On Birthdays

My eldest son was born just three hours before my own birthday. That was 12 years ago. Every time our birthdays roll around, he always becomes a bit contrite and kind of half-apologizes for screwing up my own big day. He thinks I might think that my birthday has become somewhat anti-climactic since he arrived on the scene just the day before. He’s right, of course. I’m much more excited about his birthday nowadays than my own, and certainly feel his birthday is something to celebrate, while mine is something to be, well, more or less endured. But I also always tell him that he was the best birthday present I ever got. And it’s true. Though the pair of Arcopedico slippers I got this year are pretty nice, too…

Birthdays are strange days. They were very important to me as a kid; in some ways, even more exciting than Christmas. Then for a time I didn’t take much interest in them. I was too young to regard them as important milestones and too old to get too worked up about them as events in themselves. It was not until I had kids myself that my interest in birthdays revived. It’s fun to arrange parties for your kids, and even more fun to see how much fun they have. This renewed engagement with birthdays happens to coincide with my entering that phase of middle age when the first signs that I am starting to get ‘old’ are appearing. One recent sign, both amusing and faintly perplexing, occured when my 12-year-old son (the same one who gatecrashed my birthday) called me on Saturday afternoon after his drama class to say that he would be home late because he was hanging out with a bunch of his friends. Wow, I thought, now I’m the father of a child who’s old enough to call me to say he’ll be late. What a concept.

This is a strange feeling because I don’t feel like I’ve aged enough to be the father of a 12-year-old. Gertrude Stein said it best when she wrote:

We are always the same age inside.

It’s true. No matter how much my hair grays and thins, no matter how many of my own birthdays roll around,
I don’t feel like I’ve grown any older inside. Wiser, yes. (Well, at least, I hope so.) More mature, certainly. Jaded, no, but definitely cynical. Yet not a day older than 24 or so, inside. I can see my kids transforming before my very eyes—growing from toddlers into little boys and girls and now pre-pubescents who telephone me to say they will be late. Despite all the evidence of change around me, though, I seem to observe it all from a steady interior age.

Why is that? Is it some sort of denial? I’m really getting old and decrepit and just don’t want to face it. Or is it some kind of illusion? The chronological equivalent of sitting in a moving train and feeling like it’s the landscape that’s flying past, not you. Or is that trite old saying true? You’re as young as you feel. I know what I’d like for my next birthday… More of the same.