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“My family comes first. Maybe that’s what makes me different from other guys.”

– Bobby Darin

I was reminiscing not long ago with my brother, Joe, who was home visiting from the Air Force. I was reminded of when I published my first-ever news article about how Joe was leaving for the military a week prior to Christmas.

The article headline read, “Brother’s sacrifice gives new meaning to Christmas.” And it did. But that sacrifice has now turned into a blessing.

This Christmas marks four years since Joe’s swearing in, which means that his service is complete. He’s coming home. It got me thinking about what these past four years have taught our family. Frankly, we’ve been through a lot: from taking in foster children for a short time, to the birth of a new cousin, to my aunt and uncle moving down South, all the way to me graduating high school.

But as Joe searched for a job on his recent visit home, things felt different. We’ve grown up, matured and become more experienced, yet we are still so close.

The benefit of being a close-knit family is exactly what continues to define our Christmas. Because it is with each other where we can be ourselves, together, all of us laughing and talking, loving and understanding, remembering the wins and losses in our lives. That’s what family is all about. So, I’ll let you in on our secrets.

Family meal time: Though I didn’t really understand why I couldn’t watch the premiere of my favorite TV show while I ate, Dad made it a priority for our family to eat dinner together. And now it makes sense. Studies continue to show that a family that eats together bonds well. So many of my favorite family memories were made at the dinner table.

Sharing “gem” moments: Each family is entitled to its share of special moments. They are little things that are both embarrassing and fun. Our family is no exception. Growing up, if my brother and I were arguing, my parents would end the argument by making us kiss each other. We hated it. Looking back, those moments helped break down barriers, making sure that we understood the importance of family.

These “gem” moments are the highlights of my life and help make memories while nourishing my emotional and spiritual being.

Creating family traditions: During the holidays, my family has plenty of traditions. It’s those things that make us want to be home, and why Christmas was always hard when Joe was gone. Every Christmas Eve, my parents watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” together as they put out the gifts. It’s something special that I will always remember; something I’ll want to carry on with my family.

Communication: Talking helps us open our emotions and give up our grudges. While we have our conflicts, they tend to end with affection. This openness took years of cultivation and tending. Looking back, our hard work has paid off, because I trust my family members more than anyone.

Having Joe back is a gift all in itself. What more could I want? This holiday season, I hope to spend time with him, reconnect and make new memories. So switch off the TV, music and phone. Start a new tradition. Start making your family memories. We did, and now we’re completing our family puzzle four years later. I wouldn’t want it any other way.