Word Count: 1932
I stopped by the attorney’s office and picked up those papers you needed, just like you asked me to do. Mr. Millard and I got to talking, and he said something about this Sunday being Father’s Day. I had forgotten about it until he mentioned it and then I got to wondering…do you send me away on business every holiday on purpose, or am I just imagining it? Wasn’t I in San Francisco on Mother’s Day?
I think I remember Adam saying that I should be the one to handle this account for you, and now that I think about it, Hoss seemed mighty willing to go along with big brother. Is there a conspiracy going on behind my back? And are you part of it, Pa?
I’m just teasing you Pa, I know it was my turn, but now that I see that I’ll not be home for Father’s Day, I sorta wish we could have put this off for a few days. I want you to know that I’d give anything to be able to spend the day with you, come Sunday. I hate to miss such an occasion, celebrating with my brothers, our father’s special day. I’d like to be there in person to honor you, to tell you face to face how much I love you and respect you. I hope you already know that, but just in case you’ve forgotten, I’ll say it again.
Thanks Pa for all the special things you’ve done for me over the years. Not for the ‘things’ but for all the love that you’ve shown me, even when I didn’t deserve to be loved, because I’d nearly driven you to your wit’s end. And thanks for all the advice you’ve given even when I thought I already knew everything. Thanks for being so understanding, even when I couldn’t understand myself, you always seemed to know what I needed, when I needed it and why, and you always came through for me.
I don’t know how I would have managed sometimes without you; I don’t even like to think about where I might have ended up if you hadn’t always been close by to make sure that I chose the right path. Thanks Pa, for being such a great leader, even when you led from behind instead of in front of me.
And thanks for being so patient with me when I couldn’t decide between what was right and what was wrong, you always waited, I know with bated breath most of the time, knowing deep within your heart that I’d make the right decision. I have you to thank for those times because I can recall the hours you’ve spent trying to teach me how to make those kinds of decisions and why I had to go one way when I really wanted to go the other way. Thanks Pa for mapping out the way so clearly, even if the road at times was hard, I knew you’d always be there for me, cheering me on and giving me your support.
You’re the greatest pa that a kid could have…not that I’m still a kid. Ha…I can still remember those times when Adam would call me a kid or boy and how mad I used to get at him for it. That was a long time ago, wasn’t it Pa?
I know what you’re thinking right this minute, you’re thinking, ‘son, no matter how old you get, you will always be my little boy’. I’m right, aren’t I, Pa? Were you thinking that? I thought so! And it’s okay with me Pa, cause truth being what it is, I’ve always liked being your little boy, I still do. There’s just something about being your son that makes me proud, not of just me, but of you and who you are, what you stand for, and most importantly, how you came to be those things. You did it with truth and honor, faith in God and courage born of generations of Cartwrights that were made to endure suffering and hard work to get where they were going.
Yes sir, Pa, I’m proud of being your son, but I’m more proud of you, for being my father. How’d I get so lucky anyway? What must God have been thinking when he said, ‘Here Benjamin, here’s something to try your patience.’
I know I’ve not been the perfect son, but I know that you understand that. There’s only one perfect son, and one perfect father, isn’t that what you’ve always told me? And didn’t you say that you and I could never fill those shoes, but that together we could be as good as we tried to be? Well, I know you’ve tried Pa, ’cause I’ve tried you. I guess when I was born, God must have thought you pretty close to perfect, because he gave you a son that would put you through all the tests there might be to earn you your stars and crown in heaven. Ha, ha, you’ll probably outshine most of the angels, because you’ve sure earned plenty as far as I’m concerned!
Well, Pa, I’ll close for now. I have to meet with Mr. Millard again, he’s invited me to his home tonight for supper, and to meet his daughter, but don’t worry, I’ll be on my best behavior. I won’t do anything to embarrass the Cartwright name that I was born with…you’ve worked too hard to make it a name to be proud of, and I am, Pa…I’m proud of you…and…I love you…Happy Father’s Day, Pa.
Respectfully, your son,
Joseph Francis Cartwright.
Ben folded up the letter and put it back into the envelope, holding it within his hands for several minutes before slipping it into his vest pocket. How many times had he read the letter since being delivered two days ago, five, ten, possibly as many as fifteen, and each time he read it, he still felt the tears sting his eyes, wishing that his youngest son was here, with him, on Father’s Day?
He remained sitting in his leather chair, staring into the fireplace. There was no fire, for nearly mid-June, the weather was entirely too hot and the house too warm to warrant a fire. But the warmth that engulfed Ben was from within; it stemmed from the love that he’d felt in his heart as he read the words written to honor him, from his youngest son. Ben smiled, Joe was his pride and joy, though he loved each of his son’s equally, Joe had, upon his birth and many times since, tapped into a hidden root, deep within his heart and soul that held something special for the boy. Boy, laughed Ben lightly, his son knew him well. ‘Yes Joseph,’ smiled Ben, ‘you will always be my little boy, regardless of how old you become. But then, I will, until I draw my last breath, be your father, an honor for which I am proud to hold.’
Ben stood up and slowly walked to his desk where he picked up the picture of his third wife, Marie, Joe’s mother. With his fingers, he gently caressed the image of her lovely face, and smiled.
“God surely did bless us, didn’t He, my love?” whispered Ben.
“Pa, ya ready for our toast?” called Hoss, coming from the kitchen, Adam following closely behind.
Ben set the picture down and turned, smiling at his two older sons, suddenly wishing that he had put off for a few days, the business that had taken from him, his youngest son.
“Sure,” smiled Ben, accepting the tiny goblet from Adam and holding it steady while he poured the brandy. He waited, patiently, smiling as he recalled Joe’s message, for Adam to pour Hoss and himself a glass.
When Adam set down the decanter and raised his glass, Hoss, and then Ben followed suit. With three goblets clinging gently, Adam smiled.
“To the best father ever, we love ya, Pa.”
Ben took a sip, Adam swallowed, and Hoss downed half of his goblet’s contents, each man smiling at the others.
“Now, if you may, I want to make a toast,” said Ben, raising his goblet once more and waiting for his sons to join him.
“To my sons, all three of them, for without them, I could not be honored with the title of Father. I love each of you, Adam, Hoss and where ever you might be on this night Joseph, I love you.”
Ben clanged his glass against those of his son’s and downed the remainder of his brandy.
“That’s nice Pa, thank you,” smiled Adam.
“Yeah Pa, thanks,” added Hoss.
“I’ve made a decision, boys,” Ben said, setting his glass on the wide boarded table and then facing his sons.
Adam and Hoss swapped questioning looks.
“What decision, Pa?” they said at the same time.
Ben snickered, “Come July 4th, no one is going away on business, or on the holiday after that, or the one after that or….
“I think we get the picture…you miss him, don’t you Pa?” Adam said seriously.
Ben pinched his lips tightly together, “Yes son, I miss him…I should have thought before sending him away, I should have all my sons with me tonight.”
The front door suddenly burst opened. All three heads turned to see what had happened, and stood in total surprise, mouths opened wide in wonder.
“Happy Father’s Day, Pa,” giggled Little Joe, stumbling into the room.
“Joseph!” shouted Ben, gleefully as he crossed the room and engulfed his son in a welcoming hug.
“What on earth happened to you? You look as if you’ve been dragged up and down the Truckee River, you’re a mess!” laughed Ben, gently pushing Joe back and looking him over from head to toe.
“Well, Pa, I nearly was…I’ve ridden for two solid days,” laughed Joe and then quickly turned serious. “I just couldn’t stand the thoughts of not being here, not today, not on Father’s Day, so I decided to come home…one way or another. I wanted to be here…I wanted to be with…you Pa…to tell you, face to face…I love you, Pa…Happy Father’s Day.”
Joe smiled, his eyes had filled with tears and when they rolled silently down his face, they left tiny little white tracks through the dust and dirt that had, over two days of hard riding, covered the boy’s face.
Ben stepped forward and slipped his arms about his son for the second time. “Thank you son, thank you,” he whispered.
“I didn’t buy you anything…there wasn’t time before I left ’cause I…”
“I don’t need a present, I have all I want, right here,” Ben said, cutting off the remainder of Joe’s sentence. “I have my sons, my most treasures gifts of all.”
The four had grown suddenly quiet, briefly lost in their own thoughts. Suddenly Joe pulled free of his father’s arms.
“Say, let’s have a toast,” he said, turning to his brothers, “to celebrate Father’s Day…to honor Pa.”
“We just did that, short shanks…but let’s do it again, that ain’t bad brandy, ya know!” suggested Hoss.
They laughed, all of them, for they were together again, and Ben was happy with his lot in life…God had made him a father…a proud one, he surmised, as he watched his three sons together.
“My little boys,” he smiled, “my sons!”