A heartwarming homecoming

Published 11:07 pm Friday, September 30, 2011

Lt. Matthew Watson and his son, Jack, hold the “daddy doll” Jack used during Watson’s yearlong deployment to help him feel close to his father. Watson surprised Jack at Carrollton Elementary School on Friday.

Lt. Matthew Watson knelt down quietly behind a wall near the nurse’s office at Carrollton Elementary School Friday afternoon with two of his sons folded in his arms and his wife, Tricia, at his side.

With the boys balanced on his knees, Watson whispered to Jonathan and James to stay still and quiet as they waited.

On the other side of the wall, Jessica Walter’s first-grade class walked single-file to the cafeteria, and somewhere in the middle of the line, 6-year-old Jack Watson followed along, thinking he was headed to the cafeteria for a test.

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As he turned the corner at the end of the hall, Jack heard a familiar voice call his name.

“Jack,” Watson hollered.

The boy quickly whipped his head around, and shouted back, “Daddy!”

Jack tore across the hallway and threw his arms around his father’s neck.

After a yearlong deployment in Afghanistan, Watson was reunited with his oldest son.

Tricia Watson and Jack’s brothers had greeted Watson at the airport that morning, but they wanted to do something special for Jack.

“Jack has always been very close to his dad,” Tricia Watson said.

Jack said he knew his dad would be home soon, but he didn’t know he would see him so soon.

“When I was going through the hall, I didn’t see him there,” he said. “I was so surprised.”

Still bent down in his Navy uniform, Watson held the 6-year-old, who kept his blond head buried in his dad’s chest, and told him how happy he was to see him.

“It’s definitely nice to be back,” Watson said, adding he was glad to hug his wife, be with his boys and be back in America.

“How do you feel to have your daddy back?” Tricia Watson asked Jack.

Jack gave a short and simple answer: “Better.”

Watson, a lieutenant in the Navy, was deployed last September after moving to Carrollton that April.

While he was overseas, he served as an aviation liaison in Kabul, Afghanistan. The yearlong deployment is the longest time he’s been away from his family since he joined the Navy.

Only minutes after finding out his dad was back for good, Jack started catching Watson up on all the happenings in his life.

He told him all about the things he was learning in the first grade, including his new fascination with maps.

And grinning ear to ear, Jack showed his dad the gap where he lost a tooth.

“Did the tooth fairy visit you?” Watson inquired.

“Yeah, but she left the tooth,” Jack replied. “I guess she knows I have show and tell.”

After the quick catch-up session, Jack started making plans for the family’s first weekend together again.

“Maybe we should ride bikes together,” Jack exclaimed.

“We could do that,” Watson said and joked that 2-year-old Jonathan must have learned to ride a bike while he was gone.

As his sons scurried around him, Watson said he was amazed how much they had grown.

“I’m glad to see it, but I wish I had been here to witness it,” he said.

Because Watson was deployed so soon after they moved to Carrollton, he wasn’t able to celebrate any major holidays in the new house.

“He missed Christmas, birthdays, anniversaries, everything,” Tricia Watson said.

“I’m excited to see them dressed up for Halloween,” her husband added.

Tricia Watson said it was rough being without him for a year but tried not to think the length of his deployment.

“It’s been hard being home alone with the kids for a year,” she said. “I had to think in increments of time. I couldn’t think about the whole time; it was too long.”

Although their dad was thousands of miles away, Jack, James and Jonathan did get the chance to talk to Watson once a week on the phone and even got to watch him read them their favorite bedtime stories on DVDs he recorded before he left.

Tricia also ordered each of the boys his own “daddy doll,” a personalized pillow with their father’s image on it.

“Every night, they hugged and kissed their dad good night,” she said.

It was in the pocket of his daddy doll that Jack kept his tooth for the tooth fairy to find.

But as nice as the daddy doll is, Jack said, he would much rather hug the real thing.