DADDY FOR A DAY
I liked him already, this tow-headed boy with caramel hair and smudged freckles. I liked the way he looked me in the eye and his enthusiasm as we loaded the van.
“Is this ok, Uncle Richard?” He showed me where he had stowed the tackle box.
“Perfect.” I hoisted the food hamper up and winked at him. “This one’s very important, Justin.”
My mind slipped back a few days. Working at an inner city church, I’d seen the whole spectrum of drugs, prostitution, abuse and violence. Lucinda hadn’t quite fitted any of those moulds. A slip of a woman with straight black hair and eyes too big for her face, she looked worn and worried, but not desperate.
Her words spilled out in a jumble. “My son’s turning ten next week. His father died when he was seven and I’m working two jobs to keep us going.” A slight flush stained her skin. “All he wants for his birthday is a fishing trip. He talks about it every day and I don’t know what to do. I’ve had a few boyfriends but I wouldn’t ask any of them.” She shrugged gaunt shoulders. “I even thought of Larry. He’s my boss at the diner over the street.” She gestured towards the window. “But he’s too old and not really the right sort.”
I nodded encouragingly.
“Well, with you running a church and doing all that stuff I thought you might know someone who could be a daddy for a day. To take him fishing. Someone I can trust with my son.” She pulled out a threadbare wallet. “I’ve saved all my tips this week. I can pay for the gas and…”
I shook my head. “That won’t be necessary.” I invited her to sit in my office as I organized mugs of creamy coffee.
“That your family?” She pointed to the photos on my desk.
“Mmm hmm. That’s my wife Daniella, and my three sons, Mattie, Paul and Bryan. They’re all grown and out the house now.” I twisted in my chair and pointed to a framed photo on the wall. “That’s Bryan with the biggest catch at the Lake McKenzie fishing contest in 2002. My boys love fishing and we spent many weekends down at the river.”
Lucinda shuddered. “I tried fishing once but it’s really not my thing. All that slime and fish guts and those cruel barbed hooks.” She closed her eyes and sighed. “Greg. That was my husband. He used to take Justin fishing regularly. The kid really misses it. I try and do stuff with him but money’s tight and my hours are long.” She spread her hands out like fragile starfish. “I really want to give him a fishing trip for his birthday.”
I checked Justin was buckled in and shifted the van into drive. The sky was tinged with rosy streaks of dawn and the ribbon of tarmac meandered darkly towards lilac hills. I was looking forward to this as much as Justin was. My sons had spent hours sitting with me at the riverside. Sometimes we sat in companionable silence. Other times we talked about everything. Fishing, money, politics, engineering, love, sex, God. Nothing was off limits. It was also at the riverside that my boys had invited Jesus into their hearts.
With this in my mind, I had given Justin the best birthday gift I could think of. Six fishing trips over the next year. Six days of soggy banks, slimy bait and shimmering rivers. Six days of smoky fires and baked fish, swimming in herbs and garlic. Six days where I could become a friend to him and chat about the wonders of life and the One who had given it to us. Six days where God could use me to transform this young life.
I smiled as I turned to him. “Justin, we’re going to have a great time this weekend.”
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