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As I surveyed the large assortment of candy bars on the rack in front of me, my mind wandered back to a time when I was alone with my dad in the grocery store. I had taken off on my own, looking for something, anything, to do that wasn't associated with walking behind my dad and behaving while he pushed the cart around and read the list he had made before we left his apartment. He was still single at the time, and I was there for a weekend visit.
I had made my way to the candy rack at the end of the aisle and looked longingly at all of the different types of candy bars, I leaned forward and inhaled, catching the wonderful mixtures of the smell each type of candy emitted. There was something about the aroma of Sweet Tarts and Nestle Crunch Bars that made me hungry. Out of nowhere, my dad walked up from behind me and said, "Get the ones you want."
"Really?" I asked, not totally sure if I had heard him right.
"Well of course, son," he said with a smile as he reached down and grabbed two Whatchamacallit's from the rack. I smiled and grabbed a carton of Whoppers and a bag of peanut M&M's, tossing them in the basket behind my dad's candy bars, and we were off to the check out counter.
Now I was in a different store, looking at a different candy rack, but my dad was in the store too. In fact, he was about three aisles over, looking for mackerel and liver that we were going to use as bait when we went fishing at the ocean the next day. I wasn't too sure which spot we were going to, because my dad had various places he liked to fish from. But I knew we would be leaving early in the morning. Really early. Two in the morning early.
This time, though, I didn't need his permission. I had my own money, and I was planning to spend it on any candy bar I wanted. I reached down and picked out a Butterfinger and a Snickers Bar, then I grabbed a couple of Whatchamacallit's for my dad. I briefly held all four candy bars up to my nose and took the smell in one more time and let my thoughts get away from me again. The chocolate smell brought back a memory of a field trip I took with my class when I was in third grade to the Hershey Chocolate factory in Oakdale, a small town outside of Modesto.
As I took in the chocolate scent, I thought about Modesto, and how much I missed being there. I wondered to myself if I'd ever live there again, and if I did, whether it would be with my dad. I had a feeling that the answer was no, but something also told me not to lose hope. I felt a little weepy as I stood there, lost in thought, and just as I started to realize where I was and what was happening, my dad turned the corner and was suddenly in sight.
"Hey bud, did you get the ones you wanted?" he asked with a smile.
"Yeah," I answered shyly. "I got you a couple, too."
"Well put them in the basket and we'll get out of here," he said casually. "We need to get back so dad can get some rest. We're leaving early and it's a long drive."
"I can pay for them," I said, reaching into my front pocket and pulling out my crumpled money.
"No, son," he said with a smile as he motioned to the cart with his head, prompting me to follow his orders. "Dad's paying for everything. I want you to save your money."
As we stood in line at the registers, I surveyed the contents of our basket. He had bought the same things for our fishing trip he always had in the past. There was a package of cinnamon rolls, a loaf of soft wheat bread, a package of bologna for me and a package of olive loaf for him, and a small package of white cheese. Underneath the basket was a 12 pack of Cokes and a 4 pack of toilet paper. In the child's seat sat the bait. A couple of tubs of liver and three packages of mackerel.
When we got back to my grandparent's house it was almost 5 in the evening, and my grandma was setting the table for supper. While she was still getting everything ready, I helped my dad with the ice chest, putting the sodas in the bottom, then pouring ice over them and setting the lunch meat and cheese on top. My dad loaded it in the back of his truck and strapped it down, then we put the liver and the mackerel in a separate, smaller ice chest with no ice.
My dads theory behind doing that was that the bait would get good and stinky and attract more fish. Personally, I thought it was a silly idea, but I went along with it because I knew that when it came to fishing, there was no one I knew of who was more serious than my dad. When we were done loading the small ice chest, we went inside and washed up for supper.
During dinner I had a warm feeling in my chest that stemmed from the good vibes I was feeling. It had been a long time since I had sat down at the table with just my dad and my grandparents for dinner, and my mind was flooded with memories of when this was an almost weekly event. Before my dad met my stepmom, I would go to his apartment every other weekend, and most times, we would either drive to Pittsburg to see my grandma and grandpa or they would come to Modesto. When they did, my grandma always packed something good that she had cooked, and we would all sit down at the table like a family and eat.
After dinner, my dad went into my room to lay down, telling me not to stay up too late because we would be at the ocean no later than 6 in the morning. So, about an hour after he turned in, I went to bed too. For some reason, I thought he was going to sleep on the floor or something, but when I went to my room, he was sleeping in my bed.
After I changed into my pajamas, I very carefully crawled in with him and for the first time since I was 6, I snuggled up to him and tried to fall asleep. He must have sensed my presence, because he instantly wrapped an arm around me and pulled me closer to him, and as I lay there, reveling in the emotion of experiencing a closeness with my dad that I hadn't had in a long time, I let my mind drift off.
Feeling his arm around me, it was so much easier to make myself believe that it was true. I pretended that I had just had a horrible nightmare, and I had gone to his room to tell him about it and he let me sleep with him. I could feel the energy of his touch, protecting me and reassuring me that everything was fine, and that no matter what, he was going to protect me. I snuggled closer to him, and laid my head on his chest, then I resumed the story I was silently telling myself until I drifted off.
When I opened my eyes, the lights were on in my room and my dad was sitting on the edge of my bed, helping me sit up.
"Are you up, buddy?" he asked, and I sleepily nodded my reply. "Get up and go to the bathroom before we leave, okay?"
I got up and did what I was told, then I staggered back to my room and found something to wear. I lost track of what I was doing at some point between my room and the truck, but as we pulled off, my dad told me to lay across the seat and put my head in his lap. The next time I opened my eyes, we were at a gas station in a town called Petaluma, where my dad instructed me once more to wake up and go to the bathroom before we took off again.
When I woke up again, it was because I felt my body sliding across the seat and my dad's hands under my arms, supporting me. I opened my eyes and realized that he was sitting me up next to him. The sun was starting to peak through the sky with a bright, slender streak of light across the horizon that we could see perfectly from where we were parked.
"Look at the sunrise, Kevin," my dad said softly. "Isn't t beautiful?"
I looked up at him and nodded with a smile as he wrapped his arm around me and pulled me into him. As I looked back out onto the sunrise, I rested my head up against his body and took in the moment. Somehow, I knew that I was going to have to make every moment of that day count. I had one day with my dad before school was going to start and I wasn't going to just let it pass me by.
When he opened the door, a cool breeze blew into the cab of his truck and finished waking me up. We got out and stretched, then we got our poles, the ice chest and walked down to the shoreline. The water was crashing against the slippery rocks, and the sounds of seagulls flying overhead blended in with the noise that the crashing waves made so perfectly.
My dad got our poles set up, then he cast both of them, and as we sat side by side, I couldn't help but think that I was finally where I needed to be. I knew it was only for a day, but just for that day, I knew I could be content. I looked over at my dad and I saw a God. At that moment, he wasn't the dad that had made accusations about what he thought I did to my stepbrother. He wasn't the dad that hung the phone up on me when I called him for help. He wasn't the dad that left me in Pittsburg with my grandparents, either.
For that brief moment, he was the dad that lived in my head. He was a super hero. He was the worlds strongest man. He was the one who was going to keep me safe from monsters and from villains. He could fly a plane. He could launch a rocket. He could go to space. He was wise. He was rich.
He was my idol.
On the way home, we stopped at a store called Tides Wharf, in of all places, Bodega Bay. The place smelled like fish and feet, and the bathrooms were filthy, but my dad swore they had good clam chowder. While we sat at our table, he looked across at me and smiled.
"Did you have a good day, pal?" he asked.
"Yes dad," I answered. "Thank you for taking me today. I had so much fun."
"Good," he said with a satisfied grin. "I had fun today too."
"Dad?" I started.
"Yeah buddy," he answered.
"Do you have to go home tonight?" I asked, feeling like I already knew the answer. Before he had a chance to respond, though, our food was brought to our table and it was time to eat. I took his silence on the subject as yes, and I just decided not to ruin the day by breaking down.
When we walked back out to his truck, I looked around Bodega Bay and wondered to myself what I was thinking when I told Patricia that I lived there. I wouldn't have known where to go once I was there or what to do. Most likely, I would have wound up sleeping outside somewhere. I just shrugged and got in the truck.
Once we were back on the road, I found myself yawning over and over again. It was getting late, and my dad was on the phone with my stepmom. It sounded like they were arguing, but that he didn't want to carry on in front of me. I had no doubt that they were arguing over me. It didn't take much to figure out that she was mad that he had spent all day with me and that he had slept over the night before. I didn't give it a second thought, though. I decided that not even my stepmom was going to ruin this day for me. I started to nod off for a moment, but I caught my head as it started to fall against the door and I woke back up.
"Kevin, why don't you put your head in daddy's lap, bud?" my dad suggested, so that's what I did. As soon as my head was in his lap, I curled my legs up and closed my eyes. The next thing I knew, my dad was lying me down on the couch at my grandparents' house and smiling down at me. When he noticed I was up, he leaned over and kissed my forehead with a smile, then he got up and walked through the house.
I got up to go to the bathroom, then I decided to see what everyone was up to. As I passed through the dining room, I looked up at the clock and realized it was past 10 at night. I made my way through the family room and through the back window, I could see my dad and my grandparents in the yard cleaning the fish we caught, so I walked out to see how far along they were.
"Hey son," my dad said, his face lighting up as I approached. "You aren't sleepy?"
"Just a little," I said as I watched my grandfather skillfully lay the sea trout he had in his hand open and use two fingers to pull the guts right out. My grandmother was holding the water hose, and when my dad took the gutted fish from my grandpa, she applied pressure with her thumb and the light flow intensified a little as it hit the newly filleted sea trout.
"I'll tell you what buddy," my dad said. "Why don't you go get in bed. As soon as I'm done, I'll come lay down with you, okay?"
"You're spending the night tonight?" I asked hopefully. He smiled and nodded back at me and I felt a rush of excitement for a moment, but my sleepiness won out as soon as my head hit my pillow.
I knew the exact moment my dad got in my bed. As soon as I felt the covers go back, I opened my eyes and waited patiently. When he was next to me, I rolled over and curled up with him, laying my head on his chest. He wrapped his arm around me again and I felt him kiss my cheek, then he told me he loved me.
"I love you too, dad," I said as I lay there in the crook of his arm.
That night, I didn't have to pretend. I didn't have to make up a story to tell myself about me and my dad having a special day together. It had actually happened, and as I lay there, feeling my dads fingers running through my hair, all I had to do for once in my life was recount the events of the day. It was an odd feeling, to be sure, but it was one I knew I'd treasure for as long as I lived. Because on that day, my dad, my hero, made all of my dreams a reality.
Even if it was just for a day
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