Every Christmas, I am reminded of my former coworker, Johnny. He was an honourable and humble man who came to Canada from Hong Kong when he was a young adult. Johnny was a man of few words, and this could have been a self-conscious reflex because of his thick accent and unskilfulness of the English language. It could have also been the combination of Johnny’s introverted nature and a strong Christian upbringing that emphasised living by example rather than Pharisaic words.
But, when Johnny did get the inspiration to tell you something, it was well worth your time and attention.
Such is the time one late December, when Johnny had to tell me a story about his daughter, Sophia.
Johnny was so proud of his daughter. She was barely 11 years old at the time, and she was his reason for everything. He would proudly show me photos of her playing the violin, and he told me she might play in the symphony orchestra one day. To say he loved her was an understatement, and this was the only time this humble man chose to brag about his greatest accomplishment.
“I must tell you something about my daughter Sophia,” Johnny said to me as he approached my office, “She taught me a great lesson last night.”
Having peaked my interest, I welcomed Johnny into my office. He chose to stand and deliver his story as if the tale required the respect of something like a national anthem or the “hallelujah” chorus of Handel’s Messiah.
“We received a sample package of crackers in the mail,” He said, “and I decided I would put them in my lunchbox to take to work today.
“When I checked my lunchbox before bed, the crackers were gone.”
“Uh oh!” I said with a laugh and a smile, knowing full well how the story was going to end because it was obvious someone was busted.
Johnny continued: “I asked my wife if she took the crackers; she said no. That left us with one option.”
Exactly as I thought; Sophia was busted. I smiled and couldn’t wait for the conclusion of this story. I had heard similar stories most of my adult life but the unique part of them was how the child tries to escape punishment. I anticipated it was going to be a tale of how a child creatively attempts to weasel out of a situation of their own making.
Johnny paused for a moment. He was preparing himself for an emotional journey.
“When my wife and I went up to her bedroom,” he said, “we asked Sophia if she took the crackers. She said she did not. Her eyes gave her away as they were wide and watery. I knew she was lying.
“My wife and I went out into the hallway to discuss this. I said to my wife, ‘Why would she lie to us?’ Why would my daughter lie to me after all that I teach her?
“We were both very hurt by this.”
Such a reaction I never anticipated. Usually, when a parent catches their child in a lie, it becomes a game to reveal the lie via parental skill and to teach the child a lesson through a clever trap. For many parents I know, when dealing with a young child’s deception, it is a game that they intend to win with a delicious sense of satisfaction.
Johnny, however, saw this as a failure of him as a parent. It was just a small lie, but where did he go wrong? It was an affront to his sense of honour and humility.
You see, it wasn’t so much the act; it was the deception that followed.
“My wife and I agreed on what to say to her and we went back into her bedroom,”Johnny said as he raised an authoritative finger, “And I say to Sophia, ‘We know you are lying, and this is your last chance to tell us the truth, or we will punish you.
“Sophia’s tears started to come down her face, and she reached between the mattresses of her bed,” he said, “And she pulled out the package of crackers.”
To Johnny’s surprise, the crackers had a bow on it with a note that said, “Merry Christmas, Dad”.
“Sophia told me that she had no money to buy me a present for Christmas, and she wanted to give me something. So she took the crackers, wrapped them in a bow, and planned on giving it to me Christmas Day.”
My jaw dropped agape. It was a twist I had not anticipated. I had an immediate sense of guilt for judging Sophia.
Johnny and his wife would excuse themselves and step into the hallway.
Johnny said, “I talk to my wife, she is crying. I say to her, ‘We did good! We raised a humble daughter. We raised a good daughter. We did good.’
“My wife could not go back into the bedroom because she was crying too much. I had to go back into the bedroom and talk to Sophia on my own.
“I say to her, ‘Sophia, while I do not approve of you lying to us, I approve of your heart. And I forgive you.
“I want you to know that your mother and I don’t need a gift from you. That is not important. YOU are our gift from God. We don’t need any other gifts because we already have all that we wanted.
“‘While I forgive you, I need you to forgive me for doubting you.’”
I didn’t know what to say at this point. I think I whispered “Wow” or some soft exclamation that was similar.
“I put those crackers under the tree and I will not open them until Christmas Day,” Johnny said, “I am thankful for that gift. It is my favourite gift under the tree.”
Johnny then lifted a hand to his chest and pointed a shaky finger to the sky. Intense and convicted eyes that defiantly withheld the tears stared back at me.
“Sophia is my greatest gift and I thank God for her every day…every day.”
Johnny would end up passing away suddenly about 3 weeks later from complications of liver failure. We would later learn that Johnny’s fate was sealed from the time he was born, as this was something he inherited from his mother. Johnny’s funeral would take place on Christmas Eve, where 11-year-old Sophia would stand in front of everyone and deliver a dedication she wrote to her father. It would be one of the most beautiful, most heartbreaking things I’ve ever seen up to that point in my life.
Because the funeral was on Christmas Eve, this means Johnny never “opened” his most favourite present under the tree. As it turns out, the crackers were only a vehicle to deliver a greater story of the love between a father and the “Greatest Gift” that is his daughter.
If you enjoyed this story, you might enjoy my book.