My dad, Ray Ward, gave the best gifts.
One Christmas, I received a fresh urinal cake in my stocking, wrapped deep in the toe inside a Mad Magazine. And I was nice that year. (In case you didn’t know, these are the round patties found at the bottom of men’s urinals, normally flanked by cigarette butts, chewing gum and shame.)
When I graduated college, dad fashioned me a D.I.Y colonic kit made from random bits and pieces of the commercial restaurant equipment he sold. (Don’t worry; it was a floor model prototype that was never put into real-world quality control trials.)
I sense a theme.
They were great gifts. I asked for them both – in jest – and the stories are worth more than the Nintendo or Millennium Falcon he paid the neighbor’s kid to put together.
Growing up my family believed we were the Parkers and the Griswolds wrapped into one before they became Christmas serial-viewing staples with highly quotable scripts. In fact, my dad grew up hiding under his comforter sometime after dark, listening to Jean Shepherd’s whispered tales of his own family’s idiosyncratic adventures through the crackly speaker of a contraband radio.
Sometime after college and before my own marriage, I held onto those last dimly lit embers of Ward Family Christmas tradition tightly. It probably wasn’t that different than yours. We did stick to cutting down live trees. We received Christmas morning letters from our dead family cat, Tine Tine. And we grew up afraid of Winthrop, the cold and callous Warden of the Christmas Tree Jail, who ruled with a white-gloved, iron fist and intimidating phone calls that sounded a little like the voice of my dad’s bookie, come to think of it. If you dropped an eff-bomb, blew off your prayers or hogged the American Online minutes, you would spend the holiday holed up in one of his cells. Allegedly.
I’m giving dad a lot of credit, but my mom was the Martha Stewart of the North Pole, sans the time in the clink. She had more holiday crafts, collectibles and tchotchkes than a Saskatchewan Cracker Barrel on the day after Thanksgiving. Every nook, cranny, hallway molding and shelf was perfectly adorned with the right holiday touch. I attest to this day, that you could have walked through with a price gun, advertised our home as the Pumpkin Hook Christmas Shoppe, and made enough to retire on a house boat. Mom ruled the kitchen, too. The butter and sprinkles overflowed.
What’s my point? Why am I writing this? As I’ve struggled with the loss of my dad – just about three years ago – as well as the struggle to establish our own family traditions with my wife, 1- and 4-year-old kids and two geriatric mutts, something is clear. Sponsoring a golf tournament in my dad’s name or planning a racetrack handicapping contest would be fun, but not something that would keep his mojo alive in a meaningful way.
What I should – and am – doing is working to make the holidays just as memorable for my brood. Yes, I’m borrowing some pages from dad’s winning playbook, but my wife and I are adding our own touches. Heck, just the other day, The Elf on the Shelf was fishing in the toilet bowl tank upper deck without a permit. I think dad would be proud.
Mike Ward is the Founder and Chief Brand Driver for Milepost 0 Creative. In other words, he's the only employee. Mike likes helping companies tell stories - or fables, as Aesop called them - as well as reminiscing on his days as a failed stand-up comic, semi-successful movie critic, and cheering for losing sports teams (Go Bills!).