Today would have been my dad’s 62nd birthday.
When he was alive, I missed more of his birthdays than I celebrated. He wasn’t raised in a big BIRTHDAY house and with the timing of his day, we were often traveling while he was holding down the fort. So usually, this day was marked by a silly card and a phone call with a quick “hippo birdie two ewe’s” refrain (a remnant of a much loved childhood book turned coffee mug in our home). So, imagine my absolute shock last year when this date knocked me on my ass, beat me up, and took my lunch money.
As the years melt around me, putting more and more space between my dad and I, I’m left with these important dates that are at once wholly significant and also negligible. They hold weight because he is gone. But I know if he was still here, it would be a date that would breeze past us. In his absence, it has become incredibly important to me to celebrate him on his birthday; this day brings with it a responsibility to carry on the memory of a person who is so integral to my existence. Without this day and this person, there is no me. And now that my dad is gone, my brothers and I are all that are left of him.
How do we keep our lost ones close?
I’m sure there isn’t a universal answer to this but for me, today. it comes easily.
My dad and I had a relationship best celebrated through food. After I graduated from college, we spent Friday nights huddled around the Whole Foods cheese counter spending countless dollars on strange wedges that would compliment the fancy sausages we picked up from the butcher. Thanksgiving menu planning began in September and each year for Easter we whipped up dozens of homemade ravioli. We traded recipes from afar when I lived in Chicago, loved trying restaurants that were off the beaten path, and in the last year of his life we talked endlessly about the meals he saw on the food network that we would try when he got better.
We don’t get to explore our world of food together anymore, but on these days, I am comforted by the recipes I grew up learning to cook alongside my dad. Tonight I will cut into a fresh, raspberry cake with my chosen family after indulging in a cozy green chili stew dinner. There won’t be any crass birthday cards exchanged, no “happy birthday” song to christen the cake, but we will celebrate my dad nonetheless.
Rather than continuing to count up, the clock has reset. So, dad, on your second birthday without you, I want to celebrate the 60 years that you were here. Happy birthday and, as always, I hope that wherever you are, you’re enjoying a fat slice of raspberry cake.