14. Christmas, 2012

Christmas is for children. I know Christmas isn't the only holiday this time of year, but it is the holiday I grew up with and it is the only holiday I'm comfortable enough to write about. Christmas is symbolic of childhood in many ways. Christmas vacation was always full of snow and playing pond hockey in the field behind our house, along with hot chocolate and frozen toes when we came in; and there were presents. Not only have the times changed, but with the unemployment rate at over 21% (done the old fashion pre-Clinton way: including the long-term unemployed and those who have given up looking for work completely) many pocketbooks in the bottom 99% are strained simply to keep a roof overhead and food on the table. How do these families afford presents for their children?

One of my first favorite-quotes from Shakespeare was "This above all: to thine own self be true / And it must follow as the night the day / Thou canst not then be false to any man" (Hamlet, I.iii.). I say was because I wouldn't include it on a list of my favorite quotes now. Personally, I like the quote, I like what it says and I think it's good advice. What I have a problem with is who says it: Polonius. Polonius is a buffoon; he's a sycophant; he's bad parent. Polonius says this to his son, Laertes, and his daughter, Ophelia, is also there to hear it. The next time we see Polonius he is sending Reynaldo "to make inquire / Of [Laertes’] behavior" (II.i.): Polonius is spying on his son! He then uses Ophelia, who is already in a fragile emotional state, "to read on this book" (III.i.) to help draw information out of Hamlet, as Polonius and Claudius listen in: Polonius is using his daughter as a sexual-fishing-lure for Hamlet.

Still, no matter what Polonius does or how disingenuous he is--this advice is still important. However, if Polonius's actions don't reinforce his words, then you must ask how useful is his advice? As parents and role models we need to realize our actions communicate more than our words. It takes courage to be a writer; it takes courage to be an artist of any sort; it too takes courage to be honest with yourself. If you are not honest with yourself, how can you be honest with your children? When we are dishonest with our children, we weaken their ability to understand honesty within themselves and within other people. Much of our advertising-based culture is dishonest and manipulative. Our children need a touchstone of honesty, so they can ground themselves in reality. Honesty is not complicated. Honesty is not difficult. Honesty with your children (and everyone else you know) will cost you nothing this Christmas and it is one of the most valuable gifts you will ever give.

originally posted December 2012
reposted March 2018

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