Monday, July 9, 2012

Dad's 60th Birthday Present

Dad turned 60 on the Fourth of July.  My five siblings, our spouses, and I wanted to do something really special for him.  After reading this blog post, I decided we could adapt that blogger's idea.  The blogger mailed all of her dad's friends and family members a letter asking them to contribute a nostalgic memory about her dad.  She compiled the letters and stuck them into separate envelopes for her dad to open and read. 

While very cute, I thought this idea would be more tedious than necessary.  The Type-A personality in me instantly thought, "Well, what do you do with all of those letters when they're opened?  Don't you want to contain them?  And, is Dad actually going to open every single envelope and read them at the party?"  Instead, we decided we would collect letters into a scrapbook for Dad to flip through at the party and read through later on his own.

Here's the text of the letter we sent out.  I've omitted certain information for privacy's sake:


If you're receiving this letter, you probably already know that our Dad, __________, is turning 60 this Fourth of July.  To commemorate this milestone birthday, we would like to put together a surprise to let him know that all of his friends and family are thinking of him.  We are going to create a "Sixty Years of Memories" book full of your memories, well wishes, and photographs.

This is where you come in!

If you have a spare moment in the next few days, we would be so grateful if you could please write about a memory you have of our dad.  Please don't labor over this!  Feel free to mention anything you like -- although the more nostalgic the better!  If you struggle to come up with a memory, a simple happy birthday wish would be very much appreciated.

Please keep 3 things in mind:  
1.     Please keep your note on one side of the enclosed paper.  
2.     Don’t forget to sign your full name!
3.     Please submit your letter by June 30th if you would like your note to be included in the book.

All of the notes will be compiled and placed into a scrapbook.  By following the above instructions, Dad will know who wrote the note and be able to read it without pulling the note out to see the other side.  Feel free to include any photos or mementos to go into the book with your written message.  Younger family members and friends can contribute drawings of Dad if they'd like.  Please ask the young artists to sign their masterpieces, too!    

Please use the stationery (or your own paper, no larger than 8.5” x 11”) and the enclosed envelope to send your written memories, photos, and mementos to:
(My mailing address)
or e-mail them to:
(My e-mail address) 
If you know of anyone who would like to participate, please pass along this information to them, and ask them to also send their letters to Catherine.

Thank you so much for participating.  We know you're all very busy, and we appreciate your taking the time to help make Dad's birthday special.  Shhhhhhhhh!!!  It’s a surprise!

With love and gratitude,
_______'s Children

Before sending out the letters, we had to compile our list of mailing addresses.  Without having access to Dad's electronic address book, some addresses took some serious detective work!  With the help of and several phone calls, we were able to track down everyone.  I didn't get a single "Return to Sender" letter back!  

Some of you are probably thinking, "That's crazy!  Why don't you just e-mail all of these people and ask them for a response?"  Well, sure, that would have been easy, but there are a few reasons we didn't.  We liked the idea of handwritten notes to add to the nostalgia and character of the book.  We also knew we'd struggle to get e-mail addresses of a lot of these people--many of whom don't e-mail.  Also, experience told us that a group e-mail wouldn't receive as many or responses of high quality.  The added bonus of sending an actual letter was that people would respond with tangible photos and mementos.    

After finding the addresses, we stuffed the envelopes with:
  1. The letter explaining our "60 Years of Memories" book
  2. Stationery for the person to write their note on
  3. Another envelope with my address and the postage paid to increase the likelihood of a response

Here are all of the envelopes before we took them to the post office.

The fun began a few days later when I started receiving responses.  For a few weeks, I was receiving as many as six letters a day!  As I received the letters, I spent the kids' naptime mounting the letters, photographs, and other mementos into the scrapbook.  

Unfortunately, I'm a dingaling, and I forgot to get a picture of the finished book before I wrapped it.  Maybe I'll take a few pictures of the book next time I'm at Mom and Dad's house.

Here's the sequence of Dad opening the book and taking it all in at our family party for him.

Opening the present.

The book is about 3 inches thick.  I had to put 5 refill packs of pages in there!  I inserted the letter we sent out on the front page so that Dad could see it, and I explained what the book was.

Still absorbing that he was holding a book full of notes from so many people for him.

We made the man cry!  Success!

Overwhelmed looking at all of the kind notes from his friends and family.

The colorful drawings are from the grandbabies.  The oldest grandchild drew a picture of Dad on the sideline of his soccer game, cheering him on.

Look at that smile!

I sat next to him so that I could point out a few things in the book.  His godmother sent a newspaper clipping of him from the '50s!

A letter from Dad's best friend and pictures from his wedding (when Dad was his best man)

Telling all of us that he "can't believe it" as he got to the last page.
It was so much fun receiving the letters everyday and seeing my Dad through the lenses of his friends and our family.  The contributors to the book identified different memories and things that they loved about Dad.  The letters ranged from sentimental to downright hysterical.  I especially loved reading my mom's 2-page bullet-point list of favorite memories.  Some, she told us, will "remain in code because we're allowed to have some inside jokes."

To all of the contributors--childhood neighbors, classmates, fraternity brothers, coworkers, hunting buddies, lifelong buddies, and family--a VERY big thank you to each and every one of you for taking the time to make Dad's 60th birthday one that he'll never forget!    

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