Every year around this time, I am reminded of what my father did in his later life around Christmas. About 40 years ago, he purchased an expensive Santa suit with beard and hair, fully trimmed with red velvet and white fur. I thought, at the time, that he had lost his mind.

Annually, about three weeks before Christmas, my mother would get out the suit and hair. She’d carefully shampoo and comb the beard and hair and place them on a Styrofoam head to dry.

My brothers and I were reminded of Dad’s holiday evening job when we walked by their bedroom and on the dresser were the hair and beard waiting to be used.

Like clockwork two weeks before Christmas, he’d come home from his day job, dirty and tired, shower and head to the local strip mall to sit in a small building for three hours every night until Christmas Eve, entertaining the local children.

For years he grumbled and complained about this seasonal, poorly paid job.

I always thought my mother was behind this seemingly harmless fascination with dear old Santa and the abuse I thought my father was enduring yearly.

Dad constantly complained about children wetting their pants and soiling his at the same time. He told many stories about snotty-nosed children, children who smelled foul or had dirty diapers and parents who were just plain rude.

He came home every night with different stories that amused everyone in our family for years. I thought he had hated all the time he’d spent being Santa. I never did understand the motivation or the act of doing something he insisted that he did not enjoy in the least bit.

Fast-forward some 12 years. My father died, and my mother very oddly offered the jolly suit to me as a gift.

I reluctantly took it and carefully placed it in a closet. Then, about 10 years ago, my own children were infants and my wife encouraged me to get the suit out and visit our home on Christmas Eve.

The first time I put on the suit, something akin to magic happened to me that I would never forget. At that moment I began to understand my father’s feelings about that costume all those years ago.

This year my wife volunteered me for a breakfast with Santa at a fundraiser for an elementary school’s eighth-grade class. The night before I was to make my appearance, I fully resolved to give up the suit. Like my father I grumbled around the house and complained endlessly.

When the day came, with great hesitation I dressed and took my seat in the basement of St. Joseph’s Parish.

Then it happened. A small child crawled into my lap and a twinkle in her eyes caught mine. I was moved.

I spent the next three hours holding and talking to little ones, all the time watching their eyes sparkle with joy. That night, I decided it wasn’t yet time to give up the suit. I finally understood my father’s gift and the gifts he had received all those years ago.

— Special to the Telegram