The Gift of Being Different

Robert May, a Canadian man, was facing the worst Christmas of his life. Sitting in a small, drafty apartment, with his wife dying of cancer, and his four-year-old daughter crying on his lap, he faced her question: Why couldn’t her mother come home? Why wasn’t she like other mothers?

Bob’s life had always been difficult. As a child, he’d been frequently bullied by other boys. He’d been too small to compete in sports. He was often called terrible names. He was always different. He never seemed to fit in.

After completing college, he found his life greatly improved. He got a job as a copywriter for the T Eaton Stores. He married a woman named Evelyn, and they had a little girl. His brief period of happiness, though, ended with Evelyn’s cancer, which took away their savings.

Now he and his little daughter lived in a two-room apartment in a poor area of Toronto. His wife died days before Christmas in 1938. He couldn’t afford a present for his little girl, but he was determined to give her something. So he made a story book, his autobiography in disguised form.

This was the story of a reindeer who was laughed at by all the other reindeer for his big shiny nose.

Bob finished the story in time to give it to his daughter on Christmas Day.

The general manager of the store where he worked heard about the storybook and gave Bob a nominal fee to buy the rights to print it. “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was distributed to children visiting Santa Clause in the T. Eaton stores. By 1946 they’d distributed more than 6 million copies.

A major publisher asked to buy the rights to print an updated version. The CEO of Eaton’s returned all the rights to Bob, and the book became a best seller. Bob, remarried with a growing family became wealthy.

Then his brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, made a song adaptation to the story. Gene Autry, the singing cowboy, recorded it, and it was released in 1949. The song sold more records than any Christmas song but “White Christmas.”

Bob, the misfit, who in an act of love, created a gift from his heart for his little girl, found that gift returning to him again and again. And he learned that, just as Rudolph did, that being different can be a blessing.

He shared that lesson with the world. And every one of us can celebrate our differences. Thanks, Bob. Your gift continues to give.