courage, resilience, and adventure that my Dad exemplified.  The gift of brotherly love (and shove) from Will.  The gift of time my Mom and I have spent together in adulthood both knowing that in the end it all turned out, not as we had planned, better than we could have imagined.  The gift of watching each of my parents grow in healthy relationships with their spouses of now 25+ years and relationships with my step families on each side.  The gift of Uncle Will to my kids as the brother they would rather spend time with; he’s cool Dad!  I can’t find these under the tree, they are priceless and true gifts indeed.

The excitement of Christmas morning may be affected by your circumstances.  It may involve not having a parent and/or sibling there and new, yet unfamiliar happenings are taking place. The absence is felt.  Regardless of circumstances, Christmas is the unforgettable message of love, redemption, and hope.  That was the case that silent and holy night in Bethlehem.

Merry Christmas, Gloria in Excelsis Deo, and thanks for reading.



  1. The material things of this life are nothing compared to what God gave us through relationships with each other and Him. Good words Ed. Thanks.

  2. Thank you Doug and Merry Christmas.

  3. Very nice read, Ed. As long as I have known you, it saddens me to admit that I know very little about you. The distance that separates us physically is no excuse for me not learning more about the man who is so involved with my family as well as his own.

  4. Thank you Bill. You all are another gift not found under the tree and appreciate you.

  5. […] wrote to the relationships with my Mom, Dad and brother on my blog (Gifts that were not under the Christmas Tree) as I certainly did not foresee the relationship I now have with my Mom when I was a child and […]

  6. […] scars, and scars become stories.  Here is one of the stories of a healed scar I shared on my blog about how the relationship with my Mom transformed […]

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