Christmas time. Here in Peru, we’ll be hosting a traditional Christmas Eve family celebration. I’m looking forward to that, but my thoughts keep coming back to another Christmas many years ago.
I hadn’t been home to California for almost nine months because I was in Washington, D.C., in graduate school. While I was gone, my father had retired from his job. So I came home for Christmas that year to find that a once vigorous and healthy man had seriously deteriorated. He was dull, lifeless, and starting to have some major health problems.
After leaving his work, he had spent his time doing repairs in the house, and whatever else he could think of. That took a few months. Then he had nothing to do.
I could see that he was bored and restless. Unfortunately, he had no idea what to do to get back on track. Right then, I realized that if something wasn’t done soon, we were going to lose him.
But what to do? I pondered that for a long time after arriving home.
Finally, I decided to take a risk and buy him a dog. For some reason, I thought of a Bassett Hound puppy. Not far from us, I knew, was a kennel where they had puppies for sale. I asked the owner for the most mischievous and energetic puppy she had. What I got was “Tiger,” a ten week old female. She was adorable with her long ears flapping around as she scurried about.
When I brought her home Christmas Eve, my mother groaned “Oh, no!” and my father remained silent. Tiger, though, knew who her master was and immediately demanded his attention. From then on, they were constant companions. She insisted on going out for frequent walks. Tiger wouldn’t take “no” for an answer; she would stay by the door and bark until he complied.
As they walked the neighborhood, people would come up to pet the cute puppy. Children especially loved her. There were lots of them because a school was across the street from our home. Tiger became the mascot for the school, and Dad was right along with her.
As he came to know people in the neighborhood, he became involved in their lives. They would ask him to watch their place while they went on vacation or help them in many other ways.
He became the surrogate grandfather for lots of kids in the neighborhood. He took them to baseball games, to the dentist… to all the places that a good grandfather would go. And he was always there to talk with them.
He was taking several long walks every day, talking with lots of people and engaged in their lives. He knew everybody in the neighborhood, and they all knew him.
My Dad was happy and healthy. He had found a purpose in life. He was fulfilling a much needed role and receiving lots of love in return.
My risky gift had paid off handsomely.
Well, all that went on for thirteen years until Tiger died. Dad couldn’t even consider having another dog. We lost him, too, not long after that.
Nevertheless, we had a happy and healthy man for thirteen more years. Those are years I will always treasure.
It was the best gift I have ever given.
And you know what… it was also the best gift I’ve ever received.
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