Yesterday would have been my dad’s 88th birthday. But unlike my Mom who would celebrate her birthday for at least a week, I have very few memories of celebrating my dad’s birthday. I seem to recall when I was young, that most of the gifts my dad would receive would be practical items—new socks or a new white “preaching” shirt. And I can’t seem to remember a single birthday cake that was for my dad.
While this may seem sad to some, you would have to know my dad to understand that this probably was not the case, because my dad willingly put other people’s needs ahead of his. In fact, he spent his life as a Presbyterian minister serving others. And with the smallish salary he probably made, he put the needs of his family first. So when it came time to buying presents for my dad, the little money that was left went towards items that were needed rather than discretionary items that were wanted.
The one exception for my dad probably would have been fishing tackle. In his adult life, I think my dad went fishing almost every week—he certainly loved to fish—and whatever item would help him catch the big fish was probably on his wish list. However, on one occasion when my brother accompanied my dad, the boat overturned sending his tackle box with all his lures to the bottom of the lake. Fortunately neither of them was injured in the accident but Dad had to start all over again replacing his lost fishing gear. Maybe some of those replacements became birthday presents, a different kind of needed item.
Sadly I have but three birthday memories of my dad. The first was a story Dad wrote about when he turned four. For his birthday that year, Mama (his mother) had made him a blue and white sailor suit. Papa (his dad), promised to take him into town to show him off in his new suit. Unfortunately living on a rural farm without a car, the two of them waited all day long at the end of the drive for a ride into town that never materialized. I know this was very disappointing for my dad.
The second birthday memory I have is from when my dad turned 75, just two years after my mom died. When I learned that he would be spending the day without any family members around, I decided to drive over from Memphis to Hot Springs to take him out for a birthday lunch. I didn’t want this Dodranscentennial milestone to pass without at least some small celebration. As it turns out, I am so glad I did since it was his last birthday. He succumbed to cancer less than six months later.
My last memory is of the one birthday gift that I regularly gave my dad—a daily planner calendar. Just before his birthday each year, I would go over to Cokesbury to buy him the devotional calendar for the following year. It was a glossy, spiral bound planner with a colorful photo on one page and devotional passages for each day of the week on the opposite page. While after the first year, this was no longer a “surprise” present, it was one that he always appreciated and I know he used everyday. In fact, my sister still has all of them, chronicling his daily events for the last few years of his life, just awaiting our perusal.
So while it was my mom who taught me that your birthday was a cause for great celebration, it was my dad who taught me it was better to give than to receive. Although I had seen my dad live this way all his life, it was a compassionate message that came through loud and clear at his funeral in the kind words shared with me by those Dad had helped during their lives. So, thanks Dad for an all important life lesson, and Happy Birthday!