COLUMN: After the worst year of my life, this is why I’m thankful today

From the Editor

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Rett Nelson with his two children. | Rett Nelson,

As journalists, we try to report the daily news objectively. But on this day of gratitude, I would like to take off my reporter’s hat and speak to you as a fellow human being.

Every Thanksgiving, families gather ’round the dinner table and share what they are thankful for. It is a tradition passed down through the generations that today almost seems cliche and trite.

The world is in commotion and it is changing. There is a major shift occurring in our culture. Families are under attack.

For a lot of people, the family dinner table scene at Thanksgiving I just mentioned looks a lot different than it did five, 10 or 20 years ago. Some may be dealing with issues that didn’t exist a year ago at this time.

Over the last year, I have become keenly aware of how quickly family life can change. This makes it difficult to recognize blessings, much less feel gratitude for them.

Newsweek is reporting this week the results of a study on gratitude from Harvard Medical school.

“Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships,” Harvard researchers stated.

Aside from the challenges of the past year, there is one thought that cuts through all the negativity — my two children.

“It’s two days before Thanksgiving. My family is down for an afternoon nap after an eventful weekend,” I wrote in 2015. “My son, Ryker, came into the world, Saturday, November 21 at 5:21 p.m.”

As I write this, my son is turning 2.

In December 2013, I wrote this shortly after the birth of my first child:

“I held my daughter for the first time within minutes after she was born. There was an immediate connection that left me speechless.”

No matter what life throws at me, there is nothing that can take away the joy of these experiences.

I love my kids. As their father, I worry about the world they are growing up in. I worry about their safety and their well-being. I want them to confide in me and to trust me. I want to teach them what is right, and be a positive influence in their life.

If it weren’t for them, I probably would have given up a long time ago. My role as a father is what keeps me going.

Last week, I wrote a story about the Festival of Trees in Idaho Falls.

Rett Nelson |

I was not planning on covering this event, until I learned my sister was singing there on a certain day. I wanted to support her. I was supposed to be working when her performance would be happening, but in my mind I justified attending if I wrote a story on the week-long event.

The Festival of Trees is a 43-year tradition in east Idaho. It happens every year the week before Thanksgiving and kicks off the holiday season.

From the time I was a little kid, I have always loved the holidays. It is my favorite time of year. But this year I was not looking forward to the season.

Last year after Thanksgiving, my family situation changed.

I showed up at The Festival of Trees to hear the sounds of Christmas. I did not want to hear it. For me, it conjured up bad memories and dark emotions.

I made a few contacts, took some pictures and said a quick hello to my family. I did not want to be there any longer than I had to be.

When I paid for my ticket, the lady at the desk gave me an extra one so I could come back with my kids. If nothing else, it is something to do with them that is free, I thought.

A few days later, my children and I went back to Festival of Trees.

I walked in the door to hear my daughter say, “Oh Daddy, I love it.”

She noticed Santa Claus and I could tell she was interested.

“If you sit on his lap, he’ll ask you what you want for Christmas, and deliver it to your house,” I told her. “Would you like to sit on his lap?.”

“Maybe later,” she said. I knew that meant she wanted Santa to come, but wasn’t comfortable with the idea of sitting on the lap of a man she had never met.

After lunch, we looked at the Christmas trees. My daughter loved “The Dress” themed tree and “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” My son liked the Donut tree.

Rett Nelson |

As we began looking at the trees, my son pointed and exclaimed with joy, “Light!”

He was referring to the lights on the trees.

A few days later, I noticed my daughter made a Christmas tree out of Tinkertoys.

Rett Nelson |

This is significant to me in a couple of ways. First, it is important to me to create memories with my kids. Playing with Tinkertoys is one of our shared memories.

Second, if she is making Christmas trees out of Tinkertoys, our time at Festival of Trees must have meant something to her.

Rett Nelson |

I am thankful for the memory we created together by going to Festival of Trees.

I am thankful for the joy my kids feel in simple things, like seeing the light on the tree.

I am thankful for what they teach me about life.

I am thankful to be able to spend Thanksgiving with them and decorate my own Christmas tree with them this weekend.

Most of all, I am thankful to be their dad. They have saved me during the hardest year of my life.

Happy Thanksgiving.