My father dislikes shopping of any kind. Gift shops are particularly pointless. We just paid how much to get in, and now they want us to buy overpriced junk just because it’s got their logo on it? I don’t think so!
I share that so you’ll understand how rare it was to have him inside a gift shop, let alone offering to buy something in it. The setting is Sea World Ohio, a well-nigh forgotten theme park along Geauga Lake near the city of Aurora. Summer sun beat down on the pavement, sending trickles of sweat down my dad’s back as he pulled two little princesses around in a red wagon. My sister and I had been treated to an orca show at Shamu Stadium, sent through a playground with a sea of ocean-colored plastic balls, and given the chance to pet stingrays. And now, we needed stuffed animals.
I’m not talking about just any stuffed animal. It was a pure white harp seal pup nearly as large as I was at 5 or 6 years old. He had big brown eyes and a friendly smile. He was perfect, except for one thing. The only one left in the gift shop had a big stain discoloring his side.
If there was one thing my father disliked more than buying overpriced promotional items, it was buying defective overpriced promotional items. But let me tell you what Daddy didn’t do. He didn’t tell me I was stupid for wanting that stuffed seal. He didn’t tell me I wasn’t worth getting the best seal Sea World had to offer. And he didn’t tell me to suck-it up and live without the seal either. Instead, he sent a message that has stuck with me my entire life.
Daddy walked to the opposite end of a 50-acre theme park to retrieve a better version of my baby seal. At the time, he probably just thought he was doing a nice, and rather inconvenient, thing for his little girl. But he was doing so much more than that. He told me I was valued. He told me that he listened when I talked about things I wanted. He told me he’d go above and beyond to make me happy. All by walking across a theme park to pick up a stuffed animal.
In the grand scheme of things, a stuffed seal isn’t the most impressive present a dad could buy for his daughter. But the love behind that gift solidified Harpy’s position as my favorite toy. He slept in my bed, went on vacations, and attended slumber parties with me for about ten years after Daddy walked across Sea World for him. Now, another 10+ years down the road he’s a bit fragile and has lost some of his fluffiness and most of his white color, but I’ll never get rid of him.
We remember the big moments with our dads because of the intangible things that go along with them. My dad gave me other gifts. But this one sticks in my memory because it was a visible reminder of the sort of things he did, and still does, every day in the many ways he took care of me and told me I was precious to him.