How a frequent flier's viral post saved Christmas for this father and son.

'I would give anything for him. And I never want him to feel a hole in his life where his father should be.'

Quentin Seyssel has only seen his 5-year-old son, Aiden, four times this year.

Aiden and his mom have been living with her parents in California since March 2015, although she and Quentin didn't officially get divorced until this past summer. Being away from his son is hard, especially since Aiden is on the autism spectrum and has only recently begun to communicate with purpose.

Photo by Quentin Seyssel, used with permission.


Due to financial constraints, Quentin lives a humble life in Colorado and sends as much money as he can to his son every month.

The physical distance between them is difficult, especially this year, because it's the first Christmas the two would've spent apart.

The two communicate most frequently via Skype, but it presents challenges, Quentin explains. "Within the last year, [Aiden] has gotten a lot more used to initiating play and will bring you a puppet to use and mimic a conversation with."

That's not something he can do over Skype.

Photo by Quentin Seyssel, used with permission.

Though Quentin tries to ask his son questions and engage with him on their calls, he is often left watching Aiden play quietly.

While Quentin would love to see his son in person, "it is financially difficult," he writes. This year, even though he does have holiday time off work, he cannot afford the round-trip ticket.

In a last-ditch effort, Quentin responded to a post online in which a man named Peter Shankman was offering to use his extra airline miles to help people who needed them to get home for the holidays.

In his job as a marketing consultant, Shankman has racked up a significant number of airline miles. For the past four years, he's been gifting them to people — like Quentin — who can't afford trips to see their loved ones around the holidays.

Photo by Peter Shankman, used with permission.

"I get to travel to talk for a living and get paid for it," explains Shankman in an email. "I don't know how much luckier I could be. How could I possibly live in a world that gives me all of that happiness and not find a way to give back?"

So every year, Shankman sets up a post on image-hosting website Imgur asking users to share their story in the Home for the Holidays category. The people whose stories receive the most upvotes from other users get a ticket home with Shankman's miles.

Shankman traveling with his own daughter. Photo by Peter Shankman, used with permission.

This year, Shankman was joined by generous travelers who donated their own miles to the cause, helping to send 10 people home for the holidays. One is a teacher with a rare eye disease who will get to visit her family after years apart; another is an Air Force pilot with HIV who will be able to go home and make amends with his estranged family.

In response to Quentin's story, several other users stepped in, offering to pay for his flight home to Aiden.

Quentin decided to take one of those offers, so that Shankman could use his miles for someone else in need. "He seemed genuine, kind, and never asked for anything in return," writes Quentin of the user whose offer he accepted. "Only the promise to pay it forward."

Photo by Quentin Seyssel. Used with permission.

Quentin wrestled with feeling worthy of the free trip home and thinking about how many others might be more deserving — but then he thought about Aiden.

Photo by Quentin Seyssel, used with permission.

Quentin knows Aiden needs his father around, especially at this crucial stage of development in his life. He's making plans to move to California so they can spend more time together. Until then, he's been writing letters to Aiden every year on his birthday and plans to give them all to Aiden when he turns 21.

"I would give anything for [Aiden]," Quentin writes. "I never want him to feel a hole in his life where his father should be."

Thanks to the generosity of a stranger on the internet, this year's letter will be filled with some extra joy and humility — "a highlight of memories and hope," he says — and memories of a visit home for the holidays.

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Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

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Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

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Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

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