Mike Stephenson was your normal, 48-year-old, suburban family man. Had a pretty wife and two wonderful teenage kids. Worked 9-5 as an accountant. Owned a nice two-story house one hour outside of a major metropolitan city. Lived on a beautiful, tree-lined street in a very good school district. Possessed three cars—two were leases and one was a paid-off pre-owned vehicle for his daughter.
Like a lot of people, he and his family all had cell phones. For years, they all had different phones. Mike and his 13-year-old son Mike, Jr. had Samsung phones, his wife Trish and 15-year-old daughter Haley both had an iPhone. For years, they had been on a family plan, so to save money and not pay the exorbitant prices that individual cell phone plans can have.
“I like the family plan,” said Mike when interviewed. “It’s fine for all of us.”
The Stephensons were all heavy phone users. Mike used his primarily for work and to catch up on his fantasy sports. Trish used hers for everything (calendar events, Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, etc.). Both kids used their phones for all of their entertainment and online socializing. Mike Jr. had the oldest and cheapest device, and Haley had her mom’s older iPhone 6. Trish had the iPhone 6s. Mike couldn’t have cared less about his phone. After all, his Android device worked fine for what he needed. However, his entire family was itching to get the new iPhone 7, which had come out just a few months prior.
Mike, being the typical frugal father, had been adamant about them all keeping the phones they had. He’d read how the new iPhone 7 was fantastic, but that if you already had the iPhone 6S, there wasn’t much of a need to upgrade. Suffice it to say, they were all disappointed when he told them that they didn’t need a new iPhone.
“They don’t need the iPhone 7—and I felt that they’re not going to get it just because it’s the hot new thing.”
But then Mike got to thinking, “Christmas was coming and my kids outgrew what used to pass as fun and wonderful under the tree… I wanted to do something special for my family. So, I thought I’d go ahead and get new iPhone 7s for everyone—including me.”
That weekend, he set right out and bought four brand new iPhone 7s at the Apple store in his local mall. Despite all of his reservations—and the hefty bill—Mike was really excited to have something that would totally surprise his family.
That night, he was lying in bed, thinking about the wonderful gifts that he was going to give in two weeks and realized something: his family wouldn’t be able to use their new cell phones if they weren’t activated.
“Even though giving them iPhones would certainly bowl them all over, giving them ones that weren’t able to work would be sort of a letdown.”
The next morning, Mike woke with a great idea. He realized that all he had to do was sneak out late Christmas Eve Day and get all of the phones activated. Not an easy thing to do, but he was sure he could manage it. Something that helped strengthen his resolve was the family’s strict cell phone policies. One was that no phone could be used after 8 on week nights. Another was that nobody could use their phones during family times and holiday get-togethers (unless they were taking pictures of course). Christmas Eve was definitely considered family time and a holiday get-together, so Mike thought his plan had a great chance of succeeding.
“I knew that I could go ahead and set mine and my son’s phone up before that. All I had to do was have Mike Jr. ‘lose’ his phone before basketball practice one day,” said the dad while miming air quotes.
According to the senior Mike, his son lost his phone all the time. Getting his wife’s and daughter’s phones would be the real challenge.
“It was going to take some finagling, but I knew I needed to get it done. I had to. I mean, it’s Christmas, for Chrissakes!”
When December 24th finally rolled around, Mike made his move. He had already made a deal with the local Verizon store-owner (who was the father of one of the kids on Mike Jr.’s team) to receive him at the very end of the day and take care of things as quickly as possible. While his family was busy with relatives who came over for Christmas Eve dinner and to celebrate, Mike snatched both his wife’s and daughter’s iPhones and raced to the store. Once there, the owner (who had all of the paper work ready and accounts up and running) asked for the phones. Mike, not knowing which was which, started to hand one to the man, but somehow opened up the photos.
“A picture of Haley smiling in her red Christmas sweater came up and she looked so beautiful and cute and innocent. I just stopped and stared and smiled. Then, I just started instinctively swiping—wanting to see a few more pics of my little princess.”
However, just three swipes later and Mike was frozen solid. He had come upon a picture that was definitely not meant for daddy.
“It was a selfie…. Haley … my baby girl…. She was smiling and holding a … female … toy … and a piece of paper with the words ‘Merry Christmas to me’” written on it.
“I swear to God, I almost fainted right there in the store. Rick, the owner, saw me go white.”
Rick helped Mike to a chair and got him some water. Then, when he was sure that Mike wasn’t going to pass out, he said, “I don’t know exactly what you saw … but I can guess.”
Mike looked at him, totally confused and still light-headed.
Rick eyed Mike soberly, “I have three teenage daughters,” he said while holding up three of his fingers for dramatic effect, “plus my son…. Trust me, I’ve seen it all.”
Mike said he just sat there for what felt like forever.
“Don’t worry. It’s normal” Rick assured him. “May not be good. But it’s normal. Talk with her. Not today or tomorrow, but … maybe after that.
The shell-shocked father nodded vacantly as Rick imparted one more word of advice. “Do yourself a favor and put a mobile spy app on all of their phones. You may not like what you find, but you need to find it. You’re their dad.”
Rick then went on to transfer everything from both phones, assuring Mike the whole time that he couldn’t see anything. When he was done, Mike left and went home to “celebrate” as best he could.
The next morning, the entire family opened their gifts and were ecstatic. Everyone hugged and kissed Mike and he tried to act like his regular self. Nobody seemed to notice that something was wrong. Not even Haley. Mike was kind of glad about that. It was hard enough knowing what he knew. He didn’t want to have to talk about it. Especially on Christmas.
When asked if he ever did confront Haley, Mike said that he didn’t. He did however go and purchase a mobile spy app like Rick recommended. He said that he hasn’t used it yet. He’s not sure he’s ready to see any more of Haley’s secret life. And he isn’t ready to peep into Mike Jr.’s yet either.
“I’m sure I’ll take a look soon—just to make sure they’re … safe,” he said. “Just not yet. I don’t think I’m ready to see all of their texts and pictures. I don’t really know if I want to know what websites my son is looking at. I’ll check soon though. I love them too much not to.”