Tradition. It means different things to different people. Maybe it’s father’s oyster stuffing set out on the table at every Thanksgiving dinner. Or perhaps it’s Grandma’s seven-layer cookies that are mailed in a Christmas tin each holiday season. Divorce carries with it its own traditions—even during the holidays and especially when it comes to kids.
You get Christmas this year, I get it next year. I get her for my birthday, you get her for yours. However, when it came to my divorce and the first holidays approached, I had a choice to make: stick to the mediated “every other year” agreement, or do what’s best for my daughter and her parents. So I gave up Christmas.
It was all my idea, by the way. My seven-year-old’s mother is a religious woman. Not radical, by any means, but going to church on Sundays, Easter and Christmas have always been very important markers in her life, both adult and childhood. And when we were married and our daughter was born, we agreed that she would be raised the same way.
So, when my divorce was finalized four years ago, my Sundays were given back to football and other outdoor activities. While my ex and I fought about some things, I made a plan that I thought would be good for everyone when holidays arrived. I’d take Thanksgiving…she could have Christmas. I’m not saying I wouldn’t participate in the holiday. I either see my daughter on Christmas day, or, given that we live in different states, we celebrate Christmas on the second week of the holiday break when she visits me. But that holiest of holy nights—Christmas Eve—would be spent with her mother. Difficult…but important.
I got a lot out of the deal too. As a child, Thanksgiving was always my favorite holiday. I didn’t have to go to church, and we got two if not three days off of school! And having grown up in the Detroit suburbs, football…all…day…long. The Detroit Lions were not much to be reckoned with back in the 70s and 80s of my youth but there was something about Thanksgiving Day that was ours. It belonged to Detroit. Detroit owned Turkey Day, even if we didn’t win, which it seemed we seldom did.
As children, we gathered around the television while the kitchen took on that wonderful smell of onions, sage and turkey. My mother had it timed out perfectly. The Detroit game would end and we’d wash our hands and sit down to my favorite of all dinners. One Thanksgiving years into my adulthood, my then wife was spending the holiday with my family for the first time. And horror of horrors, the Lions tied the game with seconds to go in regulation and overtime was upon us. My mother turned to us and shouted, “PUT FOIL ON EVERYTHING!” Although now adults, we did as we were told as my wife looked on in shocked silence. Dinner would not begin until the final whistle was blown.
The 2016 holidays have been planned pretty much the same when it comes to my daughter though this Thanksgiving, my daughter and I traveled from New Orleans to Pompano Beach, Florida to spend Thanksgiving week at a beachfront house my girlfriend’s family had rented. We rolled around in the ocean Thanksgiving morning, helped prep dinner with the family, and at 12.30 pm, I was granted the one Thanksgiving tradition I needed more than anything: The Detroit Lions game.
While the others stayed on the beach, Charlotte and I sat down in front of the television. She has been learning the game the past fall, as we watch College Football Saturdays or Pro-Football Sundays, and she’s getting it. As the Lions took on the Minnesota Vikings, she made a detailed log of the score, sacks—and for some reason, when the Lions were on defense. This came in handy when I had to run to CVS to pick up more butter just before the first half ended.
When I returned, she was pretty much able to tell me what had happened. My girlfriend immortalized the moment by taking a picture of us in front of the television with “Go Detroit” signs my daughter had made, signs that will be put away for next Thanksgiving and every one that follows.
As I sit here on the morning after Thanksgiving, watching the sun rise up over the ocean, I am truly grateful. I’m grateful that I made the decision to give Charlotte’s mother what she needs, so that Charlotte and I could start a tradition of our own. I am grateful that my girlfriend’s family opened up their home and invited us to share in their own Thanksgiving traditions.
And I am grateful that the Lions kicked a field-goal in the final seconds of the game to defeat the Vikings, 16-13, avoiding overtime and foil.