Being a Dad at Christmas time is easily one of the greatest gifts one could ever have if you ask me.
Having said that, Christmas can be a lot of different things for a lot of people. Christmas can be stressful and depressing for many people for many different reasons- or it can be the greatest time of year for many as well. For me, it’s been all of the that- and everything in between.
Growing up in the oilfield working on drilling rigs, I, like many other Albertan’s spent many a Christmas away from home. Christmas dinners were eaten in the Doghouse of the drilling rig on the drill floor where we tripped wet pipe, froze our faces off, and busted our asses in -30 temperatures while eating our turkey dinner “on the fly” while keeping the operation running.
It completely sucked.
At some point during our shift, either before or after- if we had cellular service, we would find a few minutes in our shift to use the satellite phone in the Rig Manager’s shack to call home to wish our families Merry Christmas. I don’t necessarily remember the conversations so much, but certainly remember the feeling I got after those calls over many times dating all the way back to 1993 like it was yesterday. A work camp is a lonely place at Christmas.
I would usually call my Mom, Dad, or anyone else I wanted to speak to, and I can remember so clearly on most all of those phone calls the feeling of completely missing out. I would wake up in the rig camp at about 3:30-4:00 in the afternoon on Christmas Eve getting ready for your 12 hour night shift that started at 7:30pm and you knew it wouldn’t be over until 730 the next morning. All you think about for the most part, is your family back home- sitting around the fireplace, picturing them in their shitty Christmas sweaters roasting chestnuts over an open fire-while Jack Fucking Frost was nipping at my nose.
It usually pissed me right off. Not because they were having fun, but because I wasn’t a part of it, and I started to hate Christmas time because of it.
Over the phone you would hear about all the things going on in the house with friends and family gathered, drinking rum & egg nog, playing board games, watching Christmas movies, laughter in the background- and everyone would pass the phone around so you could talk to everyone, you’d say your “I love you’s” and “Merry Christmas to you too” type stuff and that would be that. Hang up the phone. Time is money, get back to work. To this day, I don’t know if those phone calls made it better or worse for my attitude- probably a bit of both.
After 10 minutes or so depending on the guy you worked for, you would either get kicked out of the shack to get back to work and give the next guy a turn, or you just left on your own fairly quickly if you were smart so that you would not be looked upon by the rest of the crew as being a dog fucker. Get your steel toed work boots, hardhat, and winter coveralls on and back into the -30 weather to go make a connection, or trip a bit 6,000 meters (6km)out of the hole for the remainder of your Christmas Eve shift.
This will sound fairly dramatic, but I distinctly remember on numerous occasions whenever I felt distant, just stopping somewhere on the lease site to just look up above the derrick of the rig with the steam rising from boilers, water tanks, exhaust pipes, and the growling sound of whistling turbo’s coming from a bank of 3512 CAT engines mixed with the sound of brakes from the drawworks squeaking away, (sounds and sights only a rig hand would know) just to take a moment to look at the moon and stars. I would stop, stare, and wonder if any of my people were looking at the very same thing at the same time. It guess for me, it was what made me feel just that little bit closer to home.
Many people I feel like for the most part, think that rig hands and oilfield workers in general are a bunch of uneducated, overpaid, spoiled guys, who spend their money on lifted up trucks with aftermarket rims and oversized tires, boats, quads, ski-doos, women and beer- which in many cases is true- and the rest we would just end up wasting…
But I am here to tell you that I have met many smart people in my life, and some of the most brilliant were working right beside me in the -35 weather (or +35) and I am proud to call them my brothers still to this day. These are the kind of guys that are salt of the earth. Family guys. These are the guys ready to get in there and give a hand to anyone at anytime- no strings attached. These are the guys that are still in this day and age willing to stop on the side of the highway to help a stranded motorist. This is the culture we grew up in. The next time you pass a jacked up Dodge Ram Diesel on the highway ‘rolling coal’, before you label them, please consider that these guys are good, proud, people working their asses off away from their families in some of the most adverse weather conditions you can imagine and most of them are all givers- not takers.
My point is, I guess, Christmas is what I personally decide I want it to be. If I chose to be miserable with my situation-I would be. If I chose to be happy, same thing. It took me a while to figure it out, but eventually I suppose I did for the most part. I made a decision at some point to have fun with Christmas no matter my situation because not enjoying Christmas pretty much sucked. I made a conscious decision to make the best of whatever situation I was in, no matter if I was alone- or not, and adapt. I hope I can keep that going forever.
In September of 2015, the oilfield as you all know very well came crashing down. Long story short, my drilling company that employed me as their Field Safety Supervisor was making cuts and I knew it was either me, or the Manager who’s head was on the block. It was mine.
So there I was, an unplanned stay at home Dad raising a 1 & 3 year old while my wife worked. I had a ton of fun with it and even found myself on Global News when they found my blog I had started (I needed a creative outlet I guess) and they asked to spend a day in the life of “IamMisterMom.com” as they were doing a story about the thousands of Dads just like me, who were now while their wives worked and we looked for new careers.
One fine Christmas we received a gift- “Elf on The Shelf”. Little did I know our families lives would change forever- or at least for the foreseeable future. I had too much time on my hands and became buddies with an Elf…
Now- Elf on The Shelf has been a hot topic for many parents out there I have noticed. Many parents not sure if they should join the cult, or piss on those who are in it. You hear comments or see them on social media all the time- people who don’t know what to do-commit, or not to commit, that is the question.
Make no mistake- it IS a commitment!
BUT, it’s one of the best Christmas commitments you can make in my humble opinion, for whatever it’s worth. I am not sure who has more fun-me, or the kids. My kids are now 5 & 3 and they are fully on board- as am I, with the addition of “Shippy” our Elf on the Shelf.
For those of you not completely familiar with “Elf on The Shelf”, let me give you the low down. Shippy comes every year starting December 1st. Like what Robin is to Batman, Shippy is to Santa. His right hand man-or girl. He dutifully watches the children every day up until Christmas Eve from wherever he sits, and magically fly’s back to the North Pole every night to report back to Santa if good behavior has been observed-or not.
Now, when Shippy comes back, he appears to have been usually up to some kind of shenanigans (at least in our house) or in a new location for the kids to find the next morning. The thing about Shippy, is he cannot be touched, or he will get sick and potentially lose his magic.
When you wake your child up in the morning and they start hunting for Shippy- it’s one of the greatest things I have ever witnessed. For these early years of my children, while they are completely full of belief in magic and wonder, it is simply amazing and makes your soul feel happy and full.
When their little faces light up, every morning for the next 24 days of December hunting for Shippy at the crack of crow shit, for me it’s a gift that keeps on giving. Yes, it’s a commitment, yes it might be something that doesn’t interest YOU, yes, you may perceive it to be just another Christmas commercialization gimmick, but to my kids, and me-it’s 100% magical.
They stare in amazement imagining what must have been happening right under their noses, in their very own house while they slept. Magic- right here in their house. Then they proceed to tell you what they think was going on in the night and it’s the greatest story ever told as they smile from ear to ear in sheer amazement and wonder.
Be organized! Planning will go a long way with this- you don’t want to end up making the mistake we made when getting out the Christmas decorations last year and your 4 year old wants to help but discovers Shippy in the plastic Rubbermaid container that was under the stairs all year looking all piled up-as if he was in an earthquake in Haiti over the holiday season and crushed to death under rubble of some Christmas candle holders and other decorations. Then suddenly she remembers as she holds him that he is not to be touched or he will lose his magic. That was a bad scene. All bad. It took a lot of creative thinking to smooth that one over. Somebody call the DOCTOR!!!
It is also worthwhile to set a reminder on your phone while they still can’t read unless you want to field questions as I most recently had to- as to why Shippy was in the exact same place as he was the day before. It’s a risky business.
I have spent hours and hours of my recent adult life setting up elaborate scenes of Elf magic- so much so that my wife thinks I am bat shit crazy when she hears me still clunking around at 3:00 in the morning getting things “just right”. Maybe she knows something I don’t? I have also gone shopping in some very strange places for props for Shippy, and get some strange looks when I tell the store clerk “It’s not for me, it’s for my Elf” “Yeah, right” she says…
**DISCLAIMER** There are scenes of elf magic that my kids DON’T see… this is the part that clearly indicates that I had too much time on my hands and needed to be busier… But it seemed funny at the time, and now I have this Adult “Shippy” Fan Club every year (you know who you are) that demand to see what he’s up to when the kids aren’t looking sooo…
For me, as a Dad, I know my time with these guys before they grow up is so very limited- and the train, well it’s moving quickly and I don’t want to miss a thing. I want to soak up every memory I can, and to give them every great memory I can in return, because I know there are no “do-overs”. Through the fortunate circumstance of job loss, my kids will never look back and think or say of me “My Dad wasn’t around much, but he sure made us a lot of money”. Memories will one day be all that we have left of this time period.
Much respect to everyone who cant be with their families over the Christmas holidays and equally so to those who have to celebrate without their husbands, wives, or loved ones being home so they can keep the home fires burning.
The old cliché is Christmas is for kids, but I don’t agree with that. Christmas is for all of us- it’s to find the kid inside of us adults too, and it gives us an excuse to take ourselves back to a place in our own distant lives and remember the magical feeling that was Christmas.
That’s why you will find me happily watching the old 1964 version of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer (even before I had kids) singing along with Burle Ives and watching National Lampoons Christmas Vacation while sipping on a spiced rum & eggnog because it takes me back to a time when life was simple. No adulting- just being a happy kid.
So this Christmas, my hope for you is that you make the best of your situation, whatever it is, and as hard as it may be. Listen the music, Hang the lights, decorate the house, eat the cookies, drink the drink, eat the turkey, and watch those Christmas shows you enjoyed when you were a kid.
And one other thing- just buy the goddam elf already!
Wishing you all a very safe and Shippy Christmas!