My Favorite Christmas Moment–Learning the Value of Exercise

Christmas eve.

You’d think my story would be about shopping or a family get together. Those have been nice (I tell an endearing story on today’s podcast). This one trumps them all, though.

We had a family….er….tradition. My dad would march my brother and I (this particular year we were ages 10 and 7) to the stores to get something for Mom on Christmas eve. Traditionally, stores would close at noon. Shelves were in disarray. Weeks of holiday specials created mixed bins of heaped colors and shapes. Every year we’d scavenge through holiday bins, looking for the right gift.

Let’s talk definitions. “Right gift” didn’t mean something perfect that my mom would absolutely love. Buying a gift with my dad was never about “Will mom think this is just perfect?”

It was more: “Do you think she’d be offended if we bought her a toaster?”

Shopping with my dad was a “How the hell do we get out of this mall” adventure.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, aren’t I? One year we barely made it to the store on time to buy my mom a gift at all. That’s because we decided to grab lunch first AND JCPenny that year decided to stay open until 2 pm….but let’s just tell the story.


The Story


To kick off our Christmas Eve “The Great Mom’s Gift Hunt,” my dad took us to Pizza Hut. We didn’t eat at restaurants a ton when I was a kid, so every time was special…and Pizza Hut with my dad equaled supreme awesome.

I barely remember the lunch. I’m sure we had the same sort of meal as always when mom wasn’t around…three guys stuffing themselves as full as possible. My brother would then open his mouth to show us his half-eaten lunch. My dad would scold him because we didn’t do that in our family. “Just eat it, already.”

My dad has always had a strong work ethic and is a straight shooter. While he didn’t talk a ton (I’ve made up for his lack of vocal effort), when he did, you listened. That’s because, while a horrible shopper, my dad valued relationships, honesty and hard work. I remember my dad’s retirement party as person after person walked up to me and told stories about what a big affect my old man had on their life.

But enough mulling over my dad. I have a story to tell, and after the meal was the interesting part.

The woman brought the bill as my dad was listening to my brother and I argue. I know I didn’t notice as he leaned toward one side to grab his wallet, then leaned to the other side. I do remember that my dad, a quiet guy already, became really still.

Then you could see an idea light up his face. It’s like the time you first figure out the little secret to something, like how the toilet lever works. Maybe you’ve figured out how to arrange landscaping, fix your bicycle, or sprung upon how to make the fish tank work. THAT “aha!” look.

Whatever it was, I remember The Look.


He Leaned Forward


“Okay, Tony. Here’s what I need you to do. Go into the bathroom and count to ten. Then go out to the car.”

Tony’s face contorted. “Why?”

“Don’t ask questions. Just go to the bathroom, count to ten, then walk out and get in the car.”

My dad and I watched as Tony, bewildered, headed for the bathroom. A few minutes later, he walked out to the car. We could see him open the door and jump into the back seat.

Clearly, in my mind, Tony had said something in our arguing to upset my dad. I wasn’t sure what it was, but I was glad he was getting in trouble and not me. I was about to bite into the pizza crust on my plate when my dad leveled his jaw toward me.

“Okay, Joe. Go to the bathroom and count to ten. Then walk out to the car and get in.”

What the heck? I thought Tony was getting it, not me!

“Just do it. Hurry up.”

I stood up and walked into the bathroom. Then I counted to ten. If I’d been older I might have wondered if my dad was losing it.

Was I in trouble? Maybe there was something I’d done to upset him?

I walked out to the car and sat in the back seat next to Tony.

“Why are you out here?” he asked.

“I don’t know. Dad told me to go in the bathroom and then come out with you.”

Tony shifted toward the door. “I don’t want to be out here. I’m gonna get out and see–“

“Wait!” I pulled at my brother before he could open the door.

My dad was hustling out of the restaurant, face beet red and his car key in hand.

I couldn’t believe it. He got in the car and drove away. About a mile down the road he giggled (and my dad wasn’t a giggler).

“I forgot my wallet.”

Holy moley. My dad, the respected do-gooder in our town, had just dined and dashed on Christmas Eve.

We went home and retrieved the wallet from his dresser and still made it to JCPenny before they closed.

…and if you’re wondering, no, my mom wasn’t offended by the bath robe we picked out.

Epilogue: My dad gets embarrassed when I tell that story, so I’ll tell you the real ending. While all of the above is true, he felt so bad about it that later he went back and paid, explaining the whole thing. Luckily, because he told the manager everything, nothing happened to him (no police, etc.). That’s totally my dad, too. He hasn’t always made the right decisions, but when he made a bad one, he’s always been the first to go back and make it right.

…either way, I still think my dad should have exercised more if he was going to try a 40 meter sprint out of the Pizza Hut.

Looking for less devious stories of Christmas past? Check out Sicorra’s Christmas post mini carnival today at Tackling Our Debt.

Photo: Victor Solanoy


Looking for more stories of Joe & his family not quite getting it right?

Try You Have No Idea What I Paid For This Room, There’s Something Wrong With The Car or I Miss Checkbooks.

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Author: Average Joe

A 16 year veteran of the financial planning and financial media circus. Lover of hamburgers and ice cream.

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  1. Sounds like your dad gave you lots of memories, not only on Christmas! Sounds like my dad. Around my dad, we have to be careful of what we say because he always has a comeback. If you say something like “I feel strange”, he’ll say “well introduce yourself”, LOL. Love Dads and loved your post! We didn’t got out a lot either and Pizza Hut was a special treat for us too! Thanks for sharing your memories!

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  2. I love how your dad was crafty enough to get out of there with two kids. Must be where you got your smarts. If my Dad had ever taken us out in a similar situation, I can see him doing the same thing and going back to pay later as well. I hope you have gotten your mom some better gifts in the years since.
    Kim@Eyesonthedollar recently posted..My Most Memorable ChristmasMy Profile

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  3. HAHAHah that is epic…what a great story. Seems like your old man was a swell man and had a good heart.

    Plus he was crafty enough to slip out unnoticed with two kids! I’m trying to think of some good stories to compare.. but I don’t have anything!
    Ryan @ Planwise recently posted..How To: Buy/Sell a CarMy Profile

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    • I have tons of other embarrassing stories waiting in the wings, Kathleen.

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    • Not yet! I think he was, kind of, when he realized he didn’t have a wallet.

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    • He’s a good man, Charlie Brown!

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    • That’s funny, because we were wondering the same thing. Why go in the bathroom then to the car? He’s pretty sneaky. Yeah, I can’t imagine two kids sitting in a car as dad’s getting hauled away.

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  4. Your dad is one cool dude for letting you tell that story! I would have made you kids swear that day to take it with you to the grave! “No one will speak of this infamy!!” Merry Xmas :)
    American Debt Project recently posted..A Christmas StoryMy Profile

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    • He really isn’t happy that I tell it. My brother says I tell it too much….but I still think it was genius to send us into the bathroom first as a “cover” before dashing out to the car. My dad should be in espionage.

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    • Funny, I asked him about that. He didn’t want to draw the waiter’s attention by sending us together.

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  5. You tell a good story, Joe. I can’t believe you and your brother went out to the car without drawing a ton of attention to your dad. I so would’ve messed it up if it were me. “Why are we going to the car? Why are you whispering? I’m telling the waitress!” I was born without an inside voice.
    Michelle @ See Debt Run recently posted..That Christmas Time of YearMy Profile

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  6. What a great story. And, as a dad myself, it really did make me stop and think about the kinds of memories I’m creating for our boys. Your dad sounds like a great guy. Thanks for sharing. :-)

    P.S. My dad also loved to head out for last minute shopping on Christmas Eve. But we weren’t invited along — that’s when he’d go out and pick up all the last minute “extras” that not even mom knew about.
    Michael recently posted..Maximize the Tax Benefit of Charitable Contributions, Donate Appreciated AssetsMy Profile

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  7. Our goal wasn’t to have “…then Karyn got fired from her job” at the end. Promise!

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  8. Hahah I had a similar story happen with my dad. We went out to a buffet for lunch (he and my sister and I) although he didn’t forget his wallet, we just ate our food, got up and walked out. It wasn’t until we got home that he looked at me and said ‘Oh my God, I forgot to pay for out food!’. He called the restaurant and called them with his credit card number but they said they appreciated his honesty and didn’t charge us because, after all, it was a buffet and food gets wasted.
    catherine recently posted..Weekly Reads 06.12.12My Profile

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  9. Joe, You’re dad sounds like a great guy. Personally, I like practical gifts. I wouldn’t mind a toaster or a vacuum, but my husbands quite sentimental and usually gets me jewelry. I’ve very lucky.
    Barbara Friedberg recently posted..MORE EDUCATION LEADS TO HIGHER PAYMy Profile

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