My Father's Day experience this year consisted mostly of driving from Kentucky to Michigan as we returned home from our vacation in Florida. But my transcendent moment as a dad came a week earlier, when I was able to use my new lungs to propel my son and I into an experience of a lifetime at Hollywood Studio's Star Wars Weekend.
*Note: you will probably want to watch the clip linked below to fully understand the Star Wars references I make in this post. And maybe even watch all of Episode IV. Unless you are a big Star Wars fan, of course.
We did not intentionally plan this trip to coincide with the final Star Wars Weekend of 2015. In fact, our original plans would have caused us to miss it, but since we needed to come home earlier than expected due to me teaching summer school, my wife moved things around and we arrived on Saturday instead of late Sunday or Monday. Once we realized that things had coalesced so nicely, my wife and I began to plan what we would do at Hollywood Studios to give our son, who just recently became a Star Wars fanatic in April after I introduced him to the original film. I have always enjoyed the Star Wars series, but when I saw how much my son was into it, I became a fan all over again.
Our entire day on Sunday orbited around getting my son into the Jedi Academy Training, which is extra special on Star Wars weekends. It's sign-up location is moved to accommodate the larger number of people who want to participate, and the groups of kids who are involved are twice as large as they usually are. This means the kids see two evil Sith Lords in action, rather than just Darth Vader. To make it to the sign-up area quickly enough to get my son into the limited number of spaces available, we would need the Force to be with us.
In this case, "the Force" was careful planning, knowing exactly where we needed to go in the park, and making sure we got on a bus early enough to arrive before the park even opened. The first bus of the day was a bit late to arrive, but we were relieved upon our arrival because we still had a decent spot in the line of fans, many wearing costumes from the film. I made a quick stop over at guest services to confirm that the sign-up location was where the Internet said it would be-- in the area that typically serves as the queue for Indiana Jones. Once I was back with my wife and son, I told him that we would need to go run very fast to make it to our destination, though I didn't tell him what it was, because in case we didn't make it, at least I would be the only one upset. I told him his job was to hold my hand and run as fast as I was running so we wouldn't get separated from each other. He said he was "ready for the mission."
Once they began letting people into the park, it felt like an interminable wait to get to the front of the line and scan our bands, especially as those who entered took off sprinting onto the main thoroughfare in Hollywood Studios. Finally, my son and I made it through the entry gate, and we took off. I felt like I was Han Solo and my son was Chewbacca, weaving in and out of the asteroid field in the Millennium Falcon. Except we weren't trying to outrun TIE fighters, just other Star Wars fans who also wanted to make it into the Jedi Academy. Early in the sprint, a slower gentleman in front of my son, who was running on my right, was in the way, so I pulled on my child's arm only slightly more gently than a Wookie would upon losing a competition. I knew we needed to go straight and then make a slight left hand turn, so I kept to the left, hopping onto and then off of the sidewalk as we weaved around parents with kids who weren't quite as fast as my son and me. I really can't put into words how amazing it felt to do this, to be a dad who could provide this opportunity for his child. As I eyed the spot where we would need to turn, I realized that everyone in front of me had stopped. This unexpected delay was because a rope had been placed to block anyone from continuing so that two Stormtroopers could ride out on large vehicles, shoot at a building, and then make fun of the mass of puny rebels who were deterred by something as simple as a piece of string with a clasp on the end of it. We were further back from this spectacle than I wanted to be, but I kept the long term goal of making it to the Jedi Training Academy experience in mind. I shifted as far left as possible, and then, in another moment of fatherly pride, put my son up on my shoulder so he could better see the Stormtroopers.
As the Stormtroopers wrapped up their presentation by deciding that we looked harmless and could be allowed further into the park, my son and I resumed our mad dash toward our destination. At one point, a man in a scooter just like the one I used during our 2014 Disney trip was to our right. He was bottlenecked by a cement wall to his right and sprinting Star Wars fans to his left, and had no choice but to stop. It wasn't hard to see that what I was able to do for my son that day would have been too dangerous to even attempt had I still been on oxygen and using a scooter. The park requires that the adult and child be in line to sign up, and zipping over to the area with my son on the scooter, going fast enough to easily outpace but potentially hit the other guests... well, that's a special brand of scum and villainy. I didn't see a child with the man on the scooter, so I told myself he was heading elsewhere, and continued to run.
Finally, we made it to the already long line of individuals hoping to get their child(ren) into the Training Academy experience. I felt good about our spot, but wasn't ready to celebrate until the person in charge of the entry and sign-up process said that everyone in the line would be able to participate. A few minutes later, my wife, who had rented a stroller to carry our stuff and our son if he got tired, arrived, and I told her the good news. We then told our son what we were in line for, and he was both thrilled and inquisitive. I took a deep breath, not because I was tired out from running, but because I was relieved that we had made it: my son and I made the Kessel run in less than 12 parsecs...
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I had the pleasure of watching my son train as a padawan in a brown robe, learn the proper technique with his light saber, and then battle Darth Vader. Darth Maul joined in to fight the other half of the group, but my son ended up getting the best of both worlds: Vader talked and taunted each kid, while Maul has hardly speaks at all in the Phantom Menace. My son got to see both Sith Lords in action, battle Vader, and was completely thrilled by the experience. Probably almost as thrilled as I was. The elation continued when we custom made our own lightsabers and had a duel the minute we got back to the hotel that day. It was, again, a fabulous experience which I could not have had prior to my lung transplant-- and considering the situation I was in last year, what are the odds that things would turn out this way? Well, we know how Han Solo would answer that...
My actual Father's Day gift was a framed drawing of Spider-Man that my son made for me. That, along with the experience of running alongside him to guarantee my would-be Jedi a spot in the Training Academy experience, and of course, seeing him immersed in a fictional world he loves so much, made for the best Father's Day I have had, bar none. The celebratory "Rebel March" used at the end of Episode IV played in my heart the rest of that day. And the next morning, we played it as the tone to wake up my son for yet another fantastic day at Disney World.