Monday, March 27, 2006

Happy Birthday, Dad

Today is my father's birthday. He would've been 62 years old, and I keep wanting to pick up the phone to wish him a Happy Birthday. I want to take him out for a birthday lunch or dinner.

Emotionally, as you might imagine, I feel like kind of a mess right now. Obviously, there's the grief and sadness. We miss him terribly, and still can't believe he's gone. I try to be there for my mother as best I can, but I know it's not the same. Most days, I wish I could do more for her.

For me, there's also anger. I thought that would've passed by now, but it hasn't. My father should've had at least another 10 years, if not 20. He and my mother should've been able to enjoy retirement and old age together. It just doesn't feel right. Or fair. He deserved more. He deserved better.

Every year, in the months leading up to his birthday, I'd often make a mental checklist of gift ideas for him. What was a book or CD that he'd find especially interesting? I haven't been doing that much mental shopping over the past 10 months, but this weekend, I walked around a bookstore and picked out what I might have gotten for him this year. It wasn't easy, mostly because I haven't had our usual phone conversations to draw ideas and inspiration from. So I mostly thumbed through the books and music that I thought he'd like, but also reminded me of him. I'm especially glad that no one asked me if I needed any help because I wouldn't have managed much of an answer.

My sister and I talked about what we should do for Dad's birthday, our first without him. What would capture his spirit? What would he want to do? And what might help us break up the sadness a bit, and get through the day?

Making a donation in my father's name seemed like the most important thing to do. He gave a lot of his time and money to causes and institutions he believed in. If I didn't already know that, the constant deluge of mail and phone calls asking for contributions is a reminder. (And to most of those organizations, I apologize. Maybe it'll be easier to deal with your requests next time around.)

We wanted to follow his example, so today, we're making a donation to WEMU, a radio station my father loved and supported for many, many years. He loved news, he loved the arts, and he loved jazz. WEMU celebrates each of those things, and if we can play a small part in keeping that going in my father's name, it's the least we can do.

The other thing we're going to do today might sound strange, but we think it really captures Dad's spirit. I'm going to a Coney Island for dinner tonight. Because if Dad could have one thing for his birthday, he'd want a hot dog. On many occasions, when we wanted to go out for a meal, we'd ask him what he wanted. Try that new Mexican joint? Feel like pizza? Hey, how about Thai? But if we left it up to him, Dad would chuckle, shrug his shoulders, maybe look down at the floor, and sheepishly say, "You know, I wouldn't mind going for a hot dog." And he knew my mother would roll her eyes and protest.

Sure, we'd take him out for better meals on his birthday. Italian food. Mediterranean food. Seafood. Or a thick, juicy London Broil, covered in mushrooms. But he always seemed happier just eating a hot dog. And if it were entirely up to him, that's probably what he'd have. So that's what I'm having today. Chili, mustard, onions - all of it. Lay it on me. I don't know what my sister will do, as the Coney Island hasn't exactly made its way down south. Surely, she can find a hot dog stand somewhere in Charleston. I'll try to help her out with Google.

I don't know if this is enough. Later, we'll probably think of other things we could've done, other donations we could've made. But it feels right today.

Happy Birthday, Dad. We miss you and we love you.