Did you know that more men leave their wives and children on Christmas day than on any other day of the year? New Year’s eve runs a close second. But there is a reason for this. Men don’t leave their wives to be on their own. No man ever decided to leave cooked meals, made beds, scrubbed bathroom, and vacuumed rugs to be by himself.  No, men leave because they have found Someone Else.  And that Someone else has insisted the man spend Christmas with her. And so the old family is left, and off the man goes to start anew. But behind him is something broken.

Soon after the aborted Christmas pageant, my parents divorced. It was a long time coming. Maybe if I’d been older I would have seen the signs. But I missed them all. From my child’s point of view, it was like standing on a rug, and having someone yank it out from under me. It’s cliché, but it’s true. And on Christmas day, the rug got yanked. We woke up as usual at the crack of dawn – kids that normally slept late and regularly missed the bus, shot out of bed like rockets and careened down the stairs, yelling fot the parents to get up and get out of bed, and it all started perfectly well. That year I got a toy that I’d seen on TV and wanted for ages – it was a candy-maker: you poured some powder in a mold and plugged in the machine, and it churned out a sort of chemical gummy bear that the FDA would never approve these days. I remember sitting under the tree, happily making a sticky mess. Then my mother opened her gifts, and they were a fur coat and an amethyst ring. She was astounded and tried on the coat, twirling around to show it off. My dad didn’t hug or kiss her. He looked embarrassed, bent down to ruffle my hair, then he said he was leaving, and he walked out the door.

I thought he was going out to get milk or something.  but no, he didn’t come back. My mother explained what a divorce was. The candy, that had moments ago been so delicious, suddenly made me feel sick.

The next month I was invited to spend time at my father’s new condo with his new girlfriend. Kids are flexible. After the first few weeks we had pretty much accepted that our parents had really divorced, and that we could get pretty much any toy we wanted because they were feeling guilty. Despite our anger and misery, it felt good to take advantage of their guilt to get the dolls, plastic ponies, stuffed animals, and whatever else our little broken hearts desired. We got over it – of course – but it left a bitter memory for Christmas.

So imagine my dismay when, just two years ago, on Christmas eve, my neice’s husband walked out on her and her two children. Because he’d found Someone Else, and so he turned his back on his kids and wife and abandoned them. (Because that’s what it was – abandon – on Christmas eve, no less.) Talk about a joyless dinner. Talk about an awkward evening. Pretending cheer and joy when two little children are bewildered and my neice was in shock. We sat around, fake grins on our faces, feeling dreadful for the family that had suddenly been shattered, and I remembered my own shattered Christmas and wondered why men couldn’t wait for a better moment. A month before or after Christmas – that would be useful. At least to let us know we don’t have to buy a present. We took the gift we’d wrapped for the absent father and tossed it in the trash. I couldn’t even bear to regift it.

What kind of man does that to his family? Well, my father, for one. It’s painful to admit that someone I thought the world of would do that to me – and I did think the world of him. But it does no good (and I know from experience) to carry a grudge. I still loved my father, although it took me a good many years to accept that he loved me too – and still walked out on me. And then it took more years to trust people who said they loved me. I kept my heart and didn’t give it away, too afraid the person who had it would walk away if he found Someone Else, and I’d be left looking at blinking Christmas tree lights.