My birthday was Wednesday, June 1. At my age, and even though he comes knocking every morning, I won’t let the old man in. And as my friends remind me, I am now playing the back nine of an 18-hole golf course.
Even though they know my answer, each year my four adult children — Nikki, Brenna, and twins Sean and Aaron — ask, “Dad, what do you want for your birthday?” I have had the same response since they were old enough to ask. Over the years, “world peace and a cure for cancer” have been my hopeful birthday requests.
We lost their mom, Susie, to cancer eight years ago and our planet has been without peace for as long as my children and I have been alive. So, my same birthday wishes hold more relevance and are even more meaningful.
Little do they know that over the years, my children have already given Dad his unwrappable birthday presents with memories of them. Until they read this, my children have no idea I have chosen these memory presents to help me through my periods of sadness, loneliness and feeling melancholy.
More than 40 years ago, my wife Susie and I took our firstborn, Nikki, for her inaugural Disneyland trip. Nikki, who has always been our family’s self-proclaimed Disney Princess, was barely 1 year old.
Nikki was relatively too young to completely enjoy the wonder and astonishment of the entire Disneyland experience. This mattered little to Susie and me. We both knew there would be many trips to Disneyland with our Princess and any additional sisters or brothers with which God would eventually bless us.
No doubt our Princess was having fun on her fist visit to the happiest place on earth.
But it wasn’t until the evening when we watched the Main Street Electrical Parade that Susie and I saw Nikki’s excitement and wonderment burst wide open. Her baby stroller couldn’t contain her. Nikki flailed about and her outstretched arms pleaded to please pick her up. She wanted to see better and get a closer look at the half-million sparking lights, feel the magical pulse of the carnival-like sounds and join the seemingly endless parade of Disney characters coming to life on spectacular glowing floats.
When I picked her up from the stroller, I knew I would never forget the near-uncontrollable glee and wonderment in Nikki’s young eyes. And at that very second, I also knew one of my main responsibilities as a father was to fill her life with many more moments like this one. Over the years, I have tried to do the same with her sister and brothers.
It was Brenna’s first ride on her Strawberry Shortcake bicycle without training wheels. For our test run, we went to the track field at Leo G. Pauly Elementary School. Because she didn’t know quite how to use her brakes yet, she would slow down and cautiously stop her bicycle by gingerly crashing into a tether pole or slow dive into the track’s soft grass infield.
Our uninjured baby girl was slightly scratched and gently bruised but ecstatic the whole time. When I rushed to her aid, she shooed me away with a huge smile, got back on her bike, asked for my gentle push and was off and running for her next lesson on how to use her brakes.
Sean and Aaron
Sean and Aaron played for the Juliet Thorner Elementary School Thunderbolts Flag Football team. Aaron, the team quarterback, threw his first of many touchdown passes to his brother, Sean. I will remember forever that first brother-to-brother touchdown pass and what happened immediately after. As if in slow motion, Sean and Aaron ran to each other midfield to celebrate their touchdown. Their smiles and embrace gave shape and form to the language of a brotherly love I prayed would last their whole lives between them, their sisters and our big family.
Unforgettable. And so many more memory presents from my children. No need for birthday presents this year, kids. Your healthy presence is what I want and need most.
And of course, we all want and need a cure for cancer and world peace.