That said, let's give it a go, shall we?
For this to make sense, I'll have to go back a bit and tell you something about my Dad. Dad donates to several charities as a matter of course. Because of this, he's on the List™ for potentially every non-profit or charitable group ever invented. Now, it used to be that the way charities would try to guilt you out of your cash was that they would send you a set of free address labels along with a note that said something on the order of, "The poor, blind, amputee three-year-olds who are starving in Upper Badhobbsia want you to have these address labels as their special gift to you. However, sending you these labels means that little Sudrika will not be able to eat for a month and will probably be beaten severely for such extravagance so we hope that you'll use one of them to stick on this envelope when you send your generous donation."
The address-label trick worked so well that the smart folks in the marketing departments of various charities started thinking. (It's dangerous to have A) smart folks in marketing departments, and B) said folks thinking. Important safety tip for small business and charity owners.)
"You know," they mused, "if we could increase our donations that much by guilting people with address labels, what do you suppose we could get if we sent out other stuff?"
And thus, the gold rush was on. Nowadays, charities send out everything from small, nearly valueless coins to checks for a few dollars to T-Shirts, aprons, calendars, small fuzzy animals, and, in the case of a charity that provides clothing to underprivileged children in the US (and in a rather unfortunate burst of someone in Marketing's enthusiasm), pairs of little girls' panties. (No, I'm not making that up. Yes, I thought the person responsible would be sacked as well, but since Dad has received three pairs of little girls' panties from this charity so far, either said person is still there or the management thought it was still a great idea to continue with the idea after the sacking. Personally, I feel it's a bit creepy to be sending out little girls' panties to 60+ year old men, but then again, I'm not in marketing.)
To make a long story short, Dad ends up with large amounts of what could only be referred to as "swag" from non-profit organizations across the globe. When this happens and the swag is not something that he, himself, has any use for, he has figured out exactly what to do with it.
*knock knock knock*
"Yeah, Dad?" I say, looking up from my computer.
"Hey," he says. "I was out shopping, you know, and I looked all around all over the place and, after a lot of effort, I got you this gift."
And then he hands me the three-sided highlighter pen, little clip-on thingy that, when you press a "reset" button, shows a bunch of zeroes in a digital display but otherwise seems to have no purpose, mini computer vac, dreamcatcher keychain, T-shirt with a wolf on it, aluminum cross pendant, small beanie-baby-sized stuffed animal, eyeglass holder (no, I don't wear eyeglasses, but that's more or less irrelevant in this situation), what appears to be a strange almost-plastic coin from Senegal, or whatever the catch of the day may be.
He doesn't always do this, of course. No, sometimes he goes to Charlie, Mom, or my brother. But it's pretty much the same scenario.
By far the most generous with their gifts is a charity known as "Running Strong for American Indian Youth." From these folks, we've obtained several dreamcatcher keychains, T-shirts, calendars, a cooking apron, the beanie-babyish thingies, a Volkswagen bus* and a harmonica. I have to wonder just how much money is left for the actual Youth once they've finished sending out the contents of a large convention to their potential donors, but I suppose that's not really my business, and after all, they are a NON-profit, so this is probably good for them. At any rate, this organization has become a bit of a family inside joke due to the sheer volume of goods we've obtained from them unsolicited over the years.
As an example, the last time something came it was a beanie-babyish little fuzzy buffalo. (I don't actually "collect" such things, but I do have a small army of them on top of my computer monitor, all of which have been given to me by various other people over the years.)
"Hey, Dad, what's up?"
"Well, I was shopping around looking for something nice, and I finally found this and thought of you!"
He handed me the small, fuzzy buffalo.
"Oh my GOD!" I exclaimed, "A fuzzy buffalo! It's just what I've always wanted! You're the best Dad ever!"
Dad grinned, and made an attempt at an "aw, shucks, t'weren't nothin'" sort of attitude for a moment.
"The only thing that could POSSIBLY make this ANY better would be if the fuzzy buffalo came from Running Strong for American Indian Youth!" I gushed.
There was a pause. "You're in luck," said Dad simply.
And he went away.
This is pretty much how these things go.
So, all this was just sort of background. Now we're getting to the whole point of the story. (Don't worry, there are no horses in it. No beer either -- sorry fabledbrewer.)
As some of you may have read, Dad and Mom are currently on an Alaskan cruise together. Today, I got a call from a strange number whose area code I didn't recognize on the caller ID. When I picked it up, it was, to my surprise, Dad. I would have expected him to use Mom's cell phone.
"Hey, hey! How's it going?" I asked him.
"Well," he said, "I left your brother a message last night, and I thought I'd better call you up and tell you the same thing."
"Okay," I said, bemused.
"We're doing fine, having fun, and the cruise is going great," he said. "Now, I wanted to just say that, at some point in your life, you may find yourself wondering, 'Did my dad really love me?' And if that time comes, I want you to consider this: your dad, at this moment, is calling you on a phone from the ship. At eight dollars a minute. EIGHT. Dollars. Per MINUTE. So you just keep that in mind if the question ever comes up."
I choked up with the sheer emotion of the moment. "That's ... that's the most beautiful thing I ever heard!" I exclaimed. "You're the best dad EVER!"
Phones on sea-going ships are sometimes unreliable, but just before it cut out, I heard him say, "The only thing that would make this better is if I were calling from Running Strong for American Indi...*click*"
As always, he was exactly right.
* No, they didn't really send us a Volkswagen bus or a harmonica. All the other things are completely true, though.