Mike came from a wealthy family. His father, Tom, ran a successful construction company. Although all his schoolmates knew his dad was rich, he never made a fuss about it. Even his teachers liked him, and he was a hardworking student.
During the beginning of one school year, tragedy struck: Mike’s aunt Kathy passed away after a short illness. The woman used to take Mike to the zoo on weekends.
In her last words to Mike, she said, “Promise me you’ll go say hello to the animals for me.”
Mike was affected by the loss of his aunt and began to struggle in school. Tom was also saddened by the death of his sister, but distracted himself by concentrating on work and getting more contracts. Tom was spending less and less time at home and Mike felt lonelier than ever.
Every time he tried to spend time with his father or visit the zoo with him, Tom turned him down.
“Listen, son. I’m really busy at work right now, okay? If you need company, you have my permission to go out with your friends anytime you want,” Tom would tell his son.
Anna, Mike’s mother, also realized that her son needed his father, but struggled to convince Tom. Mike’s friends, Joel and Gabriel, realized he was depressed and tried to find a way to cheer him up.
They saw something interesting that Tony, Mike’s neighbor, was doing.
“You have to see your neighbor’s garden. You’ll love it, we promise,” Joel told him.
Four months later, Mike’s school organized a special Father’s Day event. All students were invited to bring their fathers to school and give a short presentation about who they are and what they do.
Since Tom was well known in town, everyone was surprised when Mike brought a 64-year-old man to the Father’s Day presentation.
“That’s not Tom,” they commented in confusion.
Some wondered if the man was Mike’s grandfather or an uncle, as they had never seen him before.
When Mike’s turn came, he brought Tony up on stage. Tony was clearly quite nervous, as he didn’t know anyone in the audience. Many attendees were still confused as to why Mike would bring Tony instead of his successful father.
“Today, everyone has called their father their hero. I want to name my neighbor, Tony, as my hero,” Mike said as he began his speech.
“I’ve known him for a few months now. He has been like a father to me during this time. Tony is a real hero. He takes care of the strays he finds around town. Right now, Tony has 14 dogs living in his home. He found them beaten, starving and almost dying. He nursed them back to health. Tony spends all of his pension money on these dogs. They have no idea what a heart he has,” Mike said.
Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Mike, Tom had arrived late for the event. Anna had called him the day before to begging him to attend the presentation.
“You know how much he is suffering since Kathy passed away. Please go get him. Our son needs his father,” she told him.
Tom felt a pang of guilt as he watched his son give a speech about his neighbor and not about him. He realized he had ignored his boy’s needs since his sister’s death. He had been so focused on business meetings and negotiations that he had barely spent any time with Mike all year.
As the boy left the stage, he noticed his father walking toward him. Mike was worried that his dad would be mad at him because he had brought Tony for Father’s Day instead of him. To Mike’s surprise, Tom hugged him. He even hugged Tony.
“I haven’t been the best father this year. I guess I had a hard time after losing Kathy. But I shouldn’t have ignored you. I know you were close with your aunt too. I’m sorry I wasn’t there when you needed me most. I promise I’ll never ignore you like that again,” Tom promised.
“And Tony. Thank you for taking care of my son. You need to come more often. You’re a friend of the family now. In fact, I have an idea for you,” he continued.
Tom suggested they host a Dog Adoption Day at Tony’s house and invited all of Mike’s classmates to come with their parents.
Tom took time off work to help with the event and even fired up the barbecue in Tony’s backyard. Mike’s friends, Joel and Gabriel, and all of his classmates attended with their families. They donated extra cans of dog food, medicine and money to Tony.
In addition, ten of the dogs found new homes, including one that Tom decided to adopt for his family.
“Thanks to everyone for the generous donations, and thanks to Mike, Tom and Anna for organizing this. You are the best neighbors I’ve ever had,” Tony said at the end of the event.
From that point on, Tom made sure he spent a lot more time with Mike. He delegated responsibilities to his company so he never had an excuse to skip family time. It became a tradition to visit the zoo in Kathy’s honor.
Ten years later, Mike graduated from college and planned to open a veterinary clinic to treat and care for animals. Tom surprised his son with his own facility, built by his company, to get him started. Joel and Gabriel, who had studied in the same class as Mike, were the first people he hired.