Tuesday, March 30, 2010


As anyone who studies it will tell you, communication takes on many different forms and there is sometimes a hidden message not so visible to the naked eye.

For example, late last year my brother and I began kicking the idea around to throw our parents a surprise birthday party for their 60th – they happen to celebrate a birthday only 12 days apart from one-another. After a few ideas were generated, we decided that our best option would be to have this party upstairs at Bangor’s Whig & Courier.

Between my brother, myself, and our wives, we got the invites together, the decorations, the food, and the logistics. Somewhere along the way, our dad told us that a surprise party isn’t his cup of tea…and he hoped that we weren’t planning one. Regardless of the warning, we pushed forward, figuring that we couldn’t turn back at that point.

When we finally got to the week of the party, we decided that we would go out to eat first, then convince them that we should go to the Whig afterward. We decided to go to the Muddy Rudder in Brewer – another fine local establishment – for dinner.

Before the six of us left for dinner (mom & dad, my brother, his wife, my wife and myself), our parents asked us – point blank – if there would be anyone “joining us” at the Muddy Rudder. We said “no.” They said, “So there won’t be a surprise when we get there?” We said, “no.” I said, “How stupid do you think we are??!!??” We arrived at the Muddy Rudder, and I believe there was still a sense of skepticism from our parents, but once we were seated and had placed our orders for dinner that skepticism vanished.

Dad told us that we didn’t have to take them out for dinner for their birthdays, but it was very nice. Mom proceeded to thank us as well. Dad then told us how happy he was that we didn’t plan a surprise party…because that’s not their style. My brother and I looked each other right in the eye…and if “synchronized heart sinking” was an Olympic sport, we would have taken the gold.

But we ate dinner, had some laughs, talked about a range of topics, and carried on with our plan. I mentioned that I had stopped in to the Whig earlier in the day to look at the room and it was in use, so the restaurant’s owner had asked me to come back later in the day. Dad, not suspecting such a laid-back plan at this point, immediately suggested that we go to the Whig following dinner for a drink and to see the room. We all agreed.

I can say with certainty that our parents didn’t suspect a thing at this point. They definitely didn’t suspect that the Whig’s owner Chris Geaghan was in on the plan as well. When we walked into the Whig, I approached Chris and he performed his role perfectly, saying, “Oh, that’s right – you wanted to see the upstairs room, didn’t you?” I said yes, and the six of us followed Chris up the stairs. Dad was first in line, followed by me, then my wife, then my brother, then my mom, then my brother’s wife.

The anticipation was nerve-wrecking…so much so, I nearly got sick on the way there. But as Chris opened the doors to the upstairs room at the Whig and my dad walked in to the sounds of our parents’ friends and family applauding their arrival, it was all worthwhile. My dad froze. I turned around and mom looked just as shocked, despite not having entered the room yet. They say there are specific moments in life when you will always remember how you felt when they happened, and you will always be able to vividly see the expressions on the faces around you – and this was most certainly one of them.

As mom and dad made their way around the room talking and laughing with family and friends, it felt darn good to stand there and watch so many people having fun. Friends from all over the state were there, and many of their sibling’s families were able to make it as well.

What does this have to do with communication? Lots. It took a good number of people being able to keep a secret, play a part (thanks to everyone who did!), and follow directions to a tee. It took me, my brother, and our wives coming up with a creative plan and meticulously executing the plan. Sure, maybe the directions were a bit too detailed; and maybe I got a little too nervous about the surprise on the way to the Whig…but it was all worth it to see the end result and our genuinely surprised parents.

The next day, mom told me that the first thing dad said in the morning was, “How did they pull that off?” He later followed that up by saying to my brother and I, “You are out of the will.” (He was joking…)

There is a lot of communication necessary to successfully pull off a surprise party. While that’s important, it’s not the point of this posting. Rather, the point is to wish our parents a very happy 60
th birthday and send them happiness and love from the entire family.