Birthdays no longer celebrated

So far in 2012 a couple of friends have laid one of their parents to rest. One lost a mother and one lost a father. Last year, a couple of high school friends lost their mothers.

Having already said my final goodbyes to both of parents in the last half dozen years, I can appreciate and understand the road ahead for them holds many unexpected milestones where grief and sadness take hold.

One of those milestones for me is my father’s birthday, which is today. It always feels odd to me to hear that we are celebrating someone’s birthday after they are dead or to say that they would have been x years olds today. I don’t have an easy way of reconciling the fact that it feels strange to say birthday for a deceased person and yet to remember it every year.

I have discovered that it is far easier to remember the date of my father’s birthday than it is to remember the day he passed away.

That could be due in part to the rush of emotions in witnessing his final days. It could be that we had twins at home who were less than a year old and it was one of many emotional things going on.

I prefer to think that it is about acknowledging the day when all of his promise was ahead of him, rather than his last day when his promises had all been fulfilled.

Mike and the Mechanics did a beautiful song in the 80’s about the loss of a father, called “The Living Years.” Toward the end of the song is a stanza that even then made me a little teary-eyed.

I think I caught his spirit

Later that same year

I’m sure I heard his echo

In my baby’s new born tears

(Written by Mike Rutherford, Brian Alexander Robinson, Lyrics Copyrighted by EMI Music Publishing, BUG Music)

This may sound maudlin, but I see my father in my son. In his face and in his countenance, I see my dad.

As a kid, despite the physical and emotional distance between my father and me, I believed my dad could do anything and solve any problem. He could build anything. I did a science fair project on nuclear fusion reactors and I had a vision of what I wanted to do. I needed a model of a tokamak reactor. I gave my dad some pictures of what one looked like and some sketches of what I wanted. He also offered to build my display.

When he was done, I just about cried. I didn’t cry because that just wasn’t done in front of my father, but the memory still brings a tear to my eye.

The reactor model wasn’t just perfect; it was breathtaking. The display was amazing. What started out as masonite pegboard became a stark and impressive backdrop for the posters and pictures. My father my never had said “I love you,” but that day I had no more doubts that he did.

That project earned me a job in a lab which was my first job not as a paper boy or working in a factory. My father’s wishes for me were fulfilled with that model.

Dad, having grown up a farmer, been a soldier and spent years on the road, was very frugal with his words. Having a son who needs intensive work to develop his speech makes the two seem all the more similar to me. Both voices offer so much when I am patient to hear.

I see so much more than a physical likeness between my son and father. I see the intellect that is often hidden. I see amazing and creative problem solving skills. I see a love that comes through actions not words.

I admire them both for the struggles that they faced and the dignity that they demonstrate in meeting them.

They are also sometimes fall back, but they work so hard to try again.

My father and my son are such remarkable role models for me, even on the days when I miss one of them dearly.



9 thoughts on “Birthdays no longer celebrated

  1. Beautiful. A few weeks ago, I celebrated my first birthday in which I was older than my father ever reached. I named my son after him, not knowing how apt the name would be. They are alike in wonderful ways. My father would have adored him.


    • Thank you. I didn’t make the connection between how much I wanted to hear more from my father and my son. It was a pretty startling thought when I realized that and then I started thinking about other similarities.

      I can’t imagine how it must feel to be older than your father ever was. Your son is proof that your father is remembered and loved by you.


  2. Pingback: Importance of Fathers in Parenting « We the Humans

  3. I love what you’ve written. I haven’t lost a parent yet but I do understand the whole confused feeling of acknowledging the birthday of someone we love who has passed. Last year I decided to stop putting focus on Simon’s date of death and only celebrating his birth(day) and the gifts he gave to me. It has been a real positive for me.


    • That’s great for you. I love that you think in terms of the gifts he gave you. That’s a very powerful thing to acknowledge.

      I have found over time that both of my parents’ birthdays evoke stronger memories than the anniversaries of their passing. Maybe it’s connected to the celebrations when they were alive or maybe it’s just that time has passed. Maybe it’s like you say–celebrating their gifts.


  4. The story of your dad building that reactor for you is beautiful. There are a lot of ways to show love besides the words, and he definitely poured it out for you there. One of the amazing things about our kids is how they can give us each a bit of immortality – of course you see your father in your son – because even though your dad is not physically here, he will always be with you. And it’s nice to put him in your heart with your son.


    • Exactly, Karen. We don’t always recognize how love is shared. It took me a long time to realize that it is not always in the saying, but in the doing. My son and my father knew each other for only a short time. If only they knew that one will always remind me of the other.


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