My father, who loved me without condition or limit and whose confidence in me was absolute, died 24 years ago. Since then, I’ve missed him every day but particularly on Father’s Day. One of the happiest memories shared with my dad took place when my brother, Gene and I, determined to come up with something special for dad’s 70th birthday, realized a trip to Las Vegas, a place he loved, would be perfect. – especially if it was a total surprise for him.
My husband, Don and I arranged to pick up dad and Aurora, his wife of five years, at his home in Los Angeles, ostensibly to take them to dinner to celebrate his birthday. Aurora, who was in on the con, had packed their bags, which we stashed in the trunk of our car. In the meantime, my brother and his wife, Sue, flew to Las Vegas from their home in Dallas to organize the hotel rooms and make reservations for the shows.
The fun began when we drove not to a restaurant but the airport. Dad was understandably confused as we entered the terminal and arrived at the gate for the flight to Las Vegas. On the plane with drink in hand all he could say was “this happens to other people, not to me.” This continued in the cab to the hotel. Things got even better when the taxi door was opened, not by the hotel valet but by my brother. Dad literally fell back into the cab. He somehow managed to get to their room – one filled with balloons, Happy Birthday signs, and other party decorations. All though the weekend – lounging by the pool, playing the slot machines, dining at the restaurants, attending shows, and even flying back to Los Angeles— he recapitulated his mantra: “this happens to other people, not to me.”
Now, “this happens to other people, not to me” is perhaps not the most elegant or poetic line. It wouldn’t qualify as a Leonard Cohen song lyric or even a Hallmark card, but recalling dad saying those words touches me more deeply and fills me with more joy than anything found in the work of the most skilled poets and composers.
Dad’s birthday surprise became his go-to story, the one he told, repeatedly, at parties, family gatherings, random encounters on the street… to everyone who would listen. That I played a part in the origin of that story and the invariable smile on his face as he told it is one of my proudest accomplishments.
Any man can be a Father, it takes someone special to be a Daddy.