Saturday, July 16, 2011

Birthdays.

It's July 16th today and tomorrow is my father's birthday. Every summer growing up, my mother would arrange a little party for his birthday, ordering an ice cream cake one year, making it herself another. She would take us out shopping and we would comment yet again on how difficult it was to buy for my father, who wore neither cologne nor shorts; completely eschewed televised sports of all kinds; didn't play golf or any other game of leisure; didn't read popular novels; and, in short, was impossible to buy for. We were left with candy, tools, of which he had many but always needed more, and that classic standby-ties. He never minded, I don't think, not being a very acquisitive person, but I do think he liked the little celebration.

I remember it always being warm, as summer in childhood always seems to be, and we would eat our dinner out on our deck, sitting around the splintery picnic table. Then out would come the cake and the presents and the obligatory singing and my father would sit sheepishly, yet pleased, I think, as we fluttered around him and forced him to enjoy his birthday. I don't think, left alone, he would have even remembered his birthday.

I can't remember the last time I celebrated my father's birthday, but I remember the day each year as it comes around. When he went into Assisted Living, the facility made a big deal of birthdays, and if I couldn't make it on the day, I would see the pictures after of Dad with a birthday hat on, a cake in front of him, grinning to the camera in that same sheepish way I remembered so well. For a while, I sent him a card every year, as well as one for Father's Day, and just because I like sending cards. But I started to notice that the cards would go unopened and forgotten. Dad didn't care about things like birthdays anymore, he was too occupied with the fight to hold on to what was left of his brain. And gradually, I stopped sending cards, because he doesn't know what time of the year it is, and I'm not convinced he needs to know. I prefer to let him wander in whatever time or space he now inhabits.
But each time July rolls around, I'll remember for him what Dad's birthdays used to look like.

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