“Please please pleeeeeease!” My youngest son begged; his small body rigid but his face stretched wide as his hope.
He was pining for an ultra-rare Mega Ex Charizard Pokemon card. He swore you couldn’t find them anywhere, unless of course you looked on Amazon and paid $50.
I gave him the noncommittal mom look. “We’ll see,” I hedged with a sideways smile; not quite giving away the prize but giving away enough to keep the dream alive. It’s hard to argue a 6 year-old’s most impassioned birthday request.
On the big day, the family gathered at our house. My father hadn’t made a birthday or holiday celebration in months. Despite having a door to door ride, despite the occasions being basically the only time he saw anyone besides his home health aide or a doctor, despite it being the one thing he looked forward to – on the day of the event his mental and physical health always seemed to stumble, sometimes literally. But today, even with the countless reasons he gave me over the phone why he shouldn’t and couldn’t attend, miraculously he was here.
He looked terrible; hunched so low it was painful to see; every step a struggle even with his walker. His hair was disheveled under a baseball cap. He had meant to shower he apologized, but his legs were bandaged due to severe edema and he had a hard enough time managing without the added complication.
“Hi,” I greeted with a quick kiss on the cheek. He was already turned away uncomfortable, looking for a distraction from the physical contact that made him emotional, and the house filled with laughing kids sneaking cookies and adults easily conversing, which made him feel even more alone. Usually he’d go missing, sneaking off to have a cigarette outside or fiddling alone with the books in my library, but today he made an effort not to run away and hide his discomfort on the shelves, instead hovering near me in the kitchen, engaging in small talk which he hated and joining the family for cake, which he loved.
When everyone departed and only my immediate family remained, I watched him, slowly and methodically move into a position near my boys, hoping for a meaningful interaction. I had seen the move many times and this under the radar approach generally yielded about a 15% success rate. It’s hard to catch shooting stars, especially when there are 12, 9 and a freshly minted 7 year-old with new toys.
Covertly I whispered in my father’s ear and slipped something into his hand. The next time my youngest bound past, he stopped him. “Hey kid, you want this?” He tossed the words out casually, a throwback to his former cool self.
My son stopped short and his face lit with glee. “The card!” He exclaimed and jumped up and down, threatening to knock my unsteady father over; but in truth nothing could knock him down because my father was lit as well. For that moment, a set of eyes looked at him with reverence and love. He was the most important person offering the most precious gift. He was a hero again, like the man he remembered; the one who was young and strong who could charm people with a smile.
I watched their interaction from the sidelines, trying not to cry. Given all his conditions, my father rarely sees my boys, much less experiences a real Grandpa moment.
That card was a gift to us all.