The Most Important Duty

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

The Most Important Duty

The father of a daughter is nothing but a high-class hostage.  A father turns a stony face to his sons, berates them, shakes his antlers, paws the ground, snorts, runs them off into the underbrush, but when his daughter puts her arm over his shoulder and says, “Daddy, I need to ask you something,” he is a pat of butter in a hot frying pan.” -Garrison Keillor

Mark took another sip of his coffee as he made his way through his office door.  The man guarding it nodded at him and Mark sleepily returned the gesture.  Mark was usually very friendly with those that worked around him, but he was still struggling with the earliness of the hour and the men in dark suits had never been hired for their conversational skills.  At four in the morning, it was best to leave everyone alone.

Taking another sip from his coffee, Mark wished that it wasn’t so bitter.  He knew that if he wanted, a fresh cup would be brought to him.  He tried not to abuse his power over those that worked for him.  He had a position of authority; that was true.  However he didn’t think that someone else needed to scurry around simply to satisfy a whim of his.  Mark pondered the possibility of sneaking down to the kitchen after making his important phone call, though he doubted he would have time.  When he was younger and was still trying to make a name for himself, Mark could get coffee whenever he wanted.  Now that he had obtained his goals and millions depended on him, Mark didn’t even know how much money was in his wallet.

There was still half an hour until the phone call needed to be made.  Mark wasn’t thrilled about the response the other end would have to his statement.  The problem was that Mark simply couldn’t give the other party what they wanted.  To assist them with their financial difficulty would mean serious cutbacks on his end.  He spent the next half hour looking at the numbers and the same results continued to present themselves.  The answer was as clear as the famous emblem on the carpet; he might lose his job if he made the changes necessary to help out the other party.

Five minutes before the phone call was due to be made, there was a quiet knock at the door.  Mark looked up and saw his youngest daughter standing before him.

“Susan?  What are you doing at the office?  Don’t you have school today?  It’s awfully early.”

Susan looked at her feet and nodded.  “I know, but I have to talk to you.”

“Are you sure, Honey?  I’m kind of busy.”

She looked up with the big brown eyes that more than made up for her lack in height.  “But dad”, the twelve year-old protested.  “It’s important.”

Mark stood up and walked around his desk to one of the nearby couches.  “Okay then, what is it?”  The two sat down close to each other and Susan played with her dad’s thumb while she searched for the correct words.

“Well, I have my big birthday party coming up.  Mom and I were working on the invitations last night.”

“I saw”, her father replied.  “It’s turning into quite the to-do.”

“What’s a to-do?”

“Oh, you know; a shindig.”  Mark’s response was met with confusion.  “A barn raiser.”  More confusion.  “Something that everyone wants to be a part of.”

“Yeah, it is”, Susan replied.  “Mom said that I could invite whoever I wanted and you guys would help out.  But I’m trying to decide if I should invite Paul or not.”

“Who’s Paul?  Is he your boyfriend or something?”

“Daaaaaad”, Susan said as she rolled her eyes.  “I don’t have time for boyfriends.  Not with how things are.”

Mark felt a pang of guilt as he nodded in agreement.  Susan continued.

“It’s just that he’s really interesting.  We talk about weather and frogs and all kinds of cool science stuff.  I think he’s a fun person to have around.  Grace and Julie don’t think so.  They say he has coke-bottle glasses and he’s got a weird nose and he talks about Star Wars too much.”

“Well don’t you like Star Wars too?”

“Uh huh.”

“What am I missing then?”

“I want him to be at my party, but I think my friends will make fun of me if I invite him.  A girl has to have a circle of cool friends, and Paul might scare them off.”

“So you’re trying to figure out if you should listen to your friends or do what you want.”

Susan nodded.  “I want him to be there.  I also want Grace and Julie to like me.”

‘I see your dilemma.  What did your mother say?”

“She said I’d have more fun with Paul than with Julie.”

“I think she might be right”, Mark said.  He turned to the paintings on the wall.  Whenever he tried to think better, he would turn to the old art around him.  Somehow he knew that the problems around him were smaller than he originally thought when he looked at the paintings.  The oil masterfully put to canvas centuries ago reminded him to have perspective.

“What am I supposed to do?”

“I’m not going to pretend to have all the answers”, Mark replied.  “Still, I think it makes sense to surround yourself with people you trust and respect.  Even if it turns out that nobody else likes them.”

“You don’t think that Julie will make fun of me?”

“She might.  You’re the one with the decision to make, not her.  Look kiddo, you’re always going to have to make tough decisions.  The hard part is doing the right thing, offering the kind gesture, and tuning out those that won’t like you.  Nobody ever said doing the right thing was easy, but it’s worth any criticism that comes of it.”

“I guess”, Susan mumbled as she turned her eyes to the carpet.

“Think of it this way.  If Paul isn’t there, who’s going to help you blow out your R2-D2 cake?”

“There’s going to be a droid cake?”  Susan’s eyes were back on Paul and they were alive with excitement.

“Oh, did I say that?”  Mark winked as he feigned embarrassment.  “Here I wasn’t supposed to mention it.”  Susan smiled back with glee.  “Do you think you can stand up to Julie and Grace?”

“Yeah,” Susan replied.  “If they can’t get along with Paul then that’s their problem.  I can’t control their attitudes.  Maybe they’ll come around.”  Susan hopped down off the couch and hugged her father.  “Thanks Dad, you helped.”

Mark watched his daughter run out of the room and couldn’t help but grin.  He looked at the time, realized his phone call was late, and asked his aide to dial the number.  The formal request for assistance stared him back in the face.  A wave of realization hit him as he heard the other party pick up.

“Hello, Mr. President?  It’s Mark Preston.  Sorry to keep you waiting, but I think you’ll like what I have to tell you.  I’ve decided we’ll help your country out with food and cancel your debt with us.”  An excited leader hurriedly offered thanks in a language that Mark didn’t understand.  As the translator relayed the message in English, Mark nodded along.  “I know I had told you we couldn’t help, but there are a few projects around here we can postpone or do without.”  Mark thought of Susan and smiled.  “I may not be popular around here tomorrow, but maybe they’ll come around.  I like to think I’m a rather convincing President.”

A Childish Lesson

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

A Childish Lesson

Sam was hardly the greatest uncle his family had ever produced.  A single, rather introverted fellow, Sam remained content with the busy schedule that he kept.  While his siblings were up late nursing small children, Sam was out late acting childish with other single adults.  He wasn’t a bad person, he wasn’t even a terrible uncle; it simply wasn’t the first activity that he marked on his calendar.  He had made it a habit to visit his nieces.  He had even attended their dance recital.  However there were plenty of times he could have visited Stephanie and Susan that he had opted out of.

The girls were both quite cute and the eldest was well aware of just how cute she was.  The youngest had yet to learn this lesson; she mostly just did what Stephanie told her too.  They looked enough like sisters that people guessed as much without being told.  They had round faces, blue eyes, and blonde hair.  Stephanie’s hair had lost the springy curls that Susan still had, however that meant that she had less tangles to worry about.  

Sam had spent enough time with the ankle-biters to know that Susan was his favorite.  He refused to give a reason as to why, but he insisted that it had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that Susan looked just like him when he was born.  That was a complete coincidence.  None of the family really believed that, not even Sam.

Along came the birthday party.  Like any other family, Sam’s brother and his sister-in-law had thrown birthday gatherings before.  This year, Sam’s parents were in town to see their grandchildren so he felt that reuniting the family was probably a good idea.  Stephanie and Susan were considerate enough to have their birthdays within a week or two of each other (give or take three years), so it was really just one more visit added to his schedule. 

Sam was wary of small children having birthday parties.  He was at a point in his life where he was trying to get rid of stuff.  He was trying to stop accumulating and start simplifying.  The notion of a gathering where two youngsters acquire even more toys did not entirely appeal to him.  Without meaning to, Sam showed up at his brother’s house without any gifts.  Only upon entering the front door did he realized the faux pas that he had committed.  His relatives shrugged it off and soon the girls were ready for their gifts.

Stephanie, as always, went first.  She was the oldest and the bossies.  No one really seemed to mind.  Soon, and with much ripping of paper, she beheld a doll just a tiny bit smaller than her.  It was intricately decorated and designed, with clothes carefully crafted and a face that looked lifelike enough to endear itself in to any girl’s heart.  “It’s just what I wanted”, Stephanie replied with a smile.

Sam sat, unmoved physically or emotionally.  He was there to support the family.  He felt no need to get emotionally involved.  It was a nice gift, his seven year-old relative was pleased; everything was fine. 

Next it was Susan’s turn.  She was handed a similar sized box and her eyes went wide.  She approached cautiously.  She looked at the box that her mom was offering her.  She looked at her mom.  She looked at her grandmother.  Then she looked back at her mom with a declaration of surprise and awe in her eyes.  “For me?”  The words came out of her tiny mouth with excitement and disbelief.  She struggled with the box that was the same size as her.  She tried hugging it, which proved to yield no results.  Stephanie tried to help.  She held the box to the ground while Susan pulled at the paper and lifted the lid with a mighty heaving action.  Soon, a similar doll to Stephanie’s lay in the box in front of her.  “Thanks!”

Sam found himself taken aback.  This was a moment he had not expected to have with the four year-old.  She was not a child who assumed that things would be given to her.  She hadn’t expected anything.  Susan probably would have been happy to see Stephanie get a gift so long as she got to play with it once in a while.  The entire moment could have been described in one word; joy.  She was thrilled because someone had thought to give her something and she was ecstatic that it was something she had wanted.  There was no attitude of being owed anything.  She couldn’t have been upset that she didn’t get what she wanted because she had never expected to get anything.

Sam found his manly exterior cracking.  He was relieved that everyone was thoroughly enamored with the two girls playing and accessorizing their new dolls.  Their distraction gave him a minute to swallow the lump in his throat and contain himself.  Yep, Sam thought to himself, definitely my favorite niece.  He then sat up and considered scratching his chest or burping.  After all, he had his reputation to think of.

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