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$300 coffee and donuts…

There are moments in time and life that we don’t get back. We only have but one fleeting chance to get it right.

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Some years ago now I had the distinct pleasure of enjoying a breakfast of sorts with my (then) nine year old son.  Almost two weeks prior, the school sent an invitation home with the students inviting dads to enjoy coffee and donuts with their children at the school for an hour on a Friday morning.  I signed the paper and watched a smile form on my son’s face.  He was already excited about turning it back in and reserving a space for two at this breakfast.  I reminded myself to place a note on my calendar so as not to schedule any work over the morning time slot.  Of course being a busy dad who played mister mom in the evenings while my wife worked her 2nd shift job, I forgot. 

The two weeks whirled by in a dizzying blur. Business had really boomed those past few weeks, and my primary worry was forgetting a client. Wednesday night prior to the reserved breakfast date, I received an email from a colleague asking if I was available early Friday morning to assist him with a very large property inspection. He was willing to pay me $300 to help him with the small and tedious inspection items. I quickly glanced at my calendar and saw that Friday was open. Nothing pressing on my schedule.

I replied to my colleague agreeing to assist him, and informed my wife that night that I would be leaving in the early hours of Friday morning. She replied “but what about the coffee and donuts?”

“What are you talking about?” I asked.  Obviously I had failed to record the breakfast reservation on my schedule, and had forgotten the matter altogether.  My initial fleeting thought was “well, I’ll just have to make it up to him another day…” 

But that thought quickly passed as I remembered the important “small” things I had done with my own Dad while growing up.  Those memories have stuck with me.  They are good memories, and all I have to share of my dad today. 

I knew this Friday was important for my son. The smile on his face the night I signed his reservation slip told me this.  I penned an email back to my colleague telling him that I made a mistake and he would have to perform the inspection without me.

He emailed back two words… “No problem”.  To me it was a problem, but I was glad he understood. 

Friday came and my son was full of excitement as he headed off to school.  I wasn’t so cheery.  The day before began the early symptoms of the first seasonal cold and by Thursday night, I was feeling the full brunt of it.  Friday morning was no better even with the medications I had taken. But I knew I must attend for my son.  I was now committed.

THIS was important. 

I arrived at his school around 9:00AM.  Other dads were already trailing into the doors. The school is located downtown and there is very little parking. So after a bit of searching and circling, I found a parking space two blocks away. 

The morning was brisk and overcast, and the wind brought the temperature to near freezing.  Not exactly great weather for a full blown cold, but I trudged on. 

A school assistant escorted a small group of us to the cafeteria where the children were patiently waiting for their dads to arrive.  A few sign-in sheets were placed on a desk for the dads to autograph. I quickly scanned the sheets for my son’s class and then his name.  Surprisingly, there were only a few names on his sheet.  Other sheets had almost the entire class listed, but a few such as his had far less.  I knew there were more students in his class than were listed. 

“Unfortunate”, I thought to myself, that the other dad’s couldn’t attend.  And I was reminded how I almost missed it as well. 

The line of dads stretched out into the hall by now, and I took my place at the end. Another assistant asked who my child was and went to retrieve him. The whole purpose I was there became even more evident when my son walked around the corner beaming from ear to ear. He coyly walked up to me and I patted him on the shoulder, trying not to show too much ‘silly’ affection in front of his peers. Regardless, he was obviously proud to be standing with his dad just as the other children with their dads around me were.

We slowly gained progress toward the table holding the donuts and beverages.  I leaned out to see what they had, as I overheard one father proclaiming as he left that it was one of the biggest donuts he had seen in some time!  Envisioning a plate sized Carmel coated Persian, my mouth began to water. 

Instead, I watched as a helper emptied a bag of pre-packaged sugar coated pastries onto a metal serving tray.  My vision quickly dispersed in a cloud of disappointment.  I hoped I was adequately hiding this disappointment from my son.  I feigned a slight smile as he looked up when the school principal walked by apologizing they had run out already, and these small bite-sized excuses for a snack would have to suffice. 

I ground my teeth a bit and smiled again at my son.  I reminded myself it really wasn’t important what we ate, only that I was there with him for this moment. Still, I couldn’t help but think that my coming here to partake in this schedule interruption, eat a miserable little snack cake, and drink scorched coffee had cost me $300 that day.  I shook my head and stepped up to the table.     

I placed three of the pastries on my plate, two on his; we grabbed our drinks and found a place to sit. There were plenty of seats and I again thought about the other kids in the school whose dads couldn’t make it. I’m sure several of the absentees were upset, but didn’t show it. I also began to wonder if those other children would become jealous or spiteful, letting it be known in their own ways through taunting or perhaps a schoolyard scuffle. Looking back on my own childhood, this was what I had come to realize had likely occurred in similar circumstances.

I glanced around the cafeteria at the dads who had made it.  Some in work clothes, others in casual attire. A few Grandpa’s had even come as a substitute.

One of the Dads particularly caught my eye. He was wearing his military uniform with his delighted daughter seated by his side.  How proud she must be! And how thankful I was that he was actually there with her this day, not wearily deployed to some far off country… or worse.  We seated ourselves across from them… and then a transformation occurred! 

Somehow those small little pastries suddenly tasted like the plate sized donut the departing father had so vividly described. The coffee suddenly became the best Café Mocha I had ever tasted, and I smiled at my son… so proud of him… and truly glad I had followed through with my commitment.  

We enjoyed our brief hour together. It went by quickly. We doodled on search words and coloring papers with crayons, and made small talk. I even enjoyed the military father and daughter seated across from us happily engaged in the same activities. I no longer felt miserable with my nagging cold. And for a brief moment, I even forgot the work that waited for me back at my desk.

The hour came to an end.  My son walked with me to the exit. I bid him a good day, patted him on the shoulder once more, and reminded him I would see him again in the afternoon. 

The walk back to my truck was again cold. I turned up my collar and turned my phone back on to resume my day, but sure wish that all the kids and their dads could have enjoyed the experience I just had. 

There are moments in time and life that we don’t get back. We only have but one fleeting chance to get it right. I almost lost that moment… but so fortunate I didn’t. For the words my son left me before I returned to my day were now permanently etched in my memories…

“This was the best day ever Dad!”   

It was mine too kid. It was mine too… and worth every penny.

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