Little T had a birthday last week. He had pizza and ice cream cake the evening of his birthday. A few hours before that, he had a ramen “snack”. A few weeks before that he had a party at school. And a few days after his birthday, he celebrated with his friends at the park. After literally weeks of celebration, he uttered a strange comment to us, “My birthday started to feel heavy. It’s like people won’t stop wishing me ‘happy birthday’ and sometimes it didn’t even seem real. It’s starting to make me feel sad.”
We were stunned for a bit and I, especially, had a tinge of sadness. Here, yet again, was another example of how this kid was too much like me. We told him that most people genuinely care for him and that’s a good thing. But I felt like a hypocrite because for about 18 years, I’ve hated my birthday. Very few people know why. My wife knows why, of course. She has suggested I should stop being selfish and celebrate with our children. So partly inspired by Sheryl Sandberg’s recent Facebook post and Daddy Kamp contributor Kevin “Big Happy” Smith’s Gratitude Challenge notes, I’ve decided to share why I hate my birthday. And hopefully, as suggested by Sandberg, “Celebrate (my) birthday, goddamnit. (I am) lucky to have each one.” So here it goes.
A good friend of mine passed away in a car accident the evening of my 23rd birthday. My friends wanted to party that night, but I decided to stay in to prepare for a party the next day. They went out without me. While we’ll never know all of the circumstances, one narrative suggested by the last person to see him was that he jumped into his car partly because he wanted to retrieve a present he had for me but had forgotten at home. I waited for him at my party the next day, knowing what the present was. We wondered about his absence until we received a call from his father. He died some time later from the injuries sustained in the car accident. I haven’t allowed anybody, including myself, to make a fuss over my birthday since.
I’ve held on to this all of these years. But I’m over it. Not because it doesn’t mean as much as it used to. But because I’ve been reminded by my wife, the examples above, and most importantly my kids, that we have a lot to celebrate. That life is grand. And that though tragedy will come and go, we have a choice to continue to move forward and to celebrate every day.
I miss you KS. We bought a house near the ocean. You would love it. And I’m going to celebrate my birthday there this year. I’m going to let my family give me hugs. I might even eat some cake.