I can’t ask my dad what he wants for Christmas this year. He died six months ago, but I still remember his voice and still hear him share his one-line Christmas list. Always and forever, be good.
This frustrated me when I was a kid. I was good! I ate the canned wax beans my mom served to round out dinner. I made my bed. Good grades, check. I never made my siblings bleed. Certainly, I could try to be better? I’d rather give him a Hickory Farms summer sausage or a Denver Broncos mug, though. He could enjoy those much more than my terse agreement to do the dishes on the second request rather than the third. Plus, how to wrap good behavior? How to display it under the tree? Most years, I plowed ahead with a gift of my choice for him, including summer sausages and Burger King gift certificates—useful stuff in a kid’s estimation.
As I grew, his Christmas wish was continually defined by be good. Be good. It’s free, it’s simple, and “Clark, that’s the gift that keeps on giving throughout the entire year.” It also felt like a throwaway answer, something to change the subject or give us an out. He knew what we got for allowance. It’s shabby to expect a gift from someone who makes five dollars a week and has a banana seat bike. Sometimes, our grandma would give each of us $20 to shop for our parents, which seemed like a princely fortune but bought little even in the 70s and 80s.
Now I’m a mom who is asked by small, medium, and big children what I would like for Christmas.
I say “be good.”
They laugh or roll their eyes. A couple of them nod their heads somberly. No, what do you really want, mom?
I’m not going to tell them about the earrings I saw at Anthropologie or my banal desire for a new doormat. The pots and pans are aging. I haven’t had cranberry-scented body butter in awhile.
So I tell them I want them to be good and I do. But I mean more than that, and so did my dad, I suspect.
I want them to be healthy, happy, strong, and curious. I want them to love God and the people in their lives. I want them to anticipate the needs of others before they’re expressed, to have tender hearts, to be encouragers. I want them to live up to their potentials and find contentment in work, school, and friendships. These aren’t revolutionarily odd hopes a mom would have for her children. I’m not alone.
My dad never intended for “be good” to mean I needed to improve or modify my behavior. He loved me at my most ninny-headed moments, when I scowled with my full body, when I sassed like a sassy-sasser, lost his watch on Halloween, and ruined the screen window trying to sneak out of the house. Who am I kidding? I did sneak out of the house.
Still, be good.
Still, I hear him and I echo him.