Monday, November 19, 2012

His 40th Birthday. But Instead Of Over The Hill He's Under The Ground

Okay.  Tacky title.  Sorry.  I was trying to come up with something witty and I think I missed.

Another November 19th has come and gone.  For most of you, it's just another fall day spent at work or at home or dreading the family that's coming to visit you later this week for Thanksgiving.  But for our family, it was our 6th annual Daddy Day.

Otherwise known as my husband's birthday.

This year he would have turned 40 and for the past few weeks, I have been longing to have him here so that I could tease him about how old he looks and how he hit 40 four years before I did.  But that son-of-a-gun went and died on me which means that I'll hit 40 someday and he never will.

I can hear his laughter echoing in my head right now.

I invented Daddy Day 5 years ago (not 6 because I was in such a fog on that first birthday I could barely even pronounce "balloon" much less have it together enough to buy some and release them).  My husband's birthday was such a hurdle for me, the mere thought of it reducing me to a big, fat grieving puddle.  So I convinced myself and the kids that it was a day that should be celebrated and, being the toddlers that they were, they totally bought it.

It took me a few years of trying to get through Daddy Day, but I think I'm starting to buy it, too.

I haven't done many things right on this journey through the widdahood, but I'm pretty proud of how I've turned my husband's birthday around for the kids so that it's something they look forward to every year.  I take them out of school and we all play hooky, eat junk food and do whatever we want.  Daddy Day is much more exciting when it falls on a weekday because we all think we're doing something rebellious, but we enjoy it just as much on the weekend.

It's our day to be together and have fun no matter what.

For the first few years, Daddy Day was filled with misfires because I tried so hard to make things perfect, which is pretty much impossible with 3 small children.  But now that the kids are older, we can be more flexible with our plans and if something doesn't work out, they're no longer at the ages where they will sit on the floor of the movie theater and wail because Mommy got the movie times mixed up.

Yes, that's happened.  Twice, actually.

We did our usual this morning:  went to the movies and ate junk food and smiled at each other thinking about those poor suckers sitting in classrooms all over town while we cheered on Wreck-It Ralph.  And then we piled into the car and headed up to the mountains to "visit Daddy."

Ugh.  I hate even saying that.

All the way up there, I noticed these little cabins tucked into the trees, smoke pouring out of chimneys, and envisioned happy family scenes in each one.  I was jealous of all of those people who were breathing a sigh of relief that they might have the entire week off to spend with each other and I remembered days long ago when I would have been so excited for this week because my husband wouldn't be traveling.  I felt something hollow open up - almost like homesickness, very much like loneliness - and I wanted to turn the car around and abandon Daddy Day for Mom-Is-Going-To-Stay-Under-The-Covers-Day.

I always try and gauge how the kids are doing on days like this.  I don't like to pressure them into talking because they really may not have anything to say.  But I wonder what children who were 5,3, and 1 when their dad died and who were for the most part too young to truly understand what was happening at the time, think about now that they're old enough to articulate their feelings.

Do they miss him?  Is a milestone like this a big deal to them?  Has this affected them in a huge way or is our family as it is now just so normal to them that they don't think about it much?  Someday they might let me know.

I wondered the same questions the other day when we sat down to watch an old home movie.  My son had unearthed it in the depths of the storage room and put it in the VCR - I had no idea that we had it.  My heart stopped when I heard my husband's voice for the first time in 6 years and then my eyes wandered over to my kids, wondering what they were thinking.

My oldest stared at her 3-year-old self and laughed every now and then at what she was saying.  She watched her father pull her around on a sled and talk to her from behind the camera.  My son looked at himself as a newborn being held by a younger me and cuddled in a way he wouldn't allow now.

And my youngest?  The one who was too young to really remember him?  She sat there with a little smile on her face but I wondered how it felt to know that she got the least amount of time with him and that she wasn't on the video at all.

I caught her today when we were at the cemetery, having a quiet moment at her dad's headstone.  She didn't know I was watching her as she stacked rocks next to him as if wanting to leave something behind of herself that would keep him company.  She sat there and stared at the lettering on the rock until she caught me looking at her.  And then she giggled as if she had done something silly, raced up, and took my hand.

It wasn't until later, when we were sitting down to dinner, that she kind of let me in on what she was thinking.  I brought the kids to Country Buffet for the first time in their lives because it was a very "Daddy" kind of place, and I thought it would be fun for them to just go crazy and get what they wanted - I didn't care if they spent the entire time at the Dessert Bar - this was Daddy Day, dammit.

At that point, my daughter's eyes got wide and declared it a "food wonderland." 

Plate after plate of food came and went and then, while the two oldest were up getting food, I sat there with my 6-year-old daughter and she said with a mouth full of ice cream, "You know when daddy died?"

I watched her carefully.  "Yes?"

"That was a real heart-breaker, huh?"

You said it, kiddo.

Widow Chick (aka, Catherine Tidd) is the owner of and the author of the upcoming memoir Confessions of a Mediocre Widow (Jan. 2014).  She is also a writer for The Denver Post's Mile High Mamas and a contributor to several books on grief and renewal.


  1. Love your post. I love the idea of Daddy Day. For what it's worth, I think you are doing a great job with your kids. Thank you for all you do.
    Sue Gaff

  2. My husband Laddie's 65th birthday is Friday, Nov. 23, he has only been gone for 3 months but it seems like forever. Our family and friends here and in four other states are all releasing 65 balloons on Friday afternoon.
    Earlene Swaner, Lakewood, Co

  3. Your title is fine -- "fierce and ironic" ... that's what Clarence and I called lots of things about us. While I am your senior and without children by choice, I totally get this. We were too young for this at 58 and 61 (last birthday in the hospital), ready for our pretty darned well-planned retirements after putting each other through school, working ourselves silly and taking care of aging parents, and after great careers (yea us!!), we were on the home stretch as regards those careers. We lived a lot in those 38 years, but, considering our last outing was to see The Black Eyed Peas in February -- and with only time to digest a diagnosis and consider treatment, he was dead in three months ... like, Wha' Hoppened? That, whatever that was related to what this is, was two-plus years ago, and, while I can comfort the hell out of myself for being there throughout and until the end and him being as clear as can be and our just being the best pals and so there for each other and ... and .... this just sucks. So I get it, as I said. I'm sorry. I know it's hard, and then, so hard. And, I promise, that song, "A Cockeyed Optimist" was written with me in mind ... before I was born, that is ... but the irony of so many things really is stunning. Hope to meet up with you one day.

  4. And I'll get back to that blog one day -- the tenor has changed a bit. Cheers!

  5. Beautiful...absolutely beautiful. I have tears in my eyes remembering him. What a wonderful way to spend his birthday. Your kids will treasure "Daddy Days" forever!! You are an awesome mom!! Keep up the great work.
    Tonya Beatty