It started early yesterday, the beginning of my 41st year.
At the breakfast table, Violet slurped a slurp of her oatmeal/dropped her spoon down onto the bowl/and blurted it out.
“Happy Birfday, Daddeeee!”
It’s such a simple phrase, isn’t it? It’s Plain Jane in a million ways and the older we get, well, the less it usually shoots skyrockets off into our jaded night skies. This one though, this one was different.
Hearing your kids say anything is pretty cool. The first time they say the word “carrot” or “hippo,” the rest of the world doesn’t give a clam’s ass, but for a mom or dad, I can pretty much tell you that it’s the exact equivalent of finding mid-level money on the ground. Like a fifty or something; not enough to make your life, but damn sure enough to make your day and maybe an hour or two tomorrow as well.
“Happy Birfday, Daddeeeeee!” the words pinged off of the walls and jabbed into my heart. Oh, sweet mercy. What a thing to live to hear, you know?
Henry, his fingertips living in a shallow swamp of supermarket pancake syrup, he wasn’t missing the bus on this one. He’s only pushing 2, while Violet flirts with 4, and because he has her to emulate and imitate, because he has her exact words to confiscate, the dude let some half-chewed flapjack just spill from his mouth as if that’s how it’s done and squealed his copy-cat greeting in the same squealy pitch of a horny mountain cat.
“Dappppppppe Firfdeeeeee, Daddeeeeee!,” he shouted.
I met Violet’s eyes and she was glaring at me over the high rim of her pink chocolate milk cup.
“Thank you, mama!” I told her.
“Thank you, buddy!” I told Henry.
They both smiled, their missions a success. They had, for the first time in their lives and mine, wished me a happy birthday. I thought of all the dads that were never lucky enough to have that happen. And all the guys who wish they could hear it, but for whatever reasons, thousands of miles of ocean or thick steel bars or broken pride or pathetic abandonment, they just can’t.
And I knew right there, as I let the sugar slide off of my spoon into my coffee, that I had won somehow. I had crossed another line plenty of fellows will never cross.
The kids got that first taste of satisfaction and you’re goddamn right if you figure they wanted some more. They wished me happy birthday at least 3oo times throughout the course of the day. But I dug each one and let them know it.
This morning though, when they started in again, I didn’t want to take more than my share, you know? I didn’t want to be a birthday hog. I told them, “Merry Christmas, you guys!”
They were slow to pick it up but they caught on.
And now there’s a new mantra hanging in the air, making spirits bright.
You can also find Serge on his personal blog, Thunder Pie.
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