Why I lied to my father, and to you.

thThe first was a misrepresentation and the other a lie of omission. Since May 12 I’ve been on the East Coast, but I couldn’t tell my dad or my readers. To do so would have ruined the surprise 80th birthday party we’d planned.

When he recently asked if I’d be coming back East any time soon, I prevaricated. Since he reads my blog and follows me on Facebook, I couldn’t suggest meet-ups with Surviving & Thriving readers in Manhattan or South Jersey. What, and ruin the surprise?

And it was a surprise, especially since his 80th natal day took place back in March.


At about 3 p.m. yesterday, Dad and my stepmom, Priscilla, headed to a cookout at my brother’s place in Cumberland County. A minute or two after he arrived and was greeting grandkids and great-grandkids, my sister and I walked in: “Hi, Dad.”

This is him a little while later, laughing at the candles that spell out #You’reOld:


He had no idea that she and I were coming in from Seattle and Anchorage, respectively. In fact, he’d called both our homes the night before only to be told that my sister was on a women’s retreat and that I was out with my friends.

Not entirely lies, either one. My sister and I have had a great time chatting together and with my brother’s wife, a niece, our stepmother, an aunt and a 9-year-old neighbor girl who dropped in almost daily.


Cupcakes at top volume

Saturday, party day, was yet another in a long string of rainy-and-cool days the region has experienced lately. It was warmer in Anchorage the other day (71 degrees, a new record for the date) than it was here.

We had cheese and crackers, chips and salsa, chicken wings from BJ Roasters in Millville and pizza from Big John’s in Bridgeton. I’d made a batch of rice pudding from my great-grandmother’s recipe (Dad’s favorite dessert). It’s possible some crudités were were available but mostly I remember the wings and the amazing cupcakes. My sister-in-law baked them from scratch, filled each with homemade buttercream and topped them with fudge frosting.

Much laughter, much hilarity and a tremendous amount of noise. In my family everyone talks at the same time yet we all seem to understand what everyone else in the room is saying.

When I needed a break from the racket (I’d forgotten how loud we can be), I wound up hanging with a great-niece and great-nephew with whom I’d previously had little interaction. Ultimately we spent a couple of hours together: playing with some dollhouse furniture, making words on a Scrabble For Juniors board, and watching and re-watching a Facebook video of another couple of great-nephews jumping on a trampoline.

The great-niece, a preschooler whom I’ll call “Emily,” found this video endlessly funny. A sprinkler was running under the trampoline and one of the jumpers’ shorts were so soaked they kept sliding down. The half-glimpse of his underwear had her laughing so hard she almost fell off my lap.

In fact, all I had to do was keep repeating, “Dude, pull up your shorts. Nobody wants to see your underpants!” to have Emily gagging with amusement. No matter how many times we watched it (I lost count at 12) it was still entirely hilarious. Then again, she’s three years old. And, yeah, “underpants” is a pretty funny word.


So far away

These gatherings are great while they’re happening but leave me with a sense of wistful sadness. Even though I don’t want to live here, I do wish I could be closer to relatives.

Yes, I’m where I want to be (and with whom I want to be). Yes, we have an airport and I visit/am visited fairly regularly. Still, the chance to jump in a car and go see a parent/sibling/cousin/old friend within an hour’s drive has a strong appeal. So does walking to my childhood church in about four minutes, as I did this morning.

Due to a prior commitment, Dad and Priscilla had to leave a few hours after they arrived. Tomorrow he’ll drive back down and ferry my sister and me to where they’re living now, in the Erial/Sicklerville region. And yes, it’s about an hour away.

We’ll get a look at the remodel, have some lunch, visit a little longer and then it’s off to the airport. It will be fun, but imbued with that same sense of melancholy: I have to leave now. It’ll be a long time before I see these people again.

I wish I lived closer so that I could have that connection. As I noted in another essay, “No one understands you like the people you came up with, even if your paths diverged 40 years ago.”

Fact is, I made the choice to leave the region. With that choice came a melancholy corollary: that my time with loved ones is limited. Happy birthday, Dad, and I hope you don’t take the distance personally.


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  1. Catseye

    Happy Belated B-Day to your Dad! And I full well understand that sense of melancholy. I wish I lived closer to certain friends and relatives, too.

  2. Make Do Mom

    Donna, So glad you pulled off the birthday surprise without spilling the beans. Best wishes to your Dad for a wonderful 80th year and many more delightful family gatherings to come.

    • Donna Freedman

      Thanks. The look on his face was priceless, but unfortunately he was moving and my sister the photographer was moving so the picture came out too blurry to use.

  3. We’ll forgive you for hiding out. What a life affirming event for your Dad-know what you mean about people you love being far away-but when you come home, I think that it makes the visits all that much sweeter. Tonight, we had dear friends over who have moved from NJ to Florida-and I didn’t want them to leave, knowing that it would be months before we see each other again. I guess that we need to take solace in the fact that we are lucky to have great family and friends in our lives.

    • Donna Freedman

      The visits are definitely meaningful because who knows how long before the next one?

      Next year I may be back in the area with some advance warning.

  4. Teinegurl

    Aww for a girl who lives in Hawaii and a sister in NJ. This got me tears eyed especially with her birthday coming up! Darn u !!

  5. Alane

    What a wonderful surprise. Thank you for sharing this great time with us. And your dad does not look 80. Must be the tomatoes. Glad you made it home for him.

  6. jestjack

    What a sweet surprise for your Dad! Just got back from visiting DD2 out West for about a week…It was great seeing her and hard to say good bye. This child has taught me much and I got another lesson on life when I was “hemming & hauling” about making the trip due to business and family responsibilities…. She stopped me in mid sentence and said ….”there will never be a perfect TIME to take the TIME for yourself…You just need to do it”. She was right and one “smart cookie”….Glad you got to see your Dad…80 is no small feat!

  7. Sonya Ann

    What a wonderful gift!!! Happy birthday to your dad!!!

  8. Nancy

    What a happy event! But damn; I was just in NJ last week!

  9. Congrats on pulling off a great surprise! How lovely that you were all able to get together for a celebration. We live a flight away from most of our family and friends too. While we love our home, it does get hard to be far away from loved ones sometimes. On the other hand, for some family, I really need to be farther away for the heart to grow fonder.

  10. Cathy in NJ

    What a great family reunion. Your Dad looks great for 80:)

  11. Pamela

    yes south jersey has been pretty chilly the past few weeks…and pretty rainy!

  12. What a lovely surprise and well kept too!!

  13. Awww, that’s so sweet! Glad you were able to surprise him!!!

  14. Happy Birthday and what a lovely message! It really is a bittersweet emotion that I don’t know if it ever goes away. But the past part is that there is always a next time and it keeps me looking forward to the next month.

  15. Karen

    I loved your column; it was so sweet and heart-felt.

  16. Punkin Pye

    I’m so very happy for your father. I’m sure this must have mean’t a lot to hinm

  17. What a great surprise. After it was all said and done, I’m sure your dad didn’t mind one bit that he’d been lied to!

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