My dad would have turned 65 this week. When he was in the nursing home, he planned his 60th birthday party as a way to demonstrate and remember his strength to fight the cancer. But he died 6 months before, making that March 5 and the ones after it just as emotional as holidays. Birthdays are personal holidays, after all. So I took his first few personal holidays off from work, as a way to celebrate him and give me some only child time to acknowledge my feelings. Then time started to heal me in a way that almost made me feel guilty. Having learned my lesson that people in my life would never magically know what day it was, I prepped the important people ahead of time last year. I bought cheesecake (though, despite his specific taste, skipped the cherry topping) and planned a night in with my best friend and the man. But the tears didn’t come. Was that wrong?, I wondered.
March 5 was a busy day this year, and I worried that I wasn’t taking the time for my breakdown. But again, just a few I miss you tears were there. And that’s ok. I spent my run reflecting on my dad’s influence on my childhood and which aspects I want to pass onto my children.
My dad had all these jokes and stories that he told my cousins and me for years. The longest running was that my nanny rode a Harley before we were born and had a giant tattoo that said Born to Party (that’s why she always dresses in those proper high necked dresses to cover it, kids). It drove her crazy, particularly when birthday cake after birthday cake was decorated with motorcycles…possibly just to get a giggle out of the 5- to 10-year-olds in the room. I don’t think I knew how silly he was at the time.
I want my future children’s lives to be full of laughs. But, also, I want them to learn when a joke is funny and when it is mean. I want them to be able to take good-humored crap from people and be able to give it right back. Basically, the world should be as light and silly as possible through their eyes, which means that the man and I will need to reflect that through our words and actions, and especially our laughter.
Pride without the pressure
I wore my first Harvard University shirt before I could walk. Already it was a done deal in his mind. I was smart enough to go there. He wanted to know if I was being challenged enough in elementary school because I could do my homework so quickly. Clearly it was because I was smarter than the rest of the kids and not because we were assigned little amounts of homework to match our little amounts of focus. Of course, I was taking honors and advanced placement courses in high school. He reminded me once or twice that I could transfer to a private school, if I wanted. But he didn’t push. Never, ever did I HAVE to overachieve. I went to public schools straight through college and my dad was proud. He probably would have been proud if I dropped out because he had the confidence in me that I would do the right thing for me.
That’s it right there. My kids need to know that the world is their’s to explore. They should never be afraid to try. Nothing is out of reach. And they should never question whether we believe in them and will support them.
Non-judgment and encouragement
MEGHAN KATHLEEN! My dad would try to scold me, but it always came out in more of a surprised way. This may have a lot to do with the fact that I lived with my mom, so what he heard was often secondhand…it also may have a lot to do with the fact that I rarely got into real trouble. But I’d tell him when I did or when I did something ridiculous, like tell my freshmen homeroom teacher that I needed my own locker for the year because I was an only child who didn’t know how to share. MEGHAN KATHLEEN! It would come out like You did whaaaaat?! and was usually followed by, “You’re something else!” and eye rolls.
This may not sound like a-game parenting to some people, but to the daughter in this scenario, I took away one loud message: I could keep being ‘me’ and I shouldn’t be afraid to embrace my instincts.
Whenever my children arrive, I know these thoughts will be in my head and the love I received from my dad will be passed onto them. They will hear stories of their silly grandfather, who would probably start a dirty sock fight with them if he were around. And, despite how clean and healthy their little diets will be, they’ll probably get to eat cake on most March 5s.