As a grown man, I really hate pointing the finger at others when it comes to my own pain and sorrow. That being said, I’m not so stubborn as to ignore the reason if it’s due to what someone else has done.
If You Take Away Traditions…Christmas Blues
By Rock Kitaro
Date – December 27th 2019
This usually happens every Christmas and Birthday, mainly because I’m blasted with reminders of how the rest of the world is celebrating their traditions, how everyone seems to have someone, how everyone is living their lives and how completely different they are from me. God knows I pray for the strength and faith to keep my head up despite that which I lack, but I confess, it’s tough.
The reason why I gave this the title of “if you take away traditions…” because I really do believe this is an aspect of my childhood where my parents have failed me. As noted, I am a grown man. I sincerely believe in the concept of “from here on out, you’re in control of your life…” but at this point I’m not so sure if it’s possible for me.
The traditions that were removed from me as a child were the joyous holidays and family traditions that were pretty much celebrated the whole world over. Christmas. Valentine’s Day. Halloween. Thanksgiving. Birthdays…all of it came to an end during my childhood because my parent’s religion was against it. But I don’t blame the Jehovah’s Witnesses. I’ve just come to the conclusion that if you’re going to strip these things from a child’s life, you need to replace it with something else. Otherwise you’re left with an abysmal void.
I wasn’t born a Jehovah’s Witness. We were Baptists. From birth till the age of eleven, my family celebrated birthdays. I sang “Silent Night” and received gifts on Christmas. One of my favorite things as a child was to see the decorated lights on a cold wintry night. I believed in the spirit of Christmas where, for just one day, one period of time throughout the whole year, everyone came together in peace and harmony.
Truly. As a child, the things I loved were simple. Girls. Martial Arts. And Christmas.
Around the time I was seven, my mother let me and my brother study with a pair of Jehovah’s Witnesses who helped us memorize the books of the Bible. And for all the flack Jehovah’s Witnesses get in pop culture, I really didn’t hate or dislike them at that age. I can’t remember meeting a single mean or unpleasant Witness. Everyone was so nice and loving. I thought nothing of these nice people entering our lives.
When we moved to Texas, we started going to the Kingdom Halls (Jehovah’s Witness place of worship) to attend services and here, began the friction of my childhood. As I mentioned, I loved three things. Girls, martial arts, and Christmas. Of course, as an eight-year-old, girls were merely sources of motivation and awe. They made the days interesting and provided goals and obstacles to overcome.
However, martial arts…karate was just something I had a gift for. I loved the Power Rangers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and more than that…Obliviously, I had acquired a skill for watching a person repetitively and being able to mimic what they did. No lie, when my brothers and I got dropped off at the youth centers, they’d go off and play with the other kids, but I stationed myself in front of the Street Fighter arcade machine and for hours, without any quarters, would just watch the gameplay.
Then, I’d go home and practice what I saw. I was really good and it couldn’t have come sooner. At 33, I’m 6’3, 220 pounds of raw steel and sex appeal. But when I was kid, I was always getting beat up by other kids despite being bigger than most. Oddly enough, some of them were girls and man…they kicked the crap out of me. Honestly, it was straight up bullying. I didn’t talk crap or make fun at that age. I was just super sensitive…oh, that’s why. I was a tattle-tale.
Anyways…by the time I turned eight, I had acquired this newfound talent and fought back. The first couple of fights I won was so cool because I had surprised myself. I wasn’t angry at the other kid, I just wanted them to leave me alone. But this is Texas in the 90s. Apparently there was a karate dojo in every neighborhood because all this did was make everyone want to challenge me as if I had the belt. And I’m not gonna lie…it felt good…being good at something.
However…perhaps it was good parenting on my mother’s part, but she started to restrict my access to what she called “violent video games.” This didn’t jibe with me. In fact, when I was 9-years-old, my dad (my mom and dad had divorced when I was 5) bought me the “Super Street Fighter” video game that I always wanted. I was soooo happy. But when I came back home from visiting my dad, I found out that my mother threw it away. That hurt. But still, I wasn’t fully aware that this was all due to what she was being taught from Jehovah’s Witnesses.
It wasn’t until 1997, when at the age of 11, my mom and step-dad moved to Georgia that we fully embraced the Jehovah’s Witness life. Almost at once, we stopped celebrating birthdays and holidays like Christmas. And yeah, it was kind of a bummer, but I don’t remember being so hurt.
Our parents hit us with the logic of, “We don’t believe in celebrating Christmas on just one day, but we should give gifts year round and be nice all the time.”
That’s what they said…before I begin, I want you to know that I love my parents very much. What I’m about to reveal is the way they used to be. It’s not who they are now. That being said…my mother was a straight up tyrant and I always saw my step-dad as stingy with money. They provided food, shelter, and clothes on our backs…but the whole “gifts year round” logic was bogus.
I think that first year in Georgia the only “gift” I got from them was a trapper keeper of Terry Labonte. My step-dad (a sergeant in the Army) was a NASCAR fan. Go figure.
The reason why Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t celebrate a lot of the holidays is because they deem them to be worldly with Pagan origins. When it came to my beloved Christmas, I remember my mother reading with us an entire article that broke down the background and origins of every aspect of Christmas. Like where Santa Claus derived from. And apparently trees were worshiped. Then, of course, they make some strong points about the fact that Jesus Christ was never even born on December 25th because it was too cold outside and he was likely born some time in October.
What was I to do? How can any eleven year old argue with all that? It made sense. I didn’t want God to see me as a tree worshiper. And in my heart of hearts, I know my dad had already tricked me once before into thinking Santa Claus was real (funny story, I’ll write about some time).
So…eleven-year-old Rock listened to his parents and obeyed. The only holidays Jehovah’s Witnesses celebrated was your wedding anniversary, and Christ’s memorial. That was to be my years from then on out.
And here’s the thing…like I said, when I was eleven, I embraced my parent’s teachings. I embraced the Jehovah’s Witness culture. I attended the meetings, participated in the reading of the Watchtowers and answered questions. It was all well in good. But by the time I entered Middle School, a question or two started to pop up.
First off, in addition to not being able to celebrate those “worldly” holidays and restricting what kind of video games we played and having locks on TV programs that was over PG-13…in addition to all that, my brothers and I were not allowed to hang out with friends outside of school, unless they were Jehovah’s Witnesses. The logic for that being, “bad association spoils useful habits.”
What this did, was honestly…it really was like jail. We went to school, came home, did chore, did our homework, watch a little bit of TV before going off to attend another JW meeting, come home to sleep, and do it all over again. My brothers and I really didn’t have a lot of time to explore other things, to discover and cultivate who we were as individuals. Effectively, this type of parenting created a bubble in which our parents tried to shield out the real world.
This is a problem because the real world isn’t paradise. Jesus Christ has not returned yet. We still need to co-exist, go to school with, and have relationships with these “worldly people.” In Middle School, especially, it was brutal. There was rampant racism, I saw kids getting jumped by others just for fun. Puberty was out of control. There was a gang mentality.
And with me always being one of the biggest kids in class, there was no keeping my head low. I had to fight. I had to lie. I turned skipping school into an art form and was a straight-up thief. And then, when my mom and step-dad did ask me how I was doing, what I was feeling…they’d push and encourage me to be honest…only for my honesty to be rewarded with more restrictions.
While all of this was going down with my mom and step-dad who we lived with, I was able to see my real father in Texas over the summer and holidays. This is also a bit of torment for a child, because essentially I was getting two drastically different world views on how to live life. My mom was a Jehovah’s Witness. My Dad was a Baptist and very much entrenched in that R&B culture. I fit in with neither, but at least with my dad, he still tried to celebrate the holidays with us when he could.
By the time I was 14, I told them I didn’t want to be a Jehovah’s Witness. I told them that I understand how they felt about Christmas, but for me, I don’t see it as this thing of Pagan worship, it was simply about the beauty of tradition where we could all come together.
Almost as if they didn’t think I could come up with this logic and individual thought by myself, its like they did routine cell checks of my bedroom. I had to hide everything. My stash of Jackie Chan films. My comic books. My Mariah Carey calendar. Everything! I wasn’t allowed to be myself.
And over and over again, my parents would tell us, “If you don’t like our rules, just wait till you grow up and get out of our house, then you could make your own rules.”
Then they wonder why my brothers and I don’t like to come home. I say that with sadness, not pride or spite. My only normal year came as a high school senior and that was because I had a car so I could escape the supervising gaze of my parents, and I had a job so I could buy things, essentially provide “gifts” for myself.
When I left the nest and came to Tampa for college in 2005…that Christmas was the loneliest I ever felt in my life. The novelty of moving out and the fun times as a freshman had died down. My roommates had all gone home for Christmas and it was the first time in a long time that I was by myself with no one around. Back then, I was very outgoing and used to social events like parties and concerts. To go from all that to bleak silence and a dark apartment…it sucked.
In a lot of ways, I think it wrecked me. The pain of that loneliness was so great that it often became a question of, would you rather stay alone, or have someone bearing the risk that you might lose them and have to get used to being alone all over again. I can’t even remember what the rest of my Christmases in college was like.
Then in 2009, my life changed when I met my boss, Kevin Hayslett of the Law Firm of Carlson & Meissner. I was fresh out of college and he took me on as a video production guy. Kevin would go on to be more than just my boss. He really took me on as part of his extended family. He’s a mentor and in so many ways, he became a father to me in the way he’s looked out for me and offered me guidance and encouragement along the way.
There’s just one problem with Kevin…which isn’t his problem…but more so a painful lesson that I couldn’t help but acknowledge in his grace and generosity. In accepting me into his life, Kevin was effectively showing me that not all families had to be like mine.
You have to understand, when your parents put parental locks on the programing you watch, all you’re left with are those wholesome Disney Channel shows, or programs like Family Matters and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. There should be nothing wrong with this, except that they’re fake…or are they?
As a teen, most of my rage and heartache came from the disappointment of my family not being like the families I saw on TV. I had a very romantic view on what family should be like. Our love should be unconditional. We should support each other regardless of whether or not we personally disagree with what they want to do with their lives. We should be a source of encouragement, people who would always lend a listening ear and someone you could depend on to be there for you when you’re in need.
That’s how I thought family was supposed to be. Unfortunately, my family was not like that. It’d take an additional ten pages to explain how much I was disappointed by them, but suffice to say, they were not like the families you saw on TV and they didn’t fit my description of how I thought families should be. And because of that, I wanted to distance myself from them.
And they’d hit back to say, “Well, Rock. If you don’t have family, then what do you have?!”
And I’d tell them, “And what if I told you I felt I don’t have a family.”
In 2009, when I joined the law firm, I still carried a lot of that hate and resentment in my heart for a lot of my family, particularly the ones I didn’t know, yet treated me like I owed them an obligation of any sort just because we’re blood.
And when I met Kevin and his family…honestly, that rage turned to sadness. It was unbearable. Why? Because I was right. I always knew it in my heart that there was a better way to raise a family, and a better way to treat your family.
Kevin and his family are chalk full of traditions. Not just your garden-variety traditions, but made up traditions that they celebrated in Christmas time that really got all the kids and cousins and uncles and aunts involved. I think the first time he told me about this thing where they all go around singing parts, I was almost in tears.
Over the years since 2009, I’d go on to see Kevin and his sons grow from middle school and high school students to young men. I saw the enormous amount of effort and care Kevin and his wife took in paving the path for their son’s success. Now, one’s a West Point cadet. Another’s a Naval Academy graduate, and the oldest is probably going to get married soon while making six figures for some lucrative company.
I had Thanksgiving with this family. Recently, I celebrated Kevin’s birthday with his family. But just this week, twice now, I turned down an invitation to come and celebrate Christmas with his family. Instead, I worked. I was alone. I knew it would be rough so I prayed earnestly for the strength and faith to keep my head up despite that which I lack, but it was still depressingly brutal.
“But, Rock! You did this to yourself! You could have gone and spent time with Kevin and his family!”
You’re right. You’re absolutely right and deep down I have this debilitating fear that the rest of my life will be like this. There’s more to the reason why I declined going to his house this Christmas…I was already downtrodden because my newly purchase condo was a wreck and I didn’t know when it would be repaired. That might sound like nothing, but don’t worry, I’m working on a memoir detailing that nightmare.
And don’t get me wrong, by my mid-twenties, I had already forgiven my own family and we’ve long since grown closer. But when I see Kevin and other families with their traditions and togetherness, its inspiring because they’re role models for when I start my own family. But until I have my own family, it hurts because I’m reminded of what I missed on. I accept my family for the way they are, but Kevin’s family reminds me of what they could have been. While it’s great that we’re all closer and have a better relationship now…it would have been great if they were there when I really needed them, back before the scars etched in.
If anything you might have gathered from this essay, I hope you understand that considering my upbringing and everything I’ve been through when it comes to missing out on traditions, the cycle of loneliness and disappointment of family…I don’t think it’s just me but a lot men who aren’t built or conditioned to broadcast our sorrows. In the depths of our despair, I don’t think it’s our default reaction to find someone and cry about it. I have a lot of good friends I could talk to, but all of those good friends have someone else, a wife, a husband, their children, their own families. The last thing I wanted to do on Christmas is mix gloom with their joy.
“Oh boo hoo! Well, what do you call this little essay?”
An essay. Or memoir. Or whatever. I didn’t post anything on Facebook. I didn’t call up anyone and tell them I was down in the dumps. I just texted “Merry Christmas” to the few people and that was it. I don’t even think I’m going to edit this essay. I just want it to be real.
Because right now, there’s a suicide rate amongst men. I’ll never commit suicide. I just want to make that clear. So long as I have God in my heart, and an arrogance to never give up, I’m going to keep moving forward. But I understand why men are committing suicide. It’s because people aren’t listening to them. And when people do listen to them, because so many have done nothing with what they’ve heard, we simply assume that all you wanted to do was hear what we were going through as a form of entertainment.
Don’t worry about me. This isn’t a cry for help. I’ll be alright and rise from the stumble as I’ve done time and time again. The dark clouds will disperse as they always do and on the surface, you’d never know what’s going down because a true gentleman doesn’t flaunt his discontent.
I mainly just feel sorry towards Kevin, Andrea, Jessica, my Cousin Eddie, Angie, Phyllis and others who have reached out to me with warm hearts inviting me to their homes and events…only for me to turn them down, bury myself in work, and stupidly wonder if this is the way it’ll always be.
I thought I had come so far. I thought I was over what happened in the past. I thought I had moved on. I thought I was better.