Christmas was brilliant when I was a kid. Growing up in England the real excitement would start to build as the days got colder and shorter.
It would get dark as we left school at 4pm and the lights in the houses would throw out warm orangey glows. There were Christmas tunes on the radio, a tree would go up and we would spend hours making coloured paper chains to string across the room. The house would be full, my mum, my dad, my two brothers, Aunt Peg, Uncle Cous and their three sons. Lots of male energy.
I remember looking up to these five older boys. I was the youngest by far and Christmas was brilliant and annoying in equal parts as these older males would look after me and take the piss out of me. It took me a long time to realise the monster under my bed was in fact my cousin Mark. Then when I was 9 on New Years Eve in 1974 my mum died of breast cancer. Christmas was never the same.
I’m 58 now and when I write that my heart still bounces around in my chest. It is something that will never leave me. I was lucky to have experienced those early Christmas years, however Christmas was never to be the same.
In 1991 I moved to Australia and experienced some amazing times having “orphans” Christmas Days with other people who were away from their families. I then got married, had a son and hung out with my wife’s family. Christmas was never the same.
It was after I got divorced that Christmas really changed for the worse. My ex-wife was thoughtful enough that we did spend the morning together with our son, then I would leave and then for a couple of years I would spend the rest of Christmas Day by myself. I think one year I got nothing for Christmas, not even a card. It was a very lonely place. Christmas was certainly not the same. The monster under the bed had come out and it was not my cousin Mark, it was Christmas itself. It was not a great place to be.
At The Men’s Table we are privileged to hear the most amazing and often heartbreaking stories from men. Men who often for no fault of their own find themselves in a place where there is no family around. There is no Christmas Tree, there are no decorations and nobody to scare by pretending to be a monster under the bed.
Christmas can be a terrible time for many. Many men will not see their children this Christmas and some men will have the gifts they have sent their children returned, unopened. Christmas will not be the same.
Many men will know what this is like this Christmas, when the kids they played with on Christmas morning are not there. Maybe you have men like that at your Table!
At Christmas maybe send them a text, give them a buzz or maybe invite them round. It can be tough, but as a community we can make it easier. Christmas does not have to be the same.
PS I now hang out with my long term partner’s family. Christmas will not be the same as those peak childhood Christmases, they never will be. But at least there will be teenagers I can take the piss out of.
~ Ben Hughes