Middle school student Dominic Rivera didn't want anything for Christmas this year other than to spend some time with his father, who has been serving in Afghanistan for the last seven months.
The sixth grader's holiday wish came true Friday during an afternoon rally at Central Middle School in Tinley Park. Students had been gathered in the gymnasium for what they thought was the school's annual winter games rally.
There was singing. There were gifts from Santa. And then there was dad.
"It's a little shocking," the boy, at a loss for words and holding back tears, said after the reunion in front of his classmates. His younger brother and mom were there too.
Sgt. John Rivera just returned to the United States on Monday and has spent the last few days in Arizona.
"I just couldn't wait to come see these two. It's been seven months," he said. "It's great. That's what the holidays are all about -- spending time with loved ones. So being home in time for that is special."
The idea for the reunion came from Rivera's wife, but it took off once she shared it with Central Middle School's principal.
"My brother is deployed overseas, so when we talked we were both exchanging tears over our phone call to do this to make it special for them," said Randy Fortin.
The happy reunion will be short-lived. Sgt. Rivera will be redeployed in the new year to Arizona.
For now, the family plans to make the best of the holiday time they have together. Rivera missed last Christmas because he was serving in Korea.
"I'm happy he's home and safe," said Janet Rivera. "It's been very, very hard. Anybody ... that knows me knows that can't keep a secret for anything. ... It was hard to keep it off of any social media and it's hard to keep it away from the babies."