A bit of background information. Mat's mum died when he was 21 and he and his dad soon stopped speaking. About 5 or 6 years ago, Mat called up his dad and they re-established contact. His dad, Stephen, has been over to visit us several times, both on his own and with his girlfriend, Debbie. Debbie's 17 year old daughter Leah has also been over with them twice. We all got along pretty well and everything was hunky dory. Mat and I spoke to his dad a couple of times a week and kept him updated on the latest antics of the Littlest Cat.
Stephen called us up in August (AUGUST?) to ask what we were doing for Christmas. Given that it was still around 40 degrees in the shade, we hadn't really had that conversation yet and agreed to let him know once we'd reached an agreement. Mat really liked the idea of a big family Christmas with the baby and, despite preferring a stress-free Christmas at home and not relishing the idea of travelling with an energetic toddler, I eventually agreed. We booked our flights on October 8th and arranged to stay with Stephen as he has a 3 bedroomed house that he lives in alone.
Mat was a bit annoyed when arrangements were being made for the Christmas period, as his dad seemed reluctant to be at all flexible with his time. We were going back from 22nd - 29th of December and Stephen, who owns a shop, had already booked to go away with his girlfriend on the 27th. We understood that he would probably be busy in the shop on the 23rd and 24th (this didn't really turn out to be the case), but were a little put out that he didn't want to include us in his plans for Christmas day. He was going to his girlfriend's house and her mum was cooking, which apparently is a long-standing tradition of his. Given that he's known her only 6 years, Mat was a less than impressed that this "tradition" was taking preference over us and the baby, but said nothing. People make their Christmas plans way in advance and he couldn't exactly invite an extra 3 people for dinner to someone else's house, and he clearly didn't want to spend it at home - Mat offered to cook for everyone, but the offer was declined. There was a bit of a discussion about the plans for Boxing Day (26th) - my mum was having a gathering of all of the family and we felt that the easiest way to see everyone would be to invite Stephen to this. We would then all go home together and have the evening with just Stephen, Debbie and Leah. Stephen was reluctant even to agree to a couple of hours, but eventually was talked into it when Mat pointed out that his other plans meant he wasn't going to see much of Dominic at all over Christmas, and that we were bringing him home specifically so that his family could spend time with him. In the end, all was arranged and everyone was happy - or so we thought.
A couple of weeks before Christmas, Mat called up his dad to see if he was going to have a Christmas tree, as he doesn't usually. Stephen was out so he spoke to Debbie, who assured him that they were having a tree and joked with him about his dad's Scrooge-like tendencies where decorations were concerned. End of conversation.
Fast forward to Christmas Eve. Mat had gone out with his friends the night before and was still missing in action. I wasn't upset as it had been several years since he'd been able to have a good drink and catch-up with his mates and I felt he deserved the break. I'd stayed in, watched TV and chatted with his dad. I left the house the next morning to see a friend and agreed with Stephen to be back around 3 as he was going to take Dominic into town to see the lights and give me time to wrap some presents and wash my hair. Mat still wasn't home, though he was there when I got back at 3. His dad stormed in at 3:30, told me it was too late to go into town as the shops were shutting at 4 and that he was going out, and stormed back out again, clearly very annoyed.
As the afternoon wore into evening, Mat got more and more angry that his dad wasn't home to spend Christmas Eve with us and the baby. We had both tried to figure out what could have angered him so much since the morning and I could only conclude that it must be something at work, as neither of us had seen him in the meantime. Mat didn't agree, though he was just as much at a loss to explain the mood swings as I was.
Stephen came in just before 7. I asked if everything was OK and he snapped, "Why?!" I said that he'd seemed a bit flustered when he'd been home earlier that day, to which he replied, "Well, it's one of them, isn't it?" (In other words, I don't want to discuss it). The atmosphere in the house was horrendous and Mat eventually told him that he could read him like a book and wanted to know what the problem was, because it was blatantly obvious that there was one.
Stephen flipped and started shouting, so Mat took him into the hall as the baby and I were in the room and we DO NOT shout in front of Dom. I couldn't hear what went on but they weren't out there very long, just long enough for Stephen to tell Mat that he had decided weeks ago that he wanted nothing more to do with him and that he had only been waiting to get Christmas out of the way to tell him so. Mat asked what had prompted this and was told that when he'd phoned about the Christmas tree, he had left Debbie so upset that Stephen had thought upon his return that something had happened to one of her parents. This didn't ring true as, first of all, I had heard the conversation - it was all very light-hearted and had ended on a cheerful note. Secondly, Debbie is Head of Retail for a multinational company and has just turned down the position of CEO. That's not a level you ascend to if you're so thin-skinned that a jokey conversation about a Christmas tree makes you cry.
Mat started to tell his dad that his mother would have been ashamed to hear this. He barely got the first words out of his mouth when his dad was on him, pinning him against the wall by the throat and shouting in his face. The baby and I were still in the room and Dom was screaming his head off - he's never seen violence before and, up until that point, the only thing he's been scared of is the hoover. I can't forgive that, ever. To his eternal credit, Mat remained calm and just kept telling his dad not to upset the baby. We left the room and Mat's dad told him to get out.
Bear in mind, it's 7pm on Christmas Eve. I was about to put Dominic's bath on and get him ready for bed when all this kicked off. Stephen told me that the baby and I could stay, but that Mat had to leave. I reminded him that we are a family and told him that I wouldn't dream of leaving my son's father on his own on Christmas Eve. We started to pack up our things and arranged for someone to come and get us. I told Mat to go on ahead with Dom (we didn't know where we were going at this point, but we were making calls), get him to bed and I'd follow on with as much of our stuff as I could manage.
Stephen then said that we could stay and he would go to his girlfriend's. He'd planned on spending most of the Christmas period there anyway, so it was agreed that we would stay in his house until we left on the 29th. We were to go out on Boxing Day so he could come and collect some stuff, and then we could come back.
We did this and managed to have an amazing Christmas despite what had happened. I could not be prouder of how Mat dealt with the whole situation, and more grateful to the friends and family who ensured that this is not our enduring memory of the period. Stephen came back on Boxing Day and left us a horrible note telling us that we'd left his home like "a shit-hole of a doss house" because we'd left a light on (for security, we stayed out on Christmas night). Other than that, we haven't heard from him.
Had this all been the product of one day, I'd assume that the stress of Christmas or the pressure of having visitors (even his own family) had got to him. However, he reminded us several times that this had been planned for some weeks. And if it wasn't enough to drag us from another country to tell us we were no longer wanted, the Christmas card they gave us made their point very clear.
I'm sad for Mat's sake that this has happened - the poor fella has lost enough people in his life and now has no family except the one we're building, but I'm going to make sure that our family is everything he needs. What I can't forgive is how Stephen has walked away from Dominic. He played with him, cuddled him and spent time with him before Christmas, knowing he was going to cut him off afterwards. What type of cruel, callous, heartless individual does that to a baby?
I've got more to say on this subject, but Dom is currently being a scary lion and deserves my full attention, so I'll come back to it.