MIKO'S STORY ~ HOLIDAY SEASON: BITTERSWEET
The holidays have always been extremely family-oriented for me. Growing up, Thanksgiving & Christmas meant traveling to our cousin’s home in upstate New York where we gathered in sharing a home cooked meal, gifts, a beautifully decorated tree, a wood burning fireplace and a melodic sound track. It always felt like an occasion of extended family, where Mom & Dad would attend and my sister and I could spend time with our cousins & sleep over their house for the weekend.
But before the trip upstate, we had a special tradition with Dad. In New York City, there’s an extraordinary event that happens at thanksgiving, the Thanksgiving Day Parade. It’s a parade of beautifully designed floats, marching bands from across the country, celebrity performances and balloons the size of tall buildings hovering down the streets of Central Park West to their final destination in Herald Square. Nearly every Thanksgiving eve Dad would take us to the museum of Natural History, on 81st and Central Park West where we would watch the technicians inflate the giant balloons in the evening. It was like a VIP experience, previewing the balloons before they would premiere in the parade in the morning. We’d get so excited to see our favorite characters being animated into 50-foot long balloons.
Dad treated us like his little princesses, my sister and I. He would shower us with gifts throughout the year, so my memories of spending the holidays with him aren’t the ones that stand out for me, but more of our Daddy-daughter time. Dad had a way of consistently offering a new and unique experience for us. With him it always felt like exploration and discovery. Whether it was an exotic cuisine, a movie in a vintage theater, playing board games together or exploring a new place or gadget of his, every moment with Dad has specialness to it, always engaging and filled with laughter. My eyes would light up, whenever he entered a room and they still do. The time is what I miss most with him. The time exploring and discovering with him out in the world.
When I became a mom and began to create my own traditions with my young family, I began to wonder what it would be like to cook for Dad as an adult. What would it be like for him to spend the holiday with us, now as a grandfather. What new traditions we’d create together with his firstborn grandson. I was 12 years old when my Dad was incarcerated; all of my teen and adult years with him have been in federal prison visiting rooms throughout the country. The reality of his absence became even more apparent 20 years ago when I introduced my newborn son to him around the Christmas holiday in prison. Dad has never been an absentee father and is an evermore-present grandfather to his grandsons. Yet the reality for my family is that a second generation of children must now endure the incarceration of a loved one experience.
I persevered through him not being able to physically be there for all of my firsts as a teen, a young adult and new mom, I know if it were up to him he would have been, but what hurt me more was the moments with his grandchildren that were missed. They were growing up without experiencing the fullness of him, as my sister and I did. But we haven’t given up hope. It’s been a 30-year journey of living with an incarcerated Dad, I am confident we will regain our moments. Our reunion time is now.
This past thanksgiving when I spoke to Dad he asked how my holiday was and said “You know what Miko, when I’m home we can get a bunch of kids whose parents are away (incarcerated) and take them down to see the balloons!” I replied, “Dad that’s a beautiful idea! I love you.”
A Born Intuitive, Miko Underwood is an Artist, Healer, Eco-Designer, Strategist & Actionist. She’s the founder of ENO∞ONU, a curated experience in healing, BLDG 357, INC a boutique multimedia design firm in Harlem, NY & OAK & ACORN, A sustainable Denim-based brand. Miko is also the Consulting Creative Director for Branding & Content for WE GOT US NOW, a nonprofit & movement built by, led by & about children and young adults impacted by parental incarceration. She is an avid traveler of the planet and an advocate for whole body health & balance.