Last month was my father's 70th birthday and my sisters and I went down to Florida to surprise him. Months of planning and preparation were required to pull off such a feat -- the logistics, the coordination, the split-second timing needed to snag half a dozen super-saver airline tickets, all required that we set aside our day-to-day concerns and focus on something more important. And we all rose to the occasion like a pennant-winning baseball team. But it was not always thus.
Several years ago, on the occasion of my Mom's 60th, my Dad planned a big party for her and asked us to come down and surprise her on the day of the party. The plan was to rent a van, load it up with me and my sisters and their families, and spend a leisurely two days getting there, arriving the evening of the party fresh and perky and ready for action.
However, due to some credit card problems, the van we thought had rented was suddenly unavailable hours before we were supposed to pick it up. After some twenty-four hours of frantic phone calls to every rental agency in Connecticut as well as several panic-stricken calls to Florida, last minute transportation was procured.
Without a minute to lose, we piled into the van and drove thirty hours straight through from Woodbury Conn. to Osprey Fla., arriving less than an hour before the party, bleary-eyed, burned out and bedraggled. But, we made it -- the party was a huge success, and Mom was completely surprised.
The fact that Dad was able to keep the secret from her, especially after our string of nervous calls the day before, was impressive, but not unexpected. Dad is the kind of guy who plays it close to the vest -- he's not known for sudden outbursts of unbridled emotion. Growing up, one of our favorite stories was the one about the (one) time when Dad laughed. Out loud. He's a pretty cool customer. Not so with Mom.
Several times during the month before Dad's 70th, I'd be on the phone with Mom, discussing the details of the upcoming covert operation (code name -- 'Dad's Birthday'), when all of a sudden her voice would get really loud and unnaturally formal -- Dad was passing through the room. "O.K.," she'd say "I'll take three boxes of the thin mints and two boxes of peanut butter." Good one, Mom (it's 11 p.m., her time). Dad of course, would be completely oblivious to the charade. In fact his only comment was: "Do they still have the ones with the coconut sprinkles?"
Miraculously, and thanks in no small part to my father's complete lack of awareness of virtually everything around him, Mom kept the secret and the airlines did not go on strike and the rental car we reserved was actually there. We all arrived fresh and perky and ready for a week of birthday fun, and Dad was totally surprised.
We did all of the typical 70th birthday stuff: mini-golf, go-cart racing, ski-ball, video games, lunch at McDonald's. Somehow Dad's favorite things to do were exactly the same things that his grandsons like to do.
In fact, for as long as I can remember, my Dad has spent his most of his time doing the things the rest of the family likes to do. He spent most of his money on us too. When it comes time to buy him a birthday present, I never know what to get him. He never seems to need or want anything for himself. But seeing him surrounded by his family, having a hot dog at the video arcade, I realized that he had all he ever wanted.
Happy Birthday Dad.