We surprised my dad last weekend for his 60th birthday. OK, clarification. We tried to surprise my dad for his 60th birthday.
First, we didn’t tell him I was flying to Detroit. But he knew I’d come. I had said a few months earlier (before I knew we wanted to surprise him) that I planned to come in. Also, he saw in a forwarded train of emails one from me that said: “I’ll be there.”
So when my brother, sister-in-law and I pulled into the darkened half-circle driveway across from the train tracks in the quiet suburb I grew up, we saw my dad come to the window and peer out. When he saw the three of us getting out of the car, he put his arms near his head in a “What’s going on?” gesture. He opened the door and there we stood, saddled with bags, smiling. “I knew you were coming,” he said. “I just thought you’d come tomorrow.”
So much for that surprise.
But we had planned a surprise dinner for him on Saturday at McCormick & Schmick’s. Surely that would surprise him. But on Friday evening, while we were catching up in the family room, he said to me, “I sure hope you didn’t plan some big thing for me, I just want to have a quiet dinner tomorrow.”
“Silence usually means something,” he said.
I didn’t really have the interest or energy to lie. So I just wandered out of the room.
The real tip to him was the venue, though. McCormick & Schmick’s isn’t someplace we normally go — and it has a party room in the back. At least, that’s what he later told my mom.
Regardless of whether my dad was surprised or not, it was a lovely evening and he was clearly pleased. Two of his brothers and one of his sisters were there as well as several friends through the years. College friends even drove in from Chicago.
Many people got up to give touching speeches, including my aunt Marie, who was crying before she even started.
When my brother stood up, my heart started to pound. If he was speaking, there would be an expectation for me to speak — which is my least favorite thing to do. I hate it. I really, really hate getting up in front of a room of people.
My brother gave an eloquent, well-thought-out speech that made people — including my dad — tear up. After he finished, my dad’s friend Bill yelled out to me, “Hey, loser child, it’s your turn.” (I laughed and then gave him a helpless look.)
Thankfully, a few others stood up, buying me some time. But then the room got quiet and everyone was staring at me. Boring holes into me. So I gave in.
“OK, OK,” I thought. “I can do this.”
I stood up and talked — and I’m not even sure what came out of my mouth. My heart was racing and I mostly looked down at the table. I commented on how lovely my brother’s speech was and how I agree that my dad is the most selfless man ever. How he never missed one of my soccer games — even the college games I played at 4 p.m. on a Tuesday or Thursday, and how he would drive across the state to be there (this is when I started to cry). How he gave me ideas and inspiration and taught me how to dream (more crying). How he put me and my brother through college and continued to support us until we were on our two feet. And how lucky my brother and I are that we have a dad like him. Then my memory falters — but there is (and always will be) so much more I could say about how much I love and appreciate my dedicated, loving, smart, humble, amazing father.
As much as I dislike talking in front of a group, I’m glad I got up — I did it for him more than I did it for me. That’s one of the lessons he taught me.