«Simon, your father’s on the phone,» Simon’s mom told him on his tenth birthday, handing him the landline.
«Hey, dad! When are you coming home? We’re waiting to cut the cake!» the boy told his father with a big grin.
«Sorry, kid. That’s why I’m calling. I have to stay and work for a few more hours. You understand that, right? I want to earn more for the family,» his father, Alex, apologized.
«Really? But -»
«I have to go to a meeting now. Happy birthday, son. Have fun!» added Alex quickly and hung up.
Simon handed the phone back to his mother and ran to the bathroom, where he tried hard not to cry. He shed a few tears, even though he was used to his father being gone all the time. Alex had promised to be there for Simon’s birthday, but once again, work was more important.
Simon knew he couldn’t hide and cry like a baby all day. His friends were outside waiting. So he splashed water on his face and pretended everything was fine.
A few years later, Simon was 15 and had won baseball tickets in a radio sweepstakes. He invited his father, and for the first time, Alex said yes. The teenager couldn’t have been happier. He was already dressed and ready to go earlier than necessary, but suddenly his father burst into his room.
«Father, why are you wearing your suit?» asked Simon, frowning.
«My boss called! We have an important meeting and I know you’ll be disappointed, but I’m so sorry, son,» Alex apologized, straightening his tie and looking at his watch.
» Dad, you always do this! You promised we’d go to the baseball game!» complained Simon, feeling anger, sadness and frustration in his chest.
«I know, kid. But that’s what grown men do. We work hard. We sacrifice everything so our family can have a great life. Everything you have, you owe to me because I work hard for it, and I hope you’ll understand that. Why don’t you go with a friend or something and as a reward you get to come back two hours after curfew. How does that sound?»
Simon wanted to scream, hit the wall, and crush something. But he couldn’t show his feelings in front of his father. Not so blatantly. So he suppressed everything and calmed down. The disappointment hadn’t gone away, but he knew his father. He should have known this would happen.
«Okay, father. I’ll see you later,» Simon replied, shoulders drooping.
«Cool, kid. Bye,» Alex said and hurried out.
Twenty years later…
«Simon! Happy birthday!» said Alex after Simon’s wife Miriam showed him into their home.
«Hey, Dad. Thanks,» said Simon, who was distracted by his phone and computer.
«Come on in, Mr. Collins,» Miriam invited him, grabbing the gift Alex had brought and leading him to the couch. She offered him a drink and some snacks, then set about preparing dinner.
Alex sat down and tried to talk to his son, but Simon was focused on his devices the whole time.
His grandchildren came in and greeted their grandfather enthusiastically. They began telling him about their day until Simon snapped.
«Please, go outside! I need to concentrate on something, and you’re too loud!» he demanded, pointing to the garden.
Alex pursed his lips and grabbed his grandchildren to play with them outside.
Later, Alex asked Miriam how often Simon was distracted in this way.
«Oh, way too often. But he says a man has to work for his family, and I guess he’s right about that,» she replied, concentrating on serving dinner.
It was a long time before Simon finally joined them for dinner, and he ate quickly, then got back to work as soon as his plate was empty. When it was time to cut the cake, Simon told them to forget about singing and just cut it so the kids could enjoy it.
Alex went home that night knowing it was all his fault. Simon had become a workaholic by his example. He didn’t care about birthdays and didn’t spend time with his kids, even on a Sunday. He felt so guilty, but what could he do?
His guilt was so great that Alex decided to stop going to Simon’s house, and when his son sent him a gift for his birthday two weeks later without bothering to greet him or visit, Alex didn’t even open the gift. It remained lying on his porch and not open.
One year later…
«Father, why is there a gift on your porch?» asked Simon as he entered his childhood home.
He was looking for some important documents and was surprised to see the gift on the porch.
«Since you didn’t have time to visit me on my birthday, I didn’t think it was that important to open the gift you sent me a year ago,» Alex replied sarcastically.
«Excuse me? This is the gift I sent last year? Are you insane?» asked Simon, shocked and offended.
«Yes,» Alex replied, not feeling guilty.
«You’ve got a lot of nerve complaining about it, old man,» Simon replied, putting his hands on his hips.
«I know I’ve made a lot of mistakes, son. I know it’s my fault you turned out like me, but I can’t let it happen anymore,» Alex said, leaving the sarcasm behind and looking straight at his son.
Simon shook his head again, offended.
«I’m nothing like you.»
«Yes, you are. It’s my fault. But you are,» his father repeated solemnly.
«No… I… would never…» stuttered Simon.
«How many events in your sons’ lives have you missed? How many birthdays? How many anniversaries?» asked Alex.
He desperately wanted his son to know the truth. He probably should have done it years ago, but he didn’t know how to break it to his son. His guilt and pride wouldn’t allow him to admit his own role in this. But maybe the abandoned 1-year-old gift was the only way. It was time to set things right before it was too late.
«I… I’m working. For them,» Simon said, running a hand over his forehead.
«I know. But I know now that I shouldn’t have missed all the important moments in your life, son. Work and money don’t matter in the end. I don’t want your sons to reject you the way you reject me. I don’t want you to regret everything you missed as much as I do. I’m sorry I didn’t say this before, but I’ve finally found the courage, so listen to me,» Alex said sincerely and desperately.
Simon looked around in confusion and shock.
«What can I do?»
«I have four baseball tickets for tonight’s game. How about we start there?» offered Alex, shrugging.
For the first time, Simon’s eyes watered in the presence of his father, and the two grown men hurriedly embraced. They patted each other on the back.
«Let’s go,» Simon urged, wiping his eyes.
They picked up Simon’s sons, who couldn’t believe their father and grandfather would take them to a game. Miriam waved to them as the car left their quiet Pasadena street, and Alex thought he saw tears in her eyes.
The game was just the first step Simon took to improve his relationship with his children. He began attending their school events, their soccer games and everything else. He took the family on outings and more. Alex was invited along as well, and he never left them out.
It may have taken years of mistakes and resentment to get things back on track, but Alex and Simon were now on the right track. And Simon’s children had the assurance that they could rely on their father in every way.