I remember the first time my old man used the F word in front of us. It wasn’t like he muttered it underneath his breath as he has been known to do. He cashed his F word chip in around my brothers and me with a salty, heartfelt "MOTHER FUCKER." My father is a great man and even better dad, but everyone has their breaking points and Christmas was usually his.

For $250 one can have a nice family Saturday complete with Christmas carols, a hay ride, and some serious manual labor for the man paying the bill.Christmas is a relentless endeavor in the South and to me has always epitomized Southern hypocrisy. Do not be fooled by the polite manners and the "oh shucks" attitude. The same people who remind you of the real meaning of Christmas on Facebook have no problem prison shanking you in the middle of Walmart for a Tickle Me Elmo doll. In addition to the holiday hypocrisy is the absurd length of the celebration. Christmas music begins the week of Thanksgiving and continues through the New Year. We celebrate Jesus’s birthday like a sorority girl celebrates her 21st: for a month and a half.

I believe Christmas is especially hard on fathers and has been since the very first one. Imagine the stress Joseph must have gone through on that first Christmas. Traveling with a woman is hard enough, much less traveling with a wife pregnant with a kid that’s not yours and too broke to find her a decent place to give birth. You know Mary had to remind him in every subsequent marital argument that the Savior was born in a barn; at least he didn’t have Christmas music to compound the pressure.

Dad having trouble chopping down a Christmas tree
Not all dads were born into the "Timber Member" club.

Hearing the F word for the first time is a curious thing. On one hand you have no clue what it means, and on the other you know it’s bad because your mother blurts out, "Gary! The children…" as if she was writing dialogue for a 1930’s film. In a way the F word is a weird honkey middle class rite of passage. The day adults start casually using that word around you seems to be the same day you too are an adult in their eyes. My father’s first use of it around my younger brothers and me was most certainly not casual, but pure frustration only a grown man supporting a family could understand.

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My father was 39 at the time and I can only believe completely bogged down by the financial burden of Christmas and corporate America. I often wonder about the last thing he wanted to do on a Saturday away from work, and I’m guessing driving 45 minutes to pay handsomely to cut down your own Christmas tree with a handsaw was probably it.

Country Cove Christmas Tree Farm, or as my old man referred to it, "hell," like he had been to Nam and seen some shit, is a place where the holiday spirit is sold. For $250 one can have a nice family Saturday complete with Christmas carols, a hay ride, and some serious manual labor for the man paying the bill.

Your experience starts off at the front of the property on a big trailer packed with hay. The trailer is pulled by a horse and driven by a man inexplicably dressed up as a Charles Dickens character who says, "Hallo there good sirs and madam," as if 1800’s London had come to a farm in Tennessee.

The man led a group of four other families in the same Christmas carols you’ve been forced to listen to since Thanksgiving and the hay ride slowly moves from the front of the property to the back. As you move further through the farm the trees become bigger, more expensive, and obviously harder to cut down. Imagine the torture my father must have endured. The longer you stay on the hay ride with the other families full of Ned Flanders, the more you know you’re going to pay.

The hay ride itself is an exercise in brutality, but Dad’s day was far from over when we finally found our family Christmas tree. The Charles Dickens character handed him a standard issue Civil War handsaw for surgeons that I’m pretty sure had not been used since 1865. He notified my father that he would be back around in ten minutes to pick us up. Dad, a salesman seriously lacking in callouses and lumberjacking experience, then attempted to saw down our pine.

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Ten minutes passed and Dad was still lying on the cold December ground trying to cut down this tree with limited success. My mother explained to the Charles Dickens buffoon that we would be a bit longer. Another ten minutes went by and again Charles Dickens and his stupid hat were informed that we were not quite ready for him. Yet another ten minutes passed and not only were we not ready to be picked up, but my father was noticeably at his boiling point. He gave Charles Dickens a look as if to say he was in no mood to hear that silly English with a hint of redneck accent. Sweating, red-faced, and jeans dirty from lying on the ground for thirty minutes, my father had had enough…

What was running through his head at the time? The stress of Christmas and a job, the forced commercialized joy of the season, the emotional burden of raising a family, the 45-minute car ride to the farm, the ridiculous Charles Dickens character and his jovial disposition, paying $250 to perform manual labor, the hay ride passing 3 times with no success, and finally…. "MOTHER FUUUCCCKKKKEEERRRRR."

He said it, and to my mother’s credit, she did not give him a hard time in front of us; although, I’m sure he got an earful later. Mom calmly took the handsaw from my dad and in three minutes cut the tree down herself.

It is strange which unique events become part of your family dynamic and growth. To us, my father’s first F word in front of us is a story we like to bring up and laugh about every Christmas. However, I also remember that the following year Dad purchased a "mother fucking" fake tree.

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