Dad, I’m here

Rick Ryckeley's picture

The Boy was gone. There was no explanation for what happened. More importantly, there was no excuse. I had walked into the kitchen to answer the phone – gone only a minute or so. When I returned, The Boy was no longer watching Sesame Street.

Had he just wandered off? Was he playing hide-n-seek again? It was his favorite game to play with me. Or, worst of all, had someone somehow crept into our home and silently whisked him away? All these thoughts pummeled through my mind as I franticly ran through room after empty room calling his name.

There was no answer.

How anyone could lose a 5-year-old, I didn’t know. But I had. It took an agonizing 20 minutes to search every place inside our house large enough for The Boy to hide. Nothing. Could he have made it outside? I ran to the backyard. The red and white swing set stood motionless. All the toys from the day before hadn’t been moved. He wasn’t there. Could he have somehow made it to the front yard?

We never played in the front yard.

I called his name over and over as I ran around to the front of the house. The large yard stretched down the driveway and to the street. Could he have made it that far? He was only 5. How far can a 5-year-old walk in 25 minutes?

Out of breath and out of options, I called his name one last time as I reached for the cell phone to summon help. Suddenly, a gentle breeze made it to my ear bringing with it a little voice, “Dad, I’m here.” I turned in the direction of the sound, scanned the wood line, and then froze.

I sucked in a breath and whispered a prayer, “Oh, my God, no.”

They say a traumatic event can cause your life to flash before your eyes. For me, that day, it actually did. What I saw when I turned around instantly transported me back to a time when another little boy said those very same words, “Dad, I’m here,” to his father. It had been over 26 years, but I finally understood how my parents felt that night – the night they had half the police department out searching for me. For hours they searched up and down Flamingo Street, but alas, they couldn’t find me.

I was still trapped at Cliff Condos.

Cliff Condos was located in the vacant lot next to Neighbor Thomas’s house. A huge sandstone hill, it was deemed unbuildable by the developer, but it was perfect for our use. Right after moving into 110 Flamingo Street, my three brothers and I started to dig into the hill. With help from Thomas, Bubba Hanks, and Goofy Steve, we dug room after room, all connected by tunnels. For three years we dug and never worried about a collapse. After all, it was sandstone. Everyone knew that stone didn’t collapse.

We were wrong.

The night it happened, everyone had left the dig and gone home for dinner. I was so focused on finishing the last connecting tunnel, I didn’t notice when Thomas or Goof left. I didn’t notice that my brothers left. I didn’t even notice, in the dim light, the huge bolder that covered the entire ceiling of the last tunnel was being uncovered by a lone 8-year-old.

And that it was about to give way.

Somehow that night, I dragged myself and my bike home – home to a driveway full of police cars with blue lights bouncing off everything. Walking up the driveway, clothes stained with blood and covered in un-collapsible sandstone, I saw my dad standing, gazing out into the darkness. I’d never seen him like that before or since.

It looked as if he’d been crushed and the very life drained from him — exactly what would’ve happen to me if I hadn’t crawled almost all the way out of that tunnel to answer the call of nature just as the ceiling started to collapse. Dad cupped his hands around his mouth and yelled my name.

Walking into the lights of the police cars, I answered, “Dad, I’m here.”

Like me, The Boy also turned out to be okay. He wasn’t but three feet from where I was standing. All I had to do was look up. He had made it to the front yard and now resided at the top of a 20-foot tree. Calmly I asked him to ever so carefully climb down. He answered, “Okay, Dad.” When his feet touched the ground, I scooped him up and promised I’d never do anything to lose him again.

To hold your child in your arms for the first time is the start of Father’s Day. But for a child to come back to a father when he thought all was lost in their relationship – well, that too is a special day. It’s a gift. One only you can give.

This Father’s Day take the time to mend any fences in your relationship. Take it from me, after losing The Boy and then finding him, your father will do anything to keep from losing you.

A loving relationship is the second best gift a dad can receive on Father’s Day. The first, of course, was you.

[Rick Ryckeley, who lives in Senoia, has been a firefighter for over 26 years and a weekly columnist since 2001. His email is saferick@bellsouth.net. His books are available at www.RickRyckeley.com.]

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