Jeremiah Erby’s dad only ever had one thing on his bucket list. He chose it long ago, blurting it out when someone asked because it felt like a faraway dream; an exotic choice that perhaps one day could be achieved. A couple years ago, Jeremiah’s dad mentioned his short bucket list again, this time telling Jeremiah during the holidays. It set nearly two years’ worth of preparation in motion, ending with the surprise of a lifetime.
Jeremiah Erby, 32, says he didn’t grow up traveling. He remembers growing up in Winston-Salem, NC in a middle class home. When his mom lost her job with US Air, he says his family went from a comfortable life to “learning about the struggle.” No matter how tough things got, Jeremiah remembers his father Avilla always being present in his life, a commitment his dad made to his three sons when Jeremiah was young.
After Jeremiah got his MBA and began working for a bank in New York, he knew he’d managed the upward mobility that would allow him to give back to his loved ones. When he learned of his dad’s dream, he immediately set out to surprise his father with a trip to see the Great Wall of China. He had no idea how he would pull it off.
Jeremiah’s dad Avilla did not have a passport. The last time he’d been out of the country was during the first Gulf War as a member of the Army reserve. When Avilla and his wife Shannon went to Mexico in last year, Jeremiah knew he had a shot. His stepmom was on board; when the couple returned, she snuck her husband’s passport to Jeremiah so he could apply for his dad’s Chinese visa.
Jeremiah asked his dad to come to New York for a week to hang out with his son. His dad asked to reschedule several times because he wasn’t sure if he had the vacation time, but Jeremiah insisted. When Avilla flew into Newark airport in October, he found out why he was really there:
“He thinks we’re going to Niagara Falls,” Jeremiah said, speaking to his stepmom on the phone. “Where we going?”
“China,” Shannon replied on speakerphone, loud enough for her husband to hear.
“China?” Avilla asked in disbelief.
“Yeah. Here’s your passport,” Jeremiah replied, a smile creeping on his face. “We’re going to China.”
“Are you serious?” Was all his father could manage before tears rolled down his face.
Jeremiah and Avilla spent the week in Beijing, visiting the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, and finally, the Great Wall of China. As they walked along the Great Wall, Avilla caressed the gray brick and said he felt numb.
“I’m actually here… this is awesome.”
Jeremiah says the highlight of his trip was being able to spend a week with his dad, and be a spectator as his dad fulfilled his dream. “Being in China, and being able to have a beer with my dad,” he said. “That’s what love does.”