Friday, June 16, 2006

Gifts Given - Gifts Returned

For many years, Amy and I were crazy enough to drive to Ohio each summer for our annual family vacation. Our usual routine was to drive straight through on the way there - some 19 to 23 hours depending on who was awake and watching the speedometer as I drove - and then we'd take our time driving back, stopping somewhere like Arkansas for the night and making the trip home a less stressful, not to mention less dangerous, two- day affair.

I remember vividly that one year we were ahead of schedule so I decided to take a detour into the Ozarks for a bit to show the kids some scenery. Arkansas is truly a beautiful least I thought so.

It took a while for the kids to catch on, but as soon as they did I learned a quick lesson: children imprisoned in a mini-van do not appreciate history lessons, scenery, or even cool curvy roads. They want to "get somewhere...NOW!"

It was the last time I took a detour on our Ohio trek.

Today, I received a Father's day card from Joey in which he said he remembered that "scenic route" decision and "relates" to it now that he regularly drives across the state of Ohio - there's a lady friend involved in his travels, but that's not germane right now.

His comments made me smile in part because many times when the kids were young I would say to Amy, "They may not appreciate this today but one day they will." I'm not sure Amy believed me...truthfully I'm not sure I believed it at the time, but it seemed like the right thing to say.

Of all our kids, I suppose Tiffany was the hardest for me to reach when I first started dating their mother. This was due to a number of factors - Tiffany is the oldest, she has always been the most practical and cautious, and she was by far the most wary of me...probably with good reason.

Lisa and Joey were easier for me to reach, they seemed more willing to accept me. Lisa was the youngest and always the "happy" child...something I thanked God for repeatedly. Joey and I shared a love of video games, computers, drawing and generally goofing off.

Tiffany, on the other hand, was more standoffish and believe me she saw through any overt attempt I made to curry her favor. I really don't think it was intentional on her part, it was probably more my perception than anything else, but it seemed like Tiffany made it clear early on that if push did come to shove she really didn't "need" me.

That sounds harsh, but in all honesty, it was true which made it sting all the more. Tiffany was a great student, a devout and well-read Christian, organized and the age of 12. I often thought, at best, my role in her life might be to show her how things could turn out if she veered off her well-planned course.

Flash forward 13 or 14 years to late yesterday afternoon. Tiffany calls us in a panic. She is in Texas for only a few days to pick up some of her furniture and remember what sunshine is like before starting the next season of her life as a teacher in inner-city New York.

There's all sorts of other piddly stuff she has to deal with, including four parents who all want some of her time. It's stressful, but her primary source of anxiety on this day was the the moving company's nonchalant attitude toward her "schedule." Remember Tiffany is practical, read that "organized."

Suffice it to say Tiffany doesn't appreciate folks who force her to rearrange her time-sensitive "to do" list.

Tiffany needed to transfer a bunch of her stuff from a storage unit on to a moving van - one of these self-load outfits - but the van was delivered far later than had been promised. She kept getting excuses from the moving van folks along with dumb questions, which only added to her exasperation. Meanwhile the people she had neatly organized/commandeered to help her load the van had their own time tables to contend with and by the time the moving company finally delivered the trailer (along with some unsolicited and believe me unappreciated advice) Tiffany found herself suddenly flying solo. Hence the call to me.

I arrived within about 30 minutes to find a very frustrated young woman standing in the 90+ degree heat. She was on this side of the verge of tears. There was a storage unit full of stuff and the empty trailer of a moving van.

I gave her a semi-cold diet Pepsi I had grabbed on the way out the door and we got to work.

It was hot and took some ingenuity to squeeze all her stuff into the 6 feet or so of her contracted space in the van, but after a couple of hours we got everything in, and I think most of it will survive the trek to New York.

We washed off some of the grime and sweat, took a few minutes to slam down a cold Gatorade outside a nearby convenience store, hugged and then I headed back home.

Once again I found myself smiling.

I thought about those times years ago when I was trying to figure out what my role would be in Tiffany's life. I remembered the distance that I felt with her that I didn't feel with Joey and Lisa.

And the words I had said to Amy so long ago echoed back as well..."One day they'll understand..."

To really be needed.

That's something I think we all really need.

And I can't think of a better Father's day gift.