During the month of September, I get to celebrate the anniversary of my birth. In case anyone is wondering which anniversary, I can tell you that it’s beyond the 350th dog-year.
I really miss the days when my birthday was a big deal – money from relatives and chocolate cake that never made you fat. Of course, that was when I was a kid and the only birthday I cared about was mine, before I realized I had two parents and two brothers who also had birthdays that I was expected to observe.
When their birthdays roll around, I’m faced with the conundrum of birthday protocol, and every year I obsess over how to properly acknowledge them. Should I send a card, make a phone call or show up with marinated steaks? I also have nieces and nephews. In their case, I give money to buy off any resentment over my forgetting their birthday the previous year.
When I was a kid, I let my mom take care of everyone’s birthday for me. That went on well into my 40s, when guilt, shame and my mother’s admonitions convinced me to shoulder the responsibility. So I went out of my way to remember as many birthdays as I could – aunts, uncles, sisters-in-law, pets, you name it. I even logged them into an electronic Rolodex I got online. It worked fine until I sat on it. Since then I’ve decided to keep the birthday protocol as simple as possible.
With my brothers and I, birthday protocol is an easy affair, because we just give each other a phone call. Considering our past, they’re lucky I remember to call. Once I got my younger brother some disappearing ink for his birthday. It was the kind that could be shot through a squirt gun, the idea being that you shoot someone wearing white clothes, and thirty minutes later after you’ve been beaten senseless, the ink disappears and you’re in the perfect position to sue the person you shot. Of course, that never occurred to my brother – considering he was 7 years old – and so he squirted everything in sight, including my goldfish, all of whom died within hours. I’m still bitter and am tempted to forget he even has a birthday.
The birthday gifts I get these days are always from Mom and Dad. They’re very practical gifts. Dad likes to give me clothes that he no longer wears, which is great because I can always use an extra sweater or pair of pants. But once, after our obligatory birthday dinner, he took me out to the car, opened the trunk, and there, neatly folded and wrapped in Hefty bags, were about 10 pairs of underpants. He told me he didn’t need them, and I thought, “Oh, my God ...” I just stared at them, reflecting on how this was way more father and son intimacy than I EVER desired in this lifetime. It wasn’t until later that I realized they were brand-new and Dad just didn’t want to take them back to Target. So, I have to say, it was indeed a “practical” gift. Still, I had to marvel at how most fathers give their sons a new car or maybe a gun. Mine gives me underpants. But I admit, in a strange kind of way, I feel lucky ...