There is only a sliver of moon this Friday night. Though stars twinkle wildly overhead, it’s quite dark. The rhythm of chirping crickets competes with an occasional owl and the lonely bark of a far off dog. Just now a plane has flown past and I wonder where it’s headed. I sit alone on the back deck–and gaze at the brightest, warmest sunshine I’ve ever laid eyes on.
What? Sunshine on a dark night?
Skip back to Father’s Day and the big secret my kids tried to keep from me. I’m a single dad and my deck and yard are, let’s say–a little plain and bare. 12-year-old Mikala has lamented more than once about the lack of luster in my outdoor space. Always, I respond with, “I’ll get to it soon Hon.” …not yet have I done so.
All week before the big day, a shroud of secrecy fills the house. Mikala calls her mother from closed doors–whispering pleas to borrow money and work it off in chores. 11-year-old Nick was the decoy–kept me busy with video games, checkers and tossing the football around.
The Saturday before Father’s Day, I was scheduled out of town, so the kids stayed with Mom. Of course Mikala has a key, so she can come and go anytime she pleases, so long as Mom drives her.
I arrive home at 9:00 Saturday night and there are specific instructions handwritten on a piece of lined notebook paper, taped to the front door. It says, “Do not go out back till you call us and we come over.”
“Hmmm…” I wonder. “What are they up to?”
Not one to be the spoiler, I call Mikala and ask what is up. “We’re coming over right now,” she says. “Don’t go outside, okay Dad?”
“All right Sis,” I reply.
Yes, I am curious now.
20 minutes later, I hear the car pull up and they pile out–each with an overnight bag. Though it was not my scheduled weekend, I planned to spend Sunday with them, so didn’t think much of that. Mom waved goodbye and drove off.
“Cover your eyes Dad,” Nick and Mikala said at the same time, as they rushed through the front door.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
“Just cover your eyes and come outside with us,” said Mikala.
I let them take my arms as I was blindly led toward the back slider door.
“Keep your eyes closed Dad.”
They let go of my arms amidst the sound of opening drapes –much rougher than I’m comfortable with, but what could I do? Next the latch clicked and the slider made it’s familiar sound, while gliding open on it’s track. Each of them grabbed an arm and I was led outside to the crisp night air.
“You can open your eyes now Dad!”
In it’s own way, I found it akin to “Wizard of Oz” when Dorothy walked outside her fallen Kansas house and the world turned from black and white to color. I was in parental awe. Above me hung a neat row of large green, red and yellow paper lanterns, while strung over the railing were more of the same in miniature, which also contained tiny bright lights for illumination. The end of the rope led to a bright orange outdoor extension cord, which in this context, seemed absolutely perfect and charming. Hanging from the branches of the fir tree closest to the deck was a hummingbird feeder and also a seed block. Strung to some of the other branches hung a dressing of red, blue and green banners. Three small battery-operated stand-up lanterns sat along the top of my old wood deck. In the midst of it all was a handmade birdhouse that Nick and I had built several years ago on a rainy day. Last time I recall, it was at the bottom of a stack of old and unused toys.
One item stood out though. Attached to the side of the railing, with a single bent nail, was a red, gold and white, smiling metal sunshine. I recognized it from the clearance rack at the hardware store. Both Nick and Mikala had eyeballed it previously and I told them at the time we didn’t need more junk in the house. And now, here it was, hammered up with all the love and pride of their young spirits.
I looked at the two of them as they gauged my reaction to it all. After a few minutes spent examining and complimenting in sighs and wows, I finally spoke.
“I love it. But I can’t believe you did this for me. My back porch looks so cool. I want everyone in the world to see.”
Never had I seen such full and bright smiles. “Do you really like it Daddy?” asked Mikala. “You have such a boring back yard and we wanted to fix it up.”
“Of course I love it sweetie,” I replied. “I’m just so amazed you did this for me.”
Nick spoke; “We want you to think of us when we’re not here.”
“That’s why we picked the sun,” piped in Mikala. “You used to sing ‘You Are My Sunshine’ when we were little and now it will always be there, even when it rains.”
Generally I’m a tough guy when it comes to sentimental stuff, but that hit me between the eyes. “Come here guys,” I said. “Give your old man a big hug.”
With that my 11 and 12-year-old kids came to me and buried themselves in my outstretched embrace. I didn’t want to let go, and did not, till I was able to get my “tough Dad demeanor” back.
I know my youngest are getting to the edge of that ultimate break away, so these moments are rare and quite special. The older they get, the more I appreciate and savor the glimpses of innocence. I don’t know if they will remember the times and surely realize the emotion is within me, but perhaps one day, when their own kids work so hard to make a special place for them, it will come back and flood their hearts with a wave of this same bright sunshine.
I am a lucky man indeed.
Dedicated to Byron…for whom the sun always shines….