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The best birthday gift

Rick Ryckeley's picture

Over the last 54 years, yours truly has received many wonderful birthday gifts. It’s true, some gifts have been better than others. Some I wish I’d never gotten. Still, family and friends have all helped to make the day special.

But what has been the best birthday gift I’ve ever received? Did it come from a friend, my parents, or even The Wife?

Nope, surprisingly it came from The Boy. And he gave it this year. Although if you’d ask him, he’d say all he was able to give was a card. Unknowingly, he has given me far more than he could ever imagine.

When I turned 8, I received two birthday gifts. Ones I really wanted to return, but couldn’t. Down The Street Bully Brad crashed his bike into mine, then pounded my face. The results were a black eye and bloody nose. He said they were his gifts to the birthday boy. Funny, as many times as he gave them to me, he must’ve thought I had birthdays all year.

Those beatings were gifts I wish I could’ve given back.

Old Mrs. Crabtree, my third-grade teacher at Mt. Olive Elementary school, loved having birthday parties for her students. Either that or she just loved eating cake. After cake and ice cream had been devoured, Mrs. Crabtree lined us up to go to recess so we could burn off all the sugar. That’s when I received my gift.

I was at the end of the line; Candi was in front of me. As we started out the door, for what reason I still don’t know, she turned around, kissed my cheek, and smiled. She left me standing there, stunned, as I watched her walk out to recess like nothing had ever happened. A kiss from a girl is a special gift. That is if you’re in the third grade.

Come to think of it, it’s still a special gift now.

When I turned 13, Dad gave me a gift I’m still putting to use even today. He showed me how to stay fit by lifting weights and running. His gift of knowledge has enabled me for the last 27 years to meet the high physical requirements of a job that I love. A job that demands you be at your best, when events are at their worst.

The gift of health is a gift I’ve always been thankful for.

Turning 50 was a birthday I’ll never forget. The Wife planned a special event months in advance. How she kept it a secret I don’t know. She whisked me off to a wonderful getaway at a honeymoon cabin. Hiking trails, four-star restaurants, and overlooking a thick forest from the bedroom deck ... a hot tub built for two. Now that trip was one unforgettable weekend.

Spending time together with the one you love is truly an extraordinary gift.

Each of the gifts above was unique in their own special ways, but they were not the best gift of all. That gift has come from The Boy.

The Boy ends a two-year journey next week as he tests for his paramedic license. With his knowledge of cardiology and pharmacology, he will be the one riding in the back of the ambulance. Decisions will be his alone to make. Patients will celebrate additional birthdays for years to come, because of his hard work learning the life-saving skills not many have obtain. The Boy will make a difference in the lives of his patients, and their loved ones.

He’s a firefighter like his dad, but he’s not me. He’s better. And I’m extremely proud of him.

Looking back at all of the mistakes, second-guessing, and arguments while raising him, The Boy has turned out all right – despite having me for a father.
At 54 I’m still a part of his life. I see what he has accomplished, and know he will be helping to make this world a better place for years to come.

That’s the best birthday gift a father can ever receive.

[Rick Ryckeley, who lives in Senoia, has been a firefighter for over 26 years and a weekly columnist since 2001. His email is His book is available at]

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