How a Traffic Detour Led to the Best Father's Day Ever

His traditional Father's Day celebration was cancelled, but thanks to divine timing, his day took a miraculous turn.

Posted in , May 26, 2020

Illustration of four colorful cars

The phone rang. It was my son, Ryan, calling from West Virginia University, where he was finishing out his final year.

“Dad, I’m not going to be able to make it home for Father’s Day this weekend,” Ryan said. “Some of the guys and I are going to go to a friend’s wedding.”

“Sure, son,” I replied after a beat. I may have seemed pretty mellow, but inside I was devastated. Twenty-two years of tradition—gone. Our family was close, and we’d always spent holidays together. Father’s Day was my favorite. We’d go to church in the morning and afterward head home and fire up the grill on the patio. Ryan and his younger brother, Roman, would join me for some quality time, grilling meats and talking sports. I looked forward to it all year, especially since Ryan had gone off to college.

I didn’t let my disappointment show though. I told Ryan to be safe and have fun and said goodbye. I guess it had been naive to expect he’d always be with us for the holidays. Ryan was growing up, and spending more time away from his parents was a rite of passage.

A few days later, I had an idea. If we couldn’t have our traditional Father’s Day, why not do something totally different? “Let’s take a little road trip with your parents to celebrate Father’s Day with your dad,” I said to my wife, Rita. My father had long since passed, but Rita and her sister, Reva, still had their dad, RJ. RJ always enjoyed an adventure as long as someone else picked up the tab. I knew my mother-in-law, Dorothy, would be excited to take a family trip. None of us were getting any younger. It was the right thing to do. And maybe it would take my mind off Ryan’s absence.

Rita told her sister and called her parents, who were thrilled with the idea. They drove down from Summerfield, Ohio, that Friday afternoon to meet up with us. The plan was for all of us to drive down to Charlotte, North Carolina, and spend two nights there.

Roman, Rita, the in-laws and I took off in our beige Honda Accord, with Reva and her boyfriend, Richard, following close behind in their clunky old green Dodge van. Our cars made a caravan of sorts—an embarrassing one—as we drove down the highway. Ever the character, Reva had decked out her clunker with a massive pinstripe down the side and REVA written in giant pink letters smack-dab in the middle of it. Passersby pointed and stared at the Reva-mobile.

In Charlotte, we spent most of our time taking leisurely walks around town. Rita, Reva and Dorothy browsed the shops and antiques stores. They combed through old-timey treasures as RJ grumbled occasionally about the value of a dollar. Depression-era RJ had never let go of the penny-pinching that had gotten him and his family through hard times, and he wasn’t afraid to share his opinions on budgeting. “If you sit heavier on your wallet like I do, you would always have a little bit of money in your pocket,” he’d say every so often.

We left Charlotte on Sunday morning, headed for I-77. Rita and I had planned on treating everyone to a Father’s Day lunch at a nice restaurant along the way. But RJ would have none of it. “Those fancy places cost an arm and a leg!” he countered. “Let’s find ourselves one of those little mom-and-pop grocery stores off the beaten path and get us some good ol’ bologna for sandwiches.” He smacked his lips to make his point. “Add some chips and potato salad and an ice-cold watermelon, and we’ll have us a genuine Father’s Day feast!”

There was no point in arguing with RJ. I turned off the Interstate, driving a good 30 minutes out of the way to collect all the picnic fixings. By the time we finally got back onto the highway, I was missing my usual backyard Father’s Day celebration more than ever.

Suddenly I heard a racket. A car full of young men had pulled up alongside our caravan. They were pointing, honking the horn and yelling. Just what I need, I thought as I drove, my gaze fixed on the road.

“Holy mackerel, kids,” declared RJ, slapping his knee. “That’s Ryan driving that car!”

I glanced over. Sure enough, Ryan was staring back at me in disbelief, a huge smile on his face, honking the horn and motioning for me to roll down my window. We agreed to get off the freeway at the next rest stop. We pulled off, parked and found a great tree-covered spot with a picnic table.

“Dad, when I looked over and saw the van and told all the guys that it was my Aunt Reva’s, at first they didn’t believe me! Well, not until they saw the pink Reva written across the door panel,” Ryan told me as he and his friends sat down to join us at the table.

We all had a good laugh. Sitting there at the rest stop with three generations of our family, sharing food and funny stories, it struck me that this was far better than our usual backyard barbecue.

Over our bologna sandwiches and chips, Ryan told us how this unlikely rendezvous had come to be. The wedding he’d attended had been held in Wilmington, North Carolina. Driving back, the boys had taken a wrong turn down a back road, costing them a good 30 minutes—the same amount of time as our detour—putting us both in the same place at the very same time. A minute sooner or later and we would’ve missed each other entirely! But thanks to Reva’s flashy van, RJ’s budgeting and some divine timing, the Father’s Day I thought might be a dud turned out to be my best one yet.

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