I can remember rummaging through my room trying to find something for my Dad to open on his birthday. It was usually something I found at the bottom of the toy box or something I had long since lost all the accessories to. He opened many a Star Wars action figure missing the sliding lightsaber in the forearm,
GI Joe figures without whatever weapons they had come with when I first opened them, and comic books I had read a hundred times over.
I can also remember my Mom buying him presents for my sister and I to give to him for his birthday on February 7th. My Dad was a simple man or at least that was the benchmark for a birthday budget my Mom was using. He didn’t need spa weekends, golf lessons, or fancy watches. Most years, he was quite content to redeem his coupon for ‘1 Free Hug’ or unwrap the Godfather of gifts to give to your Dad, a stick of deodorant and a necktie.
No matter what it was we found at Thrift Drug, the department store, or what I may have drawn for him, his reaction was the same every birthday. He picked up the present, took a guess at what it might be (tennis racket…he always guessed tennis racket), we would laugh, he would open it and his excitement, whether real or feigned, over the Wintergreen scented deodorant and paisley tie would have made you believe he had unwrapped the keys to a new car. I don’t think he ever expected anything for his birthday or the gifts he got were never as important as being able to spend the time with us all together.
It’s been 7 years since I watched my Dad blow out candles on a cake. Seven years since we huddled around him to sing, laugh when he guessed the presents in front of him were tennis rackets, and seven years since he unwrapped a stick of deodorant or a necktie.
It’s hard to come to February 7th each year knowing there isn’t anything I need to get for my Dad. I have tried, for the almost 8 years he has been gone, to pass off his birthday as any other day he isn’t with us. I miss him constantly but have learned to live with that feeling as I go about my day but on his birthday, what my face conveys to my friends and family, hides what my heart is really saying…today, I miss you just a little bit more Dad.
I smile when my girls remind me not to forget Pop Pop’s birthday. I’m grateful their mom and I have been able to build a memory of their grandfather in their minds as much as we have built him up in our own minds. I want to show them the same level of excitement they have for the day. I want them to remember. I want them to celebrate. I want them to know they should smile and laugh when they think of him, no matter how few memories they have of their Pop Pop.
And as I listen to my kids talk about him and fight back the urge to cry, I want to be a kid again. I want to huddle close to my Dad in the kitchen around his cake as the flames from the candles reflect around the room. I want to sing an off key, quasi-in sync rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ for him, and I want to help him blow out his candles. I want to watch as he looks at each of the gifts we got him, guesses their identity might be tennis rackets, laugh, and then proceed to watch his excitement as he unwraps his gifts, even if he didn’t expect or need any of them.
But I’m here and he’s not. There is the obvious pain that comes with his absence yet, on what would have been my dad’s 67th birthday, while there are no candles to blow out or any cake to cut, there are gifts. They have been there every year since he has been gone even though I don’t expect it but I’m not surprised when I get them. They are of his memory, his spirit, his guidance, wit, love, smile, his laugh, and all that he meant to me both when he was alive and continuing on even in his death. Although I have those feelings every day, they just happen to be a little more obvious, like what a gift wrapped stick of deodorant and a necktie might look like, on February 7th.
Happy Birthday Dad. Love you.