Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Birthday miss (a fiction)

      My dad doesn't know my birthday.

     When I was eighteen I moved out of my parents' house. On each successive birthday my mom would call, usually after dinner, and we would chat about my day and my plans for the night. She would eventually hand the phone to my dad, who would say, "Happy birthday, darling!" We would go one additional round before hanging up.
     I didn't think twice about that order of operations, it was the birthday routine. That changed when my parents separated and then divorced.
    The first year after the divorce, Dad forgot my birthday. I thought, oh, he's really torn up and in pain. I'll give him a call. I did. Our conversation was focused on him, his new girlfriend, new living arrangements, and new life. At the end of the call he thanked me for checking in with him. It made me feel good. It only occurred to me later that he still hadn't remembered my birthday. I asked my siblings, "Did Dad remember your birthday this year?" They all said, "Yes!" like it was a sacrilege to have asked.
      Huh. Okay.
     Over the next eight years, Dad either forgot my birthday or assigned it a new date. He would call a month before, "Happy birthday, darling," or three months after, "Happy birthday, darling." It was as if my birthday were attached to his winter sense memory and rounding it up to the season was normal. Now everyone in the family noticed. I talked with him about it. My siblings talked with him about it. Dad made excuses. He said, maybe it was because I was the youngest, or because my birthday is so close to Christmas and other dates, or because he was just getting old. In the end he said he would do better. 
      I asked my mom if Dad used to know when I was born. "Was he even there?" I asked.
     "Oh, he was there," she said as though she wished he had not been. She huffed into the phone. "I can't explain your father's oddities, honey. What I can tell you is he hasn't remembered your birthday for a long time. It was that way well before the divorce." She offered no further explanation.
     Huh. Okay.

     The next year I married a thoughtful man named David, whose birthday is in October. Dad started sending David on-time birthday cards with a check for $100. And then he started including a second check in the card for $50 which read: For Sylvie's birthday.
     I called Dad the second year it happened and asked him, "What the fuck?"
     He laughed and said, "Oh geez. I'm sorry, honey. I must not have been paying attention to the amount. I'll get it right one of these times."
     I said, "It's not about the money, Dad! You've been forgetting my birthday for years and now you're lumping it in with David's? Is it ignorance or a deliberate slight? I'm starting to hate my birthday because of you." He was silent in a way that let me know he was hurt and pouting. I softened and said, "Why can't you just put it on the calendar?"
     "You're right. I'll put it on the calendar. And I'll ask your brother to call and remind me."
     "Dad, why do you only forget my birthday?" I felt defeated asking this question.
     "Oh, I don't know, darling. We've been over this. It's so close to other important dates..."
     I still think that was the worst answer possible.
    Dad and I have not talked about his inability to remember my birthday since that conversation, but he still doesn't remember. My uncle's close birthday has been his excuse for the last three years.

    My birthday is next week. So it was no surprise when Dad called today to wish me a happy birthday.
     He said, "Happy birthday, darling!"
     I said, "Hi, Dad. My birthday is next week."
    "Oh, geez. Today must be your uncle's birthday. I always think of his birthday. You know, he was so important to me."
     "Yeah, Dad. I know."
    "Ha ha ha. You know what I mean. I guess I need to change your birthday in my calendar app."
     "Yeah. I think you said that last year."
    "You're probably right. I'll do it right after I get off the phone with you." He laughed again. It sounds embarrassed and uneasy to me. The laugh petered out and he said, "Well, it's really cold up here and the wind is blowing. It's probably good for the skiers because ... " I stopped listening. After the weather report he asked me about my birthday plans.
     I said, "I don't know what we're doing yet, Dad. It's next week. Thanks for the call, but I gotta go."

    I'm not angry that he doesn't know my birthday. I'm not even curious to know why anymore. My feelings are at a distance, just out of reach. That's what I think about when I think of my birthday.

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