Turns out, it was never really about the flashlight.
For a man who spent his childhood running wild through the woods of the family farm and survived his adolescence despite attempting every daredevil stunt in the book, my father is hardly a fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants kind of guy. On the contrary, my dear old dad is a worst-case scenario, “just in case” kind of guy. If the forecast looks bad, he’ll pick up batteries and gallons of water and bread at the store, “just in case.” When we take the kayaks out on the tiny creek that snakes its way behind our house, he makes us wear neon-yellow emergency whistles around our necks, “just in case.” And though I moved away years ago, every time I hug him goodbye after a weekend spent at home, he’ll fold a bill or two into my palm, “just in case.”
“Just in case” is also the reason that my dad has given my sisters and me what must be dozens of flashlights over the years.
Sometimes, he’d come back from a trip to Lowe’s with three tiny plastic flashlights in tow, a souvenir for each of us from his Sunday afternoon excursion. One year, Santa Claus tucked sleek, but deceptively heavy Maglite flashlights into our stockings, right there with the nail polish and Walkers Shortbread cookies. “Santa got y’all the good ones! Y’all hold on to those.” Funny that Santa Claus was such a practical man, just like our father.
Other times, he’d catch us right before we pulled out the driveway. “Do you have a flashlight?” He’d run into the garage and grab one of his clunky yellow floating lantern lights and slide it into our trunks.
And when I traveled overseas in college, my dad buried a headlamp in the middle of my carry-on, nestled between the moisture-wicking shirts and granola bars, “just in case.”
Over the years, my dad’s flashlight obsession has become something of a joke among my sisters and me. After all, how many flashlights does one gal really need? I’ve rolled my eyes at our dad, time and time again, baffled, and sometimes frustrated, at his insistence on doing so many things, “just in case.” What does he really think is going to happen?
But I've realized now that he doesn’t really think anything is going to happen.
For him, it’s not about prepping our family for a Category 5 hurricane, or expecting us to be carried out to sea in our kayaks, or thinking I’m going to end up stranded on the side of the road with no money to my name, or worrying that I’ll need an extra light to find my way around Tibet.
“Just in case” is really just one more way he says “I love you.” It’s one more way he’s long been preparing my sisters and me for the world, when he’s not right there to shelter us from the storm, or paddle us back to shore, or change our tires, or guide our next steps.
Not too long ago, I was cleaning out my car when I found a flashlight in the back cup-holder. I don’t remember putting it there, but I have a sneaking suspicion that a certain father of mine might have done it, “just in case.”
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How will you be celebrating your father this Father's Day? Tell us in the comments.