Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Happy my birthday to you, Mom and Dad

Mark 10:13-16 (NIV)

People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.
It is my birthday, and in Chicago sports jersey parlance I’m trading in my Peanut Tillman for a Walter Payton, my Scottie Pippen for a Kerry Wood. Next year I think I get to be Neal Anderson or Frank Thomas, and with respect to the first-ballot Hall-of-Famer, I think I’ll choose to identify with the Bears running back. And yes, I’m hoping to one day be a Patrick Kane, Dennis Rodman or Dan Hampton.

OK, he's no Walter Payton, but still one of my all-time favorites.
But that’s enough about me. Because the older I get (or, more accurately, the more children I have), the more I realize my birthday isn’t about me. After all, I didn’t actually do anything but stay alive another 365 days. I wrote about turning 33 last year, and I wrote a newspaper column the year I turned 30. But with each passing year, and each extra mouth to feed around here, I am ever more convinced that my birthday should be about the people who made me happen.

As a father of three and counting, I certainly realize dads have a role here. But as the husband of a woman toughing out her fourth pregnancy (and being thankful every day for what must be the mildest Illinois summer of our lifetime), my birthday and the days leading up to it simply fill me with gratitude for my own mother and the sacrifices she has made, and continues to make, to not only give me life but to continue to enrich my very existence.

We celebrated my mom’s 60th birthday during our family vacation in early July. To me it was a bittersweet occasion because it evoked memories of the huge family gathering in 1989 in Connecticut on occasion of my grandmother’s 60th. Present then was her mother as well, though neither of them were alive ten years later. I am sure my mom expected, or at least hoped, to have her mother around to wish her a happy 60th. As it turned out, she was gone before my mom turned 45.

I bring this up because the only thing I really want to do on my birthday anymore is make sure I get to see my parents. Since I work at their house, this usually requires no extra effort on my part. But that doesn’t make it any less special. I’m not saying it should be a law for every child to see their parents in person on their birthday, but I speak from experience when I report a parent’s mind on a child’s birthday is more or less firmly planted in memories of the labor and delivery room. I know my oldest is only nine, but I don’t see why or how this reality would do anything but intensify with time.

With that said, today was fairly average for me. Went to work, came home, ran errands with two of the boys for about three hours, washed dishes, ran the laundry machine nonstop… none of it was remotely exciting or even outside the ordinary Tuesday. But all of it was emblematic of the elements of everyday fatherhood that I absolutely relish. After all, I can think of no better way to thank my parents for everything they gave me than to try to give just as much, if not more, to their grandchildren.

My parents did not raise me specifically to be a father, at least not the way one grooms a young athlete or musician. But the values, opinions and world view they helped shape in some ways could only result in me wanting to be not jut a husband and father, but the best version of those I could hope to be. They did not hinder me, and when my mind settles and I have time to think about such things, I earnestly hope I am rewarding them for all their hard work.

It’s not my place to say my parents were any better than anyone else’s, but they certainly seemed suited for my needs. I consider myself lucky to be born into their family and to still have them as such key players in my life. My upbringing gave me an appreciation for my in-laws as well, and I truly feel our children are growing up surrounded by love. That is no accident.

So thanks Mom, thanks Dad. Happy my birthday to you, because without you there is no me. I love you guys in ways I’m sure you understand, and also in ways I’ll never be able to explain.

A prayer for August 13:

Lord, thank you for my life. Thank you for my parents, for my wife and for my children. There is so much to be thankful for not just with each passing year, but each day I wake and get to enjoy your creation. And to think about what lies beyond this life is too wonderful to imagine. Even so, I am perfectly content here and now with the people I love and the way our relationships are a tiny window into the love you have for us. Thank you again for the blessings too many to count. I am not worthy, but I am ever grateful. Amen.

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