For my sixth birthday, my parents gave me a new pair of tennis shoes. These were nothing like the latest Air Jordans you can buy online nowadays for over $300 a pop. But rather, these were your friendly K-Mart specials retailing for the fabulously low price of $4.95.
You see, Mama and Baba just weren’t much into frivolous gift-giving when it came to birthday presents for their children. Don’t get me wrong, they’d sacrifice the world to pay for practical things like our college educations or a down payment on our house. But if I asked for something like a fanciful trip to the beach, they’d probably just laugh in my face. I knew better than to even ask.
So, when my brother and his wife said they were taking their son, Gabriel, out to Disneyland in California to celebrate his sixth birthday, I couldn’t help but cringe. I asked Michael and Michelle if I could come along. I realized that I’d become more and more like my mom and dad—a royal Scrooge when it came to acknowledging milestones in life and significant rites of passage. That shackled me more than I cared to admit, and this trip with Gabriel was going to be my ticket to freedom.
For those who don’t know him, let me tell you a bit about my nephew. The kid’s predictably precocious and smart as a whip. He’s the sole male descendant on this side of our family tree. I was there when he was born and appropriately appointed him at the time as the “emissary of the Huang family jewels.”
I was part joking and part serious. Gabriel doesn’t quite grasp it yet, but our expectations for him are through the roof. As someone who’s getting ready to be put out to pasture, I’m already rolling all my unfulfilled hopes and discarded dreams into the opportunities still lying ahead of him. That’s a heavy burden for anybody to bear—and it’s certainly not fair to Gabriel. In his six short years on earth, he’s already brought our family enough smiles, hugs, and joy to last two or three lifetimes.
When you see the word “spoiled” in the dictionary, however, you’ll see Gabriel’s picture as part of the definition. His mom calls him “The Prince,” if that tells you anything. Whenever there’s a new toy that’s the latest and greatest craze, there’ll be two of them in Gabriel’s playroom by Tuesday. There were times that he had so many toy cars strewn across the family room floor that I was sure my ninety-year-old father would undoubtedly slip and fall to his death. Whether stuffed animals, air rifles, or model rockets to the moon, nothing was too expensive, too outlandish, or too good for The Prince.
Not even a Disneyland trip—a blow-out-the-budget foray that would have his grandparents rolling over in their graves. This journey of extravagance was my best chance of vicariously experiencing everything that I had missed out on in my youth of parental-denial. For once, I’d finally see how the other half lives—squandering my life savings with nary a thought for tomorrow.
As if Disney itself wasn’t enough, we’re scheduled for a Pre-Disney day at the neighboring Knott’s Berry Farm in Anaheim. Bubbling with anticipation, The Prince is up early with his royal entourage trailing in his wake—Mom and Dad, Uncle John, Cousin Katie, Aunt Mary and Uncle Robin—all ready to indulge and coddle.
Here’s my beef with Knotts Berry Farm. For a place that started out as a roadside berry stand, it has way too many thrill coasters for a six-year-old prodigy. Gabriel won’t ride many of them, and neither will I. The Prince pines instead for the rigged arcade games, and he predictably melts down when his daddy can’t bring home the hardware. Fifty bucks for park admission and the kid’s whining about missing out on a fifty-cent CLAW toy. Jesus, help us!
The next day, it’s more of the same at Disneyland—only it’s Gabriel’s daddy who’s doing most of the sulking. Missing out on the 7 a.m. virtual queue for the Rise of the Resistance ride sends Michael—a Star Wars fanatic—into the throws of depression. He walks around the park with an unrelenting frowny face as he misses out on the noontime virtual queue also. It seems our best laid plans have been unceremoniously hijacked.
The Prince, however, seems totally unfazed. He’s happy as a Jedi cruising Galaxy’s Edge. And why wouldn’t he be? His dad just dropped $150 watching him build a droid. He’s munching on $10 corn dogs and sporting a new $24 hat. An overpriced character meal with Goofy at the Disneyland Hotel is also lurking in the wings.
But you know what? As his late Grandpa would often say, “Gabriel is a good boy.” Despite the apparent over-indulgence, I find myself marveling at the kid, nonetheless. He waits patiently in interminable lines for rides, walks over ten miles crisscrossing the park without a single complaint, and keeps us all entertained with his never-ending commentary and wit. Most importantly, he makes everyone around him happy. And it is his birthday after all.
Even the Disney gods relent. Miraculously, we get a last-minute call-up for the Rise of the Resistance, and we hightail it over to board with our group. As I look over at Gabriel wondrously eyeing the Death Star, I can’t help but see my child-like self in him. Fifty years ago, I walked these exact same streets of Disney. I remember those magical moments with my family like they happened yesterday. I treasure those memories more than life itself. I’m hoping that Gabriel will treasure his time with me in the very same way.
His mom was right. There’s nothing too good for The Prince. I love you, Gabriel. May the force be with you.
Dr. John Huang is a columnist for Nolan Group Media and editor-in-chief of JustTheCats.com. His two newest books, KENTUCKY PASSION and FROM THE RAFTERS OF RUPP, are now available online and wherever fine books are sold. If you enjoy his writing, you can follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs.