I realize it sounds odd for a 40-something-year-old man to profess that his dad is Santa Claus, but mine really is. “Santa Larry” is a card-carrying member of the International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santas, and as such, he has pledged to uphold the official Santa Claus Oath. Until he decided to take on the Santa persona a few years ago, I had no idea any of this existed.

And wow, have I learned a lot.

As I reflect on my personal Father Christmas, there are some observations worth sharing with you. But first, some background and answers to common questions:

  • Yes, he keeps the real beard and long white hair all year long.
  • Yes, he often wears a red or green shirt, red tennis shoes, suspenders or a hat as part of his “Santa casual” attire. Even in July, the man looks like Santa to just about anyone who sees him.
  • No, he doesn’t work at the mall, but he (and my mom as Mrs. Claus!) will make appearances at private events, host crafts or reading at the library, appear in parades, enjoy the occasional “breakfast with Santa,” etc.

I believe there are lessons for all of us in what he does, and here are just a few:

Kindness is free, so commit to sharing more of it.
We’ve recently started holding Respectful Workplace conversations with leaders and will be continuing those throughout Celanese in 2019. Those discussions focus on always treating each other with trust, dignity and respect. Words matter. Always assume positive intent of others. We cannot let the pressures of the moment be an excuse to be unkind to one another.

I often think of myself as a nice person with good manners, but I’ve seen my dad display a magnitude of kindness to strangers that I rarely see in others and certainly not in myself.

Dad is different from us in that he’s a 24/7 real-life personification of a character famous for his jolly disposition. His very appearance carries with it an expectation of happiness, and he does his best every day to keep the dream alive. Which means the man has to be nice to everyone. From the toll-booth operator to the guy pumping gas next to him to the priest at his church, he greets everyone with a beaming smile and a kind word. It’s a beautiful thing to see, and he and they are better for it.

If you agree that we can all strive to share more joy, then say this aloud with me as I paraphrase from the Santa oath:
“I will seek to bring cheer and goodwill to all the people that I encounter in my journeys and travels.”

Be a better listener.
On a recent guys trip to New York City with my son and his grandpas, my Santa dad turned heads everywhere we went. When we took a selfie atop a skyscraper, I spotted someone out of the corner of my eye taking a picture of the four of us (probably to post on their social media about seeing Santa on vacation). A tour guide at Rockefeller Center stopped him to share her love of Santa. The security guards at the Statue of Liberty had a good laugh over who was going to end up on the naughty list if they had to frisk Santa. I can’t begin to count how many New Yorkers and tourists shouted out what they wanted for Christmas as we walked.

And you know what? He listened. He stopped and chatted with anyone who tried to get his attention. He was engaging and when he laughed, I swear I could see the proverbial twinkle in his eye. Nothing else mattered to him at that very moment, and it made no difference whether he was talking with a shy 6-year-old or a smitten 66-year-old.

I know I’m not as good a listener as he is. When I’m meeting with my team, am I truly hearing them, or am I distracted by my own thoughts? Is there context in meetings that I’m not picking up because I’m not fully engaged? Are there hopes and dreams being shared with me at home or at the office that I could impact if I would just tune in better?

I’ll take my direction from the Santa oath,
“I shall be dedicated to hearing the secret dreams of both children and adults.”

Be prepared for anything.
My Mr. & Mrs. Claus parents attend a Santa training school every year, which strikes most people the same way it struck me when I first heard it: “What does one learn at Santa school?”

In addition to learning the history of Santa, traditional carols, proper dress code and beard care, they also learn common sign language, the year’s hottest toy trends, and how to answer the difficult wish list requests like, “I want my mommy and daddy to get back together,” and “Can you bring grandma back?”

This is professional development for a group who sees the Santa lifestyle as a true calling. And as someone trying to keep the magic alive for each little dreamer sitting on his lap, my dad needs to be prepared for anything.

This makes me consider my own preparedness. Am I planning ahead or am I mostly reactive? When I’m approached with a seemingly impossible task, how do I react? Am I part of the solution? Am I glass-half-full more often than not? Am I inclusive and thinking of the needs of others?

Again, I’ll borrow from the Santa oath. Say it with me,
“I acknowledge that some of the requests I will hear will be difficult and sad. I know in these difficulties there lies an opportunity to bring a spirit of warmth, understanding and compassion.”

I’ve always loved Christmas. Through my parents, I’m now experiencing it in an entirely different way than I did as a child. They are teaching me that the world can still be a magical place, and we all have a part to play in that.

Mr. & Mrs. Schuler, a.k.a., Mr. & Mrs. Claus (or Mr. & Mrs. Schuler Claus?)

I guess it’s not every day that Santa is part of a dude selfie…

Most conversations like this start with, “Is that really you, Santa?” And then they start sharing their wishes or Christmas memories.

The Statue of Liberty security team shares a laugh with Santa. Of course, his laugh is “ho ho ho…”