What It Takes

What It Takes

The Fat Guy in the Red Suit Knows the Deal

By Callie Oettinger | Published: December 25, 2015

Photo credit: Photographs in the Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Photo credit: Photographs in the Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Do you ever feel like a kid at times and wonder how you got here, to this adult place?

Two weeks ago, a friend and I went down that rabbit hole.

A young woman he manages at work is staring down a fork in her road. She doesn’t know what to do next. Wants more money, more responsibility, more of all the usual things…

She looks at him and sees an old guy (anyone over 30 in her eyes). He looks inside and sees a kid. He’s still laughing at the same things he did when he was 12 and his tastes, while they’ve evolved, aren’t too far off 12 either. The same things tend to excite and scare him, too. He’s just better at coping these days. But… When he looks in the mirror… He understands the “old” she sees.

He asked her to stay put for a little while and to learn.

Why?

“You’re just as smart as I am,” he explained. “You could probably do my job. The difference between us that matters isn’t that I’m older or smarter. It is that I’ve done my job and your job.”

In other words, he’s had more opportunities to fail and learn. She sees the success and money. He knows the success came because failures taught him to anticipate pitfalls — and those failures came because he put in the time at various levels to get to the top.

Another example:

I have eleven years of Santa pics with my kids. Ten of them are with the same Santa.

When you look at him, he’s an older guy with a great smile and a beautiful, natural silver beard — the kind that doesn’t come off via a tot’s tug.

There are plenty of older men who could fit the bill, but why don’t they?

There’s more to being Santa than putting on the red suit. Just ask Doris Walker.

A good Santa can accept the transfer of a sleeping baby from her mother’s arms, without waking the slumbering bundle. And: He knows which pose to assume, to delight the mother and all the relatives receiving photo copies. He cradles the baby in one arm, like Barry Sanders with a football, then raises the other arm, to put one finger to his mouth in a shushing motion. He makes eye contact with the photographer, smiling with his eyes instead of his mouth. Happy momma. Sleeping baby. Mission accomplished.

A good Santa knows the basics of kids, too. Want a kid to believe you’re the real deal? Tell her something you’d only know if you were in her house. Tell her to stop fighting with her brothers or sisters and suggest she listen to her parents. Not groundbreaking stuff, but to that four-year old jumping off Santa’s knee, he’s a believer. Somehow that fat guy in the red suit knew he fought with his older brother.

What Santa really knew was the truths of childhood.

He knows because he’s had experience. He’s seen what works and what doesn’t, so that by year ten, he knows how to deal with difficult kids and their often equally difficult parents. He knows how to put people at ease, and can spot a potential meltdown ten families into the line waiting to see him.

He’s just like my friend, but wrapped in a different look. He’s failed and the lessons that arrived fueled future successes.

I hope the young woman my friend is mentoring will stick around. She might get more money somewhere else, but the experiences and guidance she’ll gain working with him have greater value.

She doesn’t have to be an elf forever, but if she wants to aim for a red suit of her own, she needs to put in the time.

My friend, and I think Santa, too, would tell her they’re still young at heart, feeling very much the kid. That thing making them adults — and allowing them to succeed — isn’t age. It is experience.

Money pays the bills, but experience will be a better guide than money the next time she finds herself facing a fork in her road.

Posted in What It Takes

11 Responses to “The Fat Guy in the Red Suit Knows the Deal”

  1. December 25, 2015 at 6:37 am

    Merry Christmas to you and yours, Callie.

  2. Mary Doyle
    December 25, 2015 at 8:03 am

    Thanks for a great Christmas Day post Callie – Merry Christmas!

  3. December 25, 2015 at 8:16 am

    What Joe said, Callie.

    Also, let me say that it’s easier for writers to seem timeless, not stuck to their specific age-year, because writers are alert to the world and to people. I prefer nonfiction, actually, but I’m still a method actor for imagining and being around folks of other times and places.

    Come to think of it, back in the days of gay bars I used to blend right in. (In my city gay bars fell away as the closets fell away)

  4. Dick Yaeger
    December 25, 2015 at 8:23 am

    I woke up three hours earlier than usual today. Must have been my twelve-year-old self wanting to see what’s under the tree. Merry Christmas, Callie.

  5. BING
    December 25, 2015 at 10:56 am

    Thanks Callie, Merry Christmas.

  6. December 25, 2015 at 11:39 am

    Merry Christmas Callie. Great post. I’ve thought the same thing at times–why with all the things I’ve eaten in my life is a peanut butter and honey sandwich with a tall glass of milk still my favorite snack?

    Are our tastes in food, music, comedy, genre of films/literature, sports, etc fairly hard-wired into us by the time we’re 12? I suspect they are. Were they there before we were born? Are they as much a part of us as our ‘core’ personality? I think this would be an interesting blog to dig into a bit further.

    I woke up later than usual (my own Christmas gift to myself), and just spent 90 minutes walking the dogs at our wonderful off-leash park. Kelly slept in as well, and we’ll drive up to her parents with a few stragglers (friends without family) in tow to enjoy a Christmas dinner in the next couple of hours.

    I was thankful that you posted today, as the Black Irish Books community is also a different kind of family to me. It is a kindred souls community.

    I wish you all a very Merry Christmas.
    bsn

  7. Patricia
    December 25, 2015 at 8:52 pm

    Yes, thanks for posting — especially this one — today.

  8. Sonja
    December 25, 2015 at 9:52 pm

    Yes, I too sometimes wonder, when I look ariund, how I got to be an “adult.” :)

  9. December 27, 2015 at 6:56 am

    Thank Callie, for such a thoughtful post. Add 20+ years to it, and Santa’s even smarter. Actually, he/she’s not ‘smarter,’ but those extra years of dealing with people brings the people-skills necessary to get an unpleasant point across in a way that doesn’t escalate into a crisis? If only I had these skills 20+ years ago…!

  10. Jack Hovenier
    December 27, 2015 at 9:15 am

    Callie,

    At the risk of being slightly offensive. I have a confession: I subscribe to these posts to read Steven. When it’s you or Shawn, I normally feel a slight twinge of disappointment. Not because you aren’t great writers, but because I came for Steven. Today I came for you. Really enjoyed this. There are two lines that really resonated with me, “What Santa really knew was the truths of childhood.” and “That thing making them adults …isn’t age. It is experience.” I’ll remember those, I resonate with them and they’ve proven true in my vocation. Thanks for writing and Merry Christmas.

  11. Marvin Waschke
    December 29, 2015 at 10:10 am

    Callie,
    Success, failure, hierarchy, money, and experience sure are the big questions at work. Great post. I hope you had a Merry Christmas and anticipate a Happy New Year.