My dad just celebrated his 80th birthday, and on Saturday, I attended a surprise party given by his wife, his stepchildren, his stepgrandchildren, and a whole group of his friends that I had never met. If you had asked me 10 years ago whether I could have gone to a party like this, I would undoubtedly have answered "No *#$(@&* way!" But, age has a way of changing a person, and I guess we've both mellowed quite a bit in those intervening 10 years. So, I put on my game face, and showed up. He was well and truly surprised, and genuinely pleased at my presence.
Twenty years ago, 0n my dad's 60th birthday, my mother and I gave him a surprise birthday party. It was a little different than this one, but not a whole lot. About 25-30 members of his family, friends and business associates were there that day too. It was held in the dining room of the country club he had recently joined, instead of the lake front home of an old friend. He was totally and honestly surprised then as well. However, there were some notable differences in the two parties. At his 60th birthday party, my mother was the woman holding his hand during the toasts. When he opened gifts and cards, I was the one who jotted notes about who had given him what. And when he cut the cake, it was my 10 year old son, his only grandchild, who proudly helped him serve.
A lot has happened in the twenty years between those two parties. An affair that was meant to be kept secret was discovered. A 40 year marriage dissolved bitterly and acrimoniously. A young woman lost a lot of respect for her father, and a little boy lost the company of a grandfather he idolized.
For a long time, I guarded my pain and anger toward my father like a dog guards a bone. It was my power, my vindication, my strength. But about two years ago, I was gifted with the grace of forgiveness (which I wrote about here). So I was able to attend this surprise party, albeit with some moments of very bittersweet sadness, but also with some moments of genuine pleasure. No one was more surprised about that than I.