I hadn't planned to do an entry for Father's Day, since my dad passed away when I was 9 years old, in 1973, but we went to visit Mario's family this weekend and his mom wanted to stop at the cemetery and leave flowers. His dad has only been gone a few years.
It got me to thinking about how much someone is still in your life, no matter how long they've been gone from it.
I was an only child, and my parents were married for 10 years before I was born. My dad was 20 years older than my mother, and one of 12 kids. He always wanted a big family, but it never happened, so when I came along, he was thrilled.
My dad worked as a fireman and also did maintenance at a local college (it probably took two jobs just to keep me in toys), so I didn't see a whole lot of him, but I don't think I noticed because the time we spent together was so memorable.
Sometimes he would come home from a late shift at the firehouse and if he couldn't sleep he'd wake me up. Like a lot of firemen, he was a good, basic cook, but for some reason that I never knew, what he really liked was to make candy. So we'd go downstairs at midnight and make candy, old-fashioned stuff that all the relatives liked: fudge, taffy apples, peanut brittle, sponge candy, turkish delight. My mom would wake up the next morning to a trashed kitchen, a chocolate-smeared kid and an offering on the table. She dealt with it pretty well.
As an only child, I got showered with more love and more stuff than any kid really needed. Both my parents had grown up poor, and to them doing right by me meant getting me every new doodad that Mattel produced, particularly if it came in a pink box and had blonde hair. I had enough Barbies to people a village. I had enough dream houses to build the village, come to think of it.
And still it wasn't enough for my dad. Christmas, birthdays, holidays: there weren't enough gift-giving occasions in the normal calendar, so he created non-occasions, and came up with the Surprise Man. According to him, the Surprise Man was a nice older man in a trench coat and a fedora, who liked to give presents to good little girls. Jeez, try to sell that nowadays! He would come home with gifts out of nowhere, and the Surprise Man would get credit, particularly if my mom sighed and said, "Oh, Ed," in that 'She already has 38 Barbies, 10 Kens, 8 Skippers and a stable of horses for them to ride, does she really need a beach house?' voice. He would just blink at her and say, "But the Surprise Man gave it to me. I couldn't say no."
I even got to see the Surprise Man once. It was dusk, and my mom and I were waiting in the car by the firehouse. My dad got out and walked up to the corner, and then I saw him - from behind a tree came a tall man, wearing a long coat and a hat that shaded his face. He pulled out a shopping bag and handed my dad a wrapped package and then walked quickly away. Thinking about it later, it was probably one of the other firemen helping him out, but seeing the Surprise Man was more exciting to me than whatever was in that wrapped package.
So here's to my dad, the original Surprise Man. Still surprisingly missed, after all these years.