That picture above is me on the first day of chapter 37. We were months into the pandemic, but I was excited for the next chapter. I had no clue how hard this chapter would be. Before I get into all of that. Let me tell you all about what happened on the first day of chapter 37 last year.
Most years, my dad did NOT tell me happy birthday. He never understood the big fuss. He believed if you lived to see another year, you should be happy and keep it moving. When my dad turned 68, I campaigned for a YEAR to convince him to let me plan a 70th birthday party. When he turned 69, we spent another year negotiating the details of the party. It had to be on his terms. The party was great, and my dad admitted that he enjoyed himself, but his dislike for birthdays was rooted in growing up poor.
He told me he hated seeing his mom struggle financially to make the day special. When he was 10, he got a job and told his mom that she didn’t really need to do anything for his birthday anymore. Although he did share that she would at least bake a cake. My dad felt that birthdays aren’t really enjoyable because people are so focused on planning a party rather than being grateful for another year of life. I told my dad I appreciated the context but didn’t care. I told him, “I’m your daughter. You are supposed to say happy birthday.”
So most years he would NOT say happy birthday to me since I felt that he was obligated to do so because he was my dad. This turned into this low key stand off all of August to see if he would say it on the 30th day of the month.
August 2020, my birthday was on a Sunday. I visited my parents on Sunday most weeks. A week before my birthday, my dad asked me if I would harvest beets from his garden on the following Sunday.This man knew I had dinner plans at Ocean Prime on my birthday because my parents agreed to watch my boys while I was there. I was cute on my birthday last year. I had on white pants and some fancy sandals. After dinner, I went back to my parents’ house to pick up my boys.
My dad said, “Aren’t you supposed to harvest beets?” I put my hands on my hips in frustration, and my husband was over there on the side trying to be invisible. Then, I lifted up my foot to show my dad I didn’t have the right shoes on and my pants were white. Then he said, “You made a commitment.” This man KNEW I was not harvesting anything on my birthday. I said, “Really Dad!” Then he flashed that big grin, the one where you can see that one gold tooth he had in the back of his mouth.
Finally, I said, “Can’t you just say Happy Birthday?” (Yes, my husband was still trying to be invisible) Then, my dad said, “Happy Birthday, Shawnta!” I said, “Thanks and maybe you can say it unprompted next year.” He replied silently with that big grin.
This was our thing each August. Sometimes my dad would go more than one year without saying happy birthday to me just because it drove me nuts. He can’t say it tomorrow, and that has made me really sad because I’ll never know if he would have said it unprompted this year.
Chapter 37 is the last chapter where my dad was in the story. Although he died four months into my 37th year of life, he was still a part of it. Chapter 38 is the first chapter he is not in. I had not thought of my life without my dad. That might sound silly since if all goes the way we want, children will outlive their parents. I did not see a life for myself where my parents would not be here in my thirties. I am glad my mom is still here, but life is not the same.
The death of my dad was compounded by me needing to have a major surgery, dealing with a hostile work environment, and being involved in a legal matter which resulted in me having to sign a NDA. I have been crippled with anxiety and insomnia on some days and the one hype man that used to get me out of my funk is not here.
Goodbye 37 … it has been real … well, it’s Sunday, so I’ll keep that final thought to myself.