I have the best dad. I know many people say that about their dad, but I really do.
He is the kind of person who lights up a room with his smile or his hearty laugh—the kind that makes you start cracking up just by hearing it. His heart is made of solid gold, and he makes everyone feel like the most important person in the room. He exudes the kind of joy that radiates like sunshine beaming through the darkest storm. He loves everyone and everything. Especially his birthday.
And not just for the ordinary reasons people love their birthday—the cake, the extra messages of love, or the way their kids listen extra attentively for one day only, counting down the hours until they can go back to just being themselves.
At the heart of his birthday love, is the fact that we get to share our birthdays—only one day apart—with each other.
Since the day I was born, way back in the early 1970s, our celebrations have been intertwined together like the deep roots of a tree whose branches grow sturdy and true even when they grow in separate directions.
My earliest memories of our celebrations stay treasured in my heart, holding the deep magic of childhood. We would blow out candles together, following our special tradition of horseback riding and epic dance parties in the basement to 1950s classics spinning on the record player. Our special dinners together included our favorite Chicago beef sandwiches and Hostess cupcakes.
As time marched on and my childhood turned to adulthood, our in-person celebrations became more sparse but just as beautiful. Surprise parties. Starbucks Frappacinos. Long drives from across the miles to meet in Madison for a quick lunch and a birthday hug. And when we couldn’t celebrate together in person, we always found a way to talk over the phone, FaceTime, or Zoom. Always celebrating our birthdays. Not mine. Not his.
For a long time, I thought it was just really fun and special to have bookended birthdays with my dad. But now, I realize it’s so much more than that.
I can see it through his eyes now—the eyes of a parent. The way your world changes when your kids are born and the beauty that brims your heart with a love you didn’t even know existed before that day arrived. The kind of magic that makes you want to be better, do better, and live more fully, every moment, so that you don’t miss a thing.
So, if and when you decide to have kids and your kid’s birthday rolls in right before yours, it’s not just a gift. It’s some of your big dreams wrapped up in a tiny little blanket, tied up in a swaddle. It’s giving your whole self to this child, who made you a parent, who has just changed the trajectory of your life in ways that, at that moment, you could not possibly begin to know.
And as that kid, I can’t help but think how lucky I am that I was born a day apart from a man who I look up to more than I can ever describe in words. Someone who has dedicated his entire life to his family, and to love, and to sharing joy with everyone he encounters. Who has shared his special day with me for my almost five decades of struggles, and dreams, and heartbreak, and joy, and growth. All of those candles each year representing yet another tie that binds us together as parent and child, and now as aging friends as well.
This year, my dad has a very big birthday. The milestone of digits we all hope to reach and surpass. It will be a celebration in style, filled with all his favorite things and all his favorite people.
And I can’t wait to be there. Because even though it will be hard to fit all the candles on the cake, I know they will still be ours to blow out together as we bask in the glow of memories and wishes for the future.