…for a long, long life of health, wealth, and happiness.” A family tradition of sorts. It’s what we in the Jarr clan say when we cut a birthday cake. It’s cheesy and we get strange looks when we (ok, when I) say it outside of our own dining room.
Birthdays. I’m not really a big fan of my own. I always find it a bit self-serving. “Hey come pay homage to the day I entered the world!” Not my thing really. I get more out of my kids’ excitement over my birthday than I do anything else. Otherwise, to me it’s just a day like any other.
Other people’s birthday tend to be a different story though. I look at them largely as my chance to celebrate the fact that this person is part of my life. Admittedly, I’m not the best at remembering them outside of my own. But I think that may change.
My father just had his birthday this week, turning 64. For some reason, after I bought his birthday cards (which I forgot to mail until the day of – again not my strongpoint) I found myself reflecting on that and what that span of time means. In talking to him on his birthday as well it hit me even more.
He’s certainly seen some interesting times. The end of World War II. The Korean conflict. The assassination of John F. Kennedy. He was sent over to Vietnam and managed to return in one piece. He lived through the likes of the Gulf wars and the events of 9/11. He’s seen 12 different presidents in office.
He’s outlived his father by 10 years and younger brother by 12. He’s seen his mother slip away to Alzheimer's disease and stayed by her side the entire time. He’s the sole living grandfather (Pop-pop) to my kids with my wife’s parents having died way too young.
He worked for the same company for 34 years. Despite being under 5’ 6” tall, he always stood proudly and looked the epitome of professionalism. In the brief times I spent with him at work in NYC, it always struck me as ironic at how many 6”+ people looked up to my father in the workplace, all the time having to really look down. He carried himself with pride and attitude than simply garnered genuine respect.
He’s raised two kids. And despite him being his own worst critic, he did it successfully. We didn’t make it easy and it’s still not I’m sure. But he did it. We were never lacking and still are not, despite the hard times and challenges of the mile between us. He gave us long lasting childhood memories. He introduced us to the joys of boating and took us on fantastic vacations all over the Eastern seaboard. Anyone can take a ferry to Martha’s Vineyard or Block Island. How many people can say the cruised there from NJ? How many people can say they've ferried through the entire Erie canal lock system?
He’s always been the pillar of strength in our family. Someone needs a hand around the house. Dad is there. Someone has a home improvement project to do. Dad’s there to work and often get injured and keep working. Only Dad would say “I stepped on a nail. It really hurts. I should go to the hospital but I have more work to do.” And he’s always there when it counts. Even at what I perceived as his difficult times, he was the pillar of strength and poise. My uncle, his brother’s funeral stands out most to me. He had lost his brother and still was the person the family turned to for help and support.
My father recently read this site and was a bit surprised that I listed him as one of my idols. I feel that points to a big problem. That I haven’t told him enough what he means to me. That I haven’t said “Thank you” enough for all the things he’s imparted to me. That it isn’t more evident that he is ultimately the man I measure all others against, including myself. No better compliment could be made to me than “You’re just like your father.”
So I find myself looking at birthdays in a new light. They have new importance to me. It’s not a celebration of birth, but of life and how that person has made it all the richer. While I regret that it’s taken this long to realize, I’m grateful to now have this clarity nonetheless.
Thank you, Dad. And happy birthday from your proud son.