On Birthdays and Christmases, kids across the world expect gifts, but for me, one moment sprinkled an invaluable lesson of sacrifice and love that has lasted me a lifetime.
Flip back the calendar to 1994, as the adult world celebrated Nelson Mandela’s inauguration, mourned O.J. Simpson’s positive image, and marveled at Tom Hanks’ performance in Forrest Gump, my 7-year-old contemporaries cared for nothing except: Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.
As my first-grade teacher taught fractions, shapes, and money value, my classmates could not find passion beyond our excitement about the Power Rangers episodes airing after school. Day after day, our comments were limited to our anticipation and how the toys were our desire. Like all kids, I would search toy stores and catalogs with my dad hoping to find something for me to harness and embrace, but to my displeasure, nothing but the simple stickers available at grocery store check-out lines were within my grasp. Always hearing toy store clerks say “we’re out of” or “we don’t carry” them.
One Monday morning, a regular kid became the most popular boy over the weekend. Chris Johnson brought to school his brand new black power ranger and motorcycle toy (which was one of the five heroes) for Show and Tell. Scores of kids surrounded him on the playground. He was the only kid any of us knew who actually had a toy from the aforementioned intellectual property. Some pretended to be his friend to get their chance to play, but I watched him. Did I want that popularity? No. Was I envious of his life? I did not know, but I wanted just a piece of the memorabilia, even if it were those silly stickers (which honestly was the mentality of any kid those days).
How did he get that toy? Was his family that much richer than my own?
Months passed and my seventh birthday arrived, and like every kid except Johnson, I was toyless in regards to my favorite show. No family could acquire one, and a temperament of inadequacy was accepted by this surrounding populace. So expectations and even desires to have these toys left every kid, like many adults today feel in regard to being wealthy, it will not happen to me.
Running around the house, enveloped in my imagination with friends, we conquered the evil monsters that decided to plague the Earth, hoping for planetary domination. As the last bad guy presented himself before us on my special day, we were crooked back into reality when my parents presented my birthday cake and the birthday song. My wish was made, pastry consumed and presents unwrapped. The horror of every kid under ten, clothes and cards were given, and then…it happened.
From the pantry, deep beneath the largest box, I had ever seen sat in the arms of my father, as he wore the widest smile God had ever created. Back then, my dad was a grouchy alcoholic, and even at seven, I did not know how to interpret his present expression. Like an offering to a king, he placed it before me and stepped backward as if hoping to discover my pleasure.
Splitting the tape that sealed the box together, my pupils expanded as if light exuded from the box. Never had I thought I would see what I saw, but quickly looking up into the old man’s eyes, I knew it was real. As a cynical thought arose, attempting to declare inauthenticity to this gift, as an unnatural challenge to my excitement, confirmation of the moment became apparent when all of my friends’ pupils expanded more than mine.
“You have the Power Rangers!” a friend screamed.
Before me, eleven action figurines stared ahead as the chandelier’s light bounced off the shining toys. Removing the packaged five Power Rangers and the six monsters, I saw the Megazord (a toy robot), the rarest toy of the series, gave me joy. Faster than the others, I unpacked it for assemblage, and never in my life had I felt such a feeling.
And then, I saw a piece of paper at the bottom of the massive box addressed from Chicago, Illinois.
With everyone amazed at my presents, I walked over to my mother and handed her the paper to ask what it was, and then, she offered me the greatest gift my dad had ever given me.
“Your father ordered some of your toys from there,” she said. “With your uncles across the country and in Mexico, they worked together to get all of these. He’s been collecting them for months.”
She told me of all the phone calls made to stores in 12 cities, my seven-year-old heart was floored by his months-long coordination and financial sacrifice for me.
Though I knew he loved me, I felt special beyond any previous moment. From then on, this not only established the standard upon which I measure love, but his life and example has shown me the perfect way to share it.