I’m a dad of three. And I’ve been doing this dad thing a long time. Like since Bush was president — the first Bush, number 41, papa Bush.
And one of the things we career dads know about is the importance of not having (or at least admitting to having) favorites. A favorite kid? Never. A favorite class picture? “Honey, you look good in them all!”
And gifts? It’s a well-known fact that ranking received gifts (“Which one is your favorite, Dad?”) is a no-win proposition. It’s a golden rule of fatherhood, and I follow it religiously, to the letter, in every situation.
Father’s Day gifts. You see, there is one gift that has been my favorite for over 20 years. Oddly, it’s nothing I’ve ever seen. I can’t even hold it. Nor can I smell it. Or wear it. But it’s my favorite. In fact, and all three of my kids know this, it’s among my most cherished possessions.
What is it?
It’s a memory-filled audio tape. Three of them, actually. And I listen to them once a year on Father’s Day, without fail.
Every year, my three children add to an audio tape started for each of them as infants. I’m talking old-fashioned cassette tapes, folks. And the only reason we hold on to our old, beaten cassette tape deck is so my children can add to their annual message for Dad — three cassette tapes, one from each child, each filled with a lifetime of messages just for me.
The tradition began long before the digital age we live in today, before we had the ability to capture every moment of life on a cell phone. And although we could have switched to newer technology, especially in recent years, there’s something spectacularly nostalgic about a cassette deck, a treasured tape, a microphone and a child-recorded message for Dad.
The annual ritual is always the same.
Father’s Day morning, the tapes magically appear on the kitchen table — no fanfare and no ceremony. Then sometime during the day, I sneak away to the bedroom, cassette deck in one hand and the three treasures in the other.
With headphones on, I lie down on my bed and listen to each tape, from beginning to end.
They all start the same, with the cooing sounds of a baby or the slurping noises of an infant wrapping its mouth over the microphone.
Then after a few seconds of silence comes year two. “Dada. Daddddda Dadaaaa Dadda.”
“Happeeee Fawduh’s Day, Daddy. Yoar da best daddy evah. I wuv you.”
And so it goes, year after year, I relive each of my children’s lives in a few moments. Not just in my ears, but in my heart too.
The messages transport me through their lighting-fast lifetimes. From sports (“Hey Dad, thanks again for being at every one of my baseball games. I know you work hard to be there.”), to heartaches (“Thanks for just being there when I needed you.”), to the serendipitous moments of life. (“Hey, how many dads can say they’ve had a manicure with their daughter!”)
Each message takes me to a place that I share with that child, that child alone, and each tape ends with something new—the newest message, which I listen to for the first time on my bed with happy tears rolling down my cheeks.
I’m grateful to be given this gift, my favorite gift, from my three favorite people.