My father celebrated his 80th birthday last week. My wife and I decided that we would surprise him and chance the 100-mile trip over Michigan's wintry roads.
I knew that would be no easy task. Not the driving part. I could handle that. Surprising my father would be a little tougher.
You see, most of my family could never work for the CIA or any other governmental entity that handled national security. They just can't keep a secret. That includes me, as my wife knows all too well. And especially my mother.
So when my wife first proposed that we go to Bay City for my dad's party, I let my sister Sue know first. And I told her not to tell our mother until we were sure we could get the time off. But when I did inform my mother a week or so later, she responded, "I know. Sue already told me." Betrayed already by my sister.
But my mother was careful not to let anything slip. She even waited until my father had left the house to pick up a newspaper at the store before discussing details for the party. We were grilling steaks. Mmmmmmmm. Sounded delicious as there are many great meat markets in Bay City.
As my dad's birthday approached, I was sure he still had no clue we were joining the party. I found out that my mother had almost let the cat out of the bag though. When my sister and brother were over to my parents house, Sue asked about the upcoming birthday lunch, "When are we going to eat?"
"It depends on when Wendy and Dave get here," my mother responded. She immediately realized her mistake. But my father, whose hearing isn't the best any given day anyway, was so involved talking to my brother that he didn't catch what my mother had said.
I figured we still could spring the surprise. On Thursday, dad's birthday, Wendy and I both planned to work a half day, then leave around noon to head north. So we made sure we both e-mailed my dad a happy birthday greeting from work, to further ensure our surprise. My son Greg who works in the same building as we do also sent my father a birthday greeting. Greg got an e-mail response thanking him for the message. Wendy and I did not.
Oh, oh. "I think he knows," Wendy said.
We made the two-hour drive anyway, pulled into the driveway, and I walked into my parents entryway first, seeing my dad busy in the kitchen. He turned to look at me.
"What took you so long?" he dead-panned.
Guess our plan to surprise was busted the previous day. My mother set a plate out on the kitchen hutch cabinet, remarking aloud, "I need to remember to give this to Wendy."
My father who was passing by at that moment on his way to the basement and his computer, stopped in his tracks. "Is Wendy coming tomorrow?"
Yup, busted. If there's anything my mother can't do, besides keep a secret, it's trying to lie after she's let the cat out of the bag. She had to confess the truth. So much for our surprise.
Guess we'll have to try again on his 90th birthday. He has a way to go to catch up to his mother, my grandmother, who turned 98 this year. Here is a picture of her and her three living sons, including my father at upper right. It was taken at her own birthday a few weeks ago.