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Max Roytenberg


posted January 17, 2019

What About Birthdays?


Some people hate birthdays. They don’t want to hear about them. They refuse to tell you their age, or even discuss such matters. What’s that about? Other people are different about such things. I am one of those.


When we were kids, birthdays were all about celebrations. There was the cake, the gaudier the better. And the presents! Didn’t we look forward to all that? There was all that fuss about getting friends to attend. And even hard feelings if someone you thought was a friend didn’t attend. Parents got into it and it could get all political. The ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ raised its ugly head and your party had to be as spectacular ans those of your friends. I remember once we had a small pony to ride at a birthday. Some kids had a clown come to entertain the kids at their party. When we were teens, they were just an excuse for a dance party, with all the too-ing and fro-ing between girls and boys. And getting money from the relatives so we could add to the bank account for college was a very serious business.


In our parenting years it was more about the kids. Birthdays, if they were marked at all, were something quiet between parental partners. A least, that’s the way it was for me. All those many years seemed to pass with hardly any notice being taken. There had to be a special something between the partners for fuss to be made on birthday occasions. Many years of our lives went by with no conscious notice taken to the passage of time. All of a sudden we were at twenty-year anniversaries. Pity! On the other hand, there is a lot to be said to marking occasions with some ceremony. There were a lot of occasions we missed that should have been celebrated. Too bad about that as I look back. Maybe things were better for you.


I find things are so much different for me these days. I try to linger consciously on the special events in our lives, the birthdays and other occasions as well. Like when we do yoga, we really concentrate on feeling the now, our presence in the instant. Birthdays are great occasions for that. We track the dates. We send out notices to those who may have the faintest of interest. I send out blind messages to all and sundry alerting them to the occasion, so they can jump on the computer, the telephone, or any other communication vehicle. They can pretend that they have known about the matter all along, so the object of the interest will feel really appreciated. It helps draw all of us closer together, re-invigorating our ties.


If we can be present for the birthday, that takes the cake. Don’t we feel good when somebody makes a fuss over us, doing something that we wouldn’t think of doing for ourselves? After all, we always think of others. We would feel too self-absorbed, even conceited, to make a fuss about ourselves. It’s so much nicer when somebody else goes to the trouble of making a fuss about us. Doesn’t that make us feel great! It does that for me.


Know a secret? I’m no longer shy about that stuff. I am totally obnoxious. I had a birthday when I was seventy-five and invited everybody I could think of, especially those I really wanted to see. And I made them travel, hundreds, even thousands, of miles to come attend my birthday. Of course, I insisted I wanted no other present than their presence. (And I graciously accepted gifts from those who ignored my request.) All the cards and letters I received were great. And one of my daughters assembled a book of my poems, with pictures, and comments, that is among my treasures today. I held it in my old hometown, thousands of miles from where I lived. I went to a place there where they had a chocolate fountain for the kids. It was great to see all those chocolatey faces. And my son-in-law stepped in and picked up the tab. Wow! What a gift! Yes, I remember, and am grateful. I would have been very happy to pick up the bill just the same, but it makes one feel so appreciated. It was an orgy of self-satisfaction. Aren’t I a brat! I know that. My Bride reminds me I am all the time.


I did the same thing for my eightieth in Dublin where my Bride and I were living at the time.  I knew then that we would be leaving to come back to Canada. It was a great occasion to invite a few thousand of my favourite people to say goodbye. A couple of my kids even came across the big water to be there. It was another indulgence to my ego and I enjoyed it thoroughly. We only live once, right? We have to celebrate survival. We may not be around too much longer to do it.


So I believe in indulging in all the things now that I never gave a thought to during the years I was slugging it out, making my way through the lifetimes we all live. We are too busy during those years putting one foot in front of the other. We did things the quickest way, the most economical way. No time or thought given to things that might distract us from the mission at hand. We shrugged off the sentimentality we might have felt that might weaken our resolve to forge ahead through what might be some tough times. We surrendered a lot of what might have been very good times. We remember the few times when we might have weakened, and they are some of the best of our memories.


These days I make a great fuss about every birthday even if it’s yours!

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