Time to head for Sears.

As father's day approaches, I'm reminded of all the weird things my dad did for us as kids to try and make our childhood memorable. My brother and I never truly wanted for anything. We always had food, shelter, A/C in the summer, heat in the winter. We always had someone to take us to school or pick us up or take us to the doctor.

Going through what Mrs. A and I are now with our financial...challenges, it occurs to me as I hearken back through the perpetually disappearing cotton candy strands of memory that my parents suffered - no, grew through the same situations. The height of this love bonding frivolity came one Christmas when my dad, who is not a carpenter or engineer, decided to build us some space ships.

For months we were not allowed into our basement. At the time the basement was used for storage and I hadn't moved into it, so there was little reason for us to go down there anyway. My mom would do laundry and we'd occasionally be sent to the freezer to get some meat, but that was it. The basement was a foreboding place, well avoided by small people. So why we had been told to not go down there was kind of like trying to tell a cat not to jump on the TV. The cat may have never wanted to jump on the TV until you tried to make it off limits. We were terrified of the basement, but now that something is apparently down there that is cool enough to require a stern warning - well, you bet your ass we're going to go try and peek.

The months went by and we were unable to get into the basement, but lo and behold on Christmas morning we were treated to one of the oddest and most loving gifts I think we had ever received as young children. You can hang all the video games and Transformers and Lego and Star Wars toys, this was a dad (and for all I know a mom too) doing something he thought was cool and he made it by himself. He really put his neck out there because as almost teenage boys, you can really be hit or miss with gifts. There's a fine line between utter joy and devastating disappointment, all because you got Ratchet instead of Jetfire. (Who the fuck wanted Ratchet anyway?)

My dad had put together what amounted to a couple cockpits. They were made simply with some plywood, a few brackets, some Plexiglas and a shitload of silver spray paint. Inside each cockpit was a small block or chair and when inside you had a 270° view through the plastic. The whole thing was maybe 6 feet long and maybe 3 feet tall. Imagine the cab of a tractor screwed onto a ramp a 9 year old would use to jump his bike. Put a red lightening bolt and your kid's names on it, and that's what he made. I don't remember a joystick but there were also these little consoles he must have got from a department store or something that he mounted on the "dashboard" of the space fighters. They had dials and lights and made noises. The gift also game with spaceman helmets with built in walkie talkies so we could sit in our separate ships and still talk to each other like we were on a top secret scouting mission around the rings of Saturn.

I have to say, of all the things we had as kids, nothing fueled the imagination like this. I'm sure as a kid I was a jerk about it. It didn't say Kenner or Hasbro or Atari on it. It didn't change into a giant fortress. It wasn't made of Nerf and didn't come with collectible cards. But the older I got, the more I realized that we DID play in them a LOT. They succumbed to the rain and the snow over time and eventually had to be taken apart as they were becoming a warren for rabbits and stray cats, but there was a time when we would both run outside and clamor into the cockpits of our space fighters, ready to blast off into the unknown depths. We would use the ships as part of larger stories, integrate them into our play. They were our escape craft, our ejection pods, our long range scouts. We would run around the backyard with our helmets on and our sparking or battery powered laser guns, evading capture from giant robots or 12 eyed alien dictators, finally ending up in our warm and wood smelling space ships, making our escape.

This was slightly before the age of video games. It was probably the very next year that we got our Atari 2600 with Pacman, Combat, Space Invaders and Missile Command. I don't even remember what year it was, but I can promise you that was the best Christmas I had as a kid.

I may not ever be able to find anything to give to my dad on Father's day that's as heartfelt as that gift was. It's hard enough buying stuff for a guy who, when growing up, seemed to have everything he needed. My dad hated cars and hated working on them, but he always had a lot of tools. He always seemed to have nice clothes for work and he always had some things he held dear like records and memorabilia of dead cowboy movie stars.

My only hope is one day I'll do something like that for my kids and I think the best present I could give my dad would be to let him know the reaction they give me when I do it.

"Yeah, it's nice I guess. Thanks dad. Are there more presents?"

Have a happy Father's Day.

Carry on.

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