We recently celebrated my dad’s 88th birthday. It was a really small, casual gathering – basically just immediate family, with good food (deli and lots of pastrami and sour pickles), good conversation (about all our lives, and my kids’ upcoming moves and new adventures) and just a nice, relaxed little lunch.
My dad, who’s gotten more sentimental over the years, said he was just so happy to have everyone together and be surrounded by his family.
It was a great time and got me to reminiscing about when we celebrated my dad’s 70th birthday at a much bigger, fancier luncheon. What stands out for me wasn’t all the friends, family and fancy food. It’s about how that milestone in my dad’s life wound up being a turning point in our relationship, where I came to realize just what my dad and I have in common and what he means to me.
And it all started with a ‘writing assignment,’ as so many things do for me.
You see, my mom asked me to make a speech at the luncheon. And while I had no idea what I would say, I ‘let it go,’ focused on other things, went for a walk and, as usual, it just came to me, like magic. All pouring out to the point where you just want to get home and get to a laptop or piece of paper and pen.
I never delivered the speech (being painfully shy about public speaking at the time). But here’s what I wrote about my dad and me … and what he proudly shared with anyone who would read it. Eighteen years later, it still resonates for me and, I hope, him.
“There are three areas in my life that are very important to me and they are interests I share with, and have really acquired from, my dad.
“I love music and some of my fondest childhood memories have to do with the sound of the violin reverberating through our home. Actually, this is a more recent memory too, as I often hear my father practicing when I’m talking on the phone with my mother or visiting their home. I have a deep appreciation for most types of music and a special love of string instruments that I’m sure goes back to those days. The way my father plays the violin is also the thing that makes me most proud of him.
“I also love being outdoors, in nature. Growing up on Long Island, some of my most vivid memories are of going to Jones Beach, often and in all seasons. The most fun was going in the water, or just staring out at the ocean. I know this is one of my father’s favorite places to be, and just thinking about living near the water gives me great peace of mind. In fact, I know my dad and I are both truly moved when we’re in pristine natural environments.
“And, finally, I definitely feel my best – and most alive – when I’m active and athletic. As a child, I think now and then about how my dad, my brother and I would play a game in the backyard called ‘passer,’ ‘receiver,’ ‘blocker.’ To this day, I don’t know if my father made up the game, and/or the name, but it’s basically a very small-scale version of football. Whenever I’m out walking or shooting hoops or playing tennis, I think about how fortunate I am to get such a ‘high’ from such simple, physical activities.
“Basically, if I have the opportunity to run around outdoors – and if there’s music playing in the background to boot – I’m a happy camper. And I feel very lucky and happy to have that deep level of appreciation and strong emotional connection to these areas in my life.
“In closing, I just want to assuage any concerns any of you might have today that I was going to share my own, newly acquired musical ‘talents’ on the guitar. I’m sure my immediate family is secretly cheering, as they’ve had to listen to me struggling along for the last few months every single night with new notes and chords. At the same time, I like to think that maybe my children will grow up with their own appreciation of music and other things based on their childhood memories.
“I hope they’ll look back to their childhood fondly as they think about things like their mom strumming the guitar and playing the piano. I know I’m forever grateful to my parents for all the great areas they exposed me to and for the way these things have helped shape and enrich my life.”