My mother called this morning.
She is planning a birthday party for my father. His birthday is still more than seven months away, but she says he is making a big deal of it. She wants to make sure to plan it well in advance so that my sisters, who live in distant states, can make it out here to California.
Well, yes, I’d say it’s a big deal. My father is going to be the big eight-oh.
I took the bait and asked my mother what she means by saying that Dad is making a big deal about his birthday. She proceeded to explain that he mentions it to everyone he meets, strangers included. For example, when the bagger at the supermarket offers to carry my parents’ groceries out to the car, he says “No, thanks, I think I can still handle it. After all, I won’t be 80 til November.”
As big a milestone as eighty represents, this means that in ten years, Dad will be ninety. Now that is what I’d truly call a mind-blowing number. Imagine the bash we’ll have then!
I have to keep reminding myself to be more realistic, however. Who knows if he’ll make it to 90? One part of me says “certainly, he’ll make it to ninety!” But another part of me remembers that my wife’s grandmother recently passed away at 89. As for my own grandmother, the whole family had planned to converge on Florida in honor of her 100th birthday. She made it as far as 97.
Thus, we must celebrate while we can. With all the fuss we make at our loved ones’ funerals, I think it’s more important to let them know how much they mean to us while they are still with us.
So yes, we’ll go out to dinner and have cake and all that stuff, but I’d like to do something to remind Dad of those special moments that will stay with me forever. The way he would tell us bedtime stories and pretend to make us a “malted” by going through all the steps in creating this ice cream treat and then shaking the bed to imitate the electric mixer. The time he granted my birthday wish (age 8) by driving me from our home in the suburbs into midtown Manhattan to visit the big 42nd Street library (I was a nerd even then). The time he rescued me, a neophyte driver, in an ice storm, somehow knowing that my rickety old car wouldn’t make it up West Clarkstown hill without an expert coaxing and swerving in first gear. All those late night walks to the beach followed by pizza slices at Vocatura’s. The way he’d hug me so hard when I was going to through a very, very bad time.
Then again, I don’t want to make us all cry. Perhaps my sisters and I should inject some humor into the situation by writing and performing a little skit or song in my father’s honor. That could be difficult, though, as I doubt that I’d get much cooperation. I barely hear from one sister and I haven’t spoken to the other in about four or five years. I don’t hold it against them; it’s just that we have very different lives. All of us being together is going to be awkward as it is.
Once I start telling stories, I know my father will bring out some of his own. Like how he used to carry me up four flights of stairs to our apartment in the Bronx. Or how, at the age of five, he took me on a ride in a simulated car at the World’s Fair and I started crying because I wasn’t old enough to drive. Or how he wandered around in his car looking for me when I was ten years old and decided to try to walk to New Jersey without bothering to tell anyone. (He found me.)
When you’ve been close to someone all your life, it’s amazing to discover that time and distance have no effect on how deeply they live within your soul.
My mother says that my father is getting old and crotchety these days. But I don’t think he’s changed that much. He still gets frustrated and directs some choice four-letters toward inanimate objects, commercials on TV, other drivers on the road, and sometimes, my mother. Sounds like the same old Dad that I know.
So now I have to figure out what to buy my father for a present. I mean, what do you get for a man who has turned eighty? When my grandfather was in his eighties, we used to buy him a bottle of whiskey for his birthday. But my father rarely drinks, aside for an occasional beer. Clothes are always tough to buy for him. He prefers wearing his old shirts and shorts, even after they’re stained and have sprung holes that could double as emergency exits. Books or videos are always possibilities, but I’d be hard pressed to find just the right one. I suppose there is always the old standby of a gift certificate. Lame, I know.
My dad loves the Internet, to which we introduced him several years ago. He is not a very social person, but loves to do research online and to peruse, in solitude, websites about old cars. Maybe we should buy him an iPhone, download the New York Times top headlines and show him how to play Words With Friends with us.
Meanwhile, my mother is just concerned about what to feed everyone who will converge upon her house. I don’t eat meat, my wife doesn’t eat seafood, one of my sisters is gluten-free and the other drinks soy milk, likes wine and most of the time doesn’t eat anything on account of her gastric bypass.
Don’t worry, Mom, it’ll all work out. And don’t forget, next year it’s your turn.