I was born, you were born, that clerk at the tag office was born to. It’s a common event shared with the 7 billion or so others on the planet. And with only 365 days in a calendar year, based on the averages, roughly 69 million of them share the same birthday. When one stops to look at it in those terms, what’s the entire ruckus with our birthday really about anyway?
Why do so many act like the day of their birth is carved out only for them and rest of the world should prostrate in worship and gladness that providence saw to it we were graced by their presence? From the beginning, for many, a birthday entails the stoppage of time and space in order to celebrate. Banners are erected, parties thrown, and clowns hired for the purpose of making the “birthday boy/girl” feel as completely and totally special as possible – because God knows we all need to feel special. And as time goes on if mom, dad, or a friend isn’t there to continue the tradition it’s become totally acceptable, and in perfectly bad taste, to throw a birthday party – for ourselves.
All I longed for was a child mature enough to brush her teeth and wash her own hair.
Today marks my oldest child, Sunshine’s, 10th birthday. Achieving the big 1-0 brings mixed emotions; I can’t believe she’s this old but I often thought she would ever get here. I’ve been a single dad for 80% of her life and there were times, in those early years, when all I longed for was a child mature enough to brush her teeth and wash her own hair. Now aside from me paying the electricity bill and chauffeuring her around she handles most things quite well. At the rate this decade flew she’ll be moving into her own apartment next week.
You might think we’re planning g a blowout to celebrate hitting double digits with a Taylor Swift theme, caterers, party favors, and a DJ.
But you’d be wrong.
Instead she will wake up to birthday hugs and kisses from her father and a trip to the donut shop for breakfast. Later she’ll likely immerse herself in “Good Luck Charlie” episodes while cleaning her room and making her bed. Since she has the patience of an infant she’s already gotten her birthday presents all of which were necessities and not electronics whose names begin with vowels. We’ll have sandwiches for lunch and she’ll get to blow out candles on cupcakes I got for 50% off at the grocery store. And if we’re lucky and my day is light we might see the pool before afternoon is over.
Later in the day her mom and I will make the switch and they’ll go to Sunshine’s favorite restaurant for dinner. The only traditional birthday-‘ish’ thing she will do is a movie and sleepover with three friends at her mom’s house a few weekends from now — because no upstanding parent would allow their daughter to spend the night with her friend and her single dad.
In the end the sun will set on Sunshine’s 10th birthday with no fireworks, ponies, limo rides, or mayoral decrees. And the strangest thing in it all – she thinks it’s supposed to be this way.
Enjoying coffee one morning I couldn’t help overhearing a twenty something talking about her upcoming birthday plans. She proceeds to correct her friend that this isn’t her birthday but actually her birth-‘month’. She explains how the people in her life are aware of the lofty birthday expectations and parents, family, and friends have seen to it every weekend has been slated with some form of festivities, from dinners, to parties, to birthday get-a-ways. I didn’t know whether to wish her happy one or ask when her daddy issues started.
The world is full of adults whose parents didn’t make them feel special. I get that responsibility as a dad. But we’ve taken this idea of birthdays, especially children’s birthdays, to an obnoxiously obscene level. No longer can they be mere observances with a cake and candles, but instead have been turned into a national holiday and orchestrated affairs that require event planners and a security detail. I’ve witnessed boy’s birthday parties that include custom T-shirts and little girl’s parties that are an afternoon in the spa. Bygone are the days of a simple party at home with a Betty Crocker cake and dad’s amateur attempts at writing in frosting that more resemble Sanskrit than birthday wishes.
As a single father it would be oh so very easy to give into this birthday dilemma and give Sunshine whatever celebration her 10-year-old heart desires. Her parents are divorced doesn’t she deserve special treatment? Birthdays are how ‘Disney Land Dads’ got their start, right? But by hopping that train takes her and I someone we don’t want to go. Divorced or not, the last thing I want my daughter to be is a twenty something who thinks the world should stop every June 19th, because mommy or daddy made it do so. Ever wondered where kids’ entitlement issues start?
No, Sunshine will wake up to a father who’s thankful and blessed she is in his world and who will recognize the day for what it is – without ever making a big deal of any of it.