We all have birthdays, and for most of us that’s a good thing, considering the alternative.
Still, birthdays force a certain reckoning upon us.
And remembrances of people in our lives, past and present.
There are two main waves of birthdays in my personal history, one at the end of June/early July, and the second in August/early September. I’ve offered my [unsubstantiated] claim before that the highest incidence of birthdays in the calendar year, at least in the northern hemisphere, is August (and maybe spilling into September). The thesis was that with the increasing short days of approaching winter, accelerated by Standard Time, long dark evenings meant earlier bedtime, even if the bed-goers weren’t especially sleepy, merely bored. This may be more the case for my parents’ generation than now, before tv and video games, but you get my point. (And of you don’t get my point just get out a calendar and start counting the months, or go ask your father.)
June (and early July) is marked by five birthdays in my family. My dad’s date is June 25. (Or do we say ‘was’? He may be 19 years dead now but his Birthday is still June 25 and I still mark it, if I remember.) His great-grandson, and namesake, William Jordan’s birthday is June 27. Dad never knew William (the 7th (at least)) as Dad died in 2002 and William VII was born in 2008. Great-granddaughter Madelyn was born June 30, 2002. Dad knew about Madelyn but never saw her; he was ‘confined’ in hospitals with c-difficile. Son-in-law Mike’s birthday is July 6 and granddaughter Erin 4 days later July 10.
The August contingent is more populated: my own birthday is the 27th. Marlene was born August 30 (I say ‘born’ so I can avoid the dilemma of ‘is’/’was’). Her father, George, was also August 27. (Now there’s the was word again; maybe it’s not a matter of past tense but merely subjunctive.) There are many others I know well whose birthday is August 28, but I forget who they are. My daughter-in-law’s birthday is September 1 and my second son-in-law’s birthday is September 13. See, there was a lot going on in the previous Novembers.
(My thesis holds even stronger when we consider my Filipino family – their birthdays are scattered throughout the year, which make sense since sundown comes around 6:30 pm twelve months of the year.)
Curiously, none of my own kids were born in either month, instead it’s February, December, and April. I guess Marlene was not relying on bed with me for entertainment in the Novembers of the 1970s, she preferred Masterpiece Theatre. Conception came on her own schedule.
Marlene rather liked birthdays, her own included, but she wasn’t especially effervescent about it. Not for her, ‘birthday week’. She liked modest celebration of her birthday but was not strange about it as I am/was. She revelled most in the fact that on my birthday she was now a year younger than I, for three days.
It’s not that I’m against birthdays, quite the contrary. I think it important to acknowledge milestones of family and friends, it’s a gentle way to remind them, and yourself, that these people are important parts of our lives. Furthermore, I think birthdays should be celebrated on the actual day, not commuted to some other day for convenience sake.
No, I don’t eschew acknowledging birthdays, merely my own. And everyone in the family knew it. I remember the year I turned 55 (2002), my annus horribilis. And I think I had good cause to make that claim. Not only did I turn 55 that year (should I be retiring? Remember ‘Freedom 55’?!?) and therefor I must be old, but that was also the year my dog (Spencer) died; and my dad died; and I become a grandfather. Not that being a grandfather was a bad thing – it wasn’t Madelyn’s fault – but it meant I was now sleeping with a grandmother. Well even that fiction needs to be corrected: I snored pretty heavily, apparently, though physical evidence was never presented, and had long been banished from Marlene’s bedroom.
To avoid family celebration of our birthdays, Marlene and I began to plan our travels to coincide with our birthdays in late August: in 2006 we were in Northern California; in 2007 in Gaspé et Charlevoix; in 2009 in Jersey (not New Jersey!) and Paris. But by 2012 the family began to conspire to celebrate Marlene and my 65th birthdays. Marlene was sent to feel me out, as it were, and I surprised everybody by agreeing, rather enthusiastically. Family and friends gathered in son Ryan’s backyard as gaiety and abandon ensued. I recall especially reading to the assembled guests, laughing uncontrollably throughout, George Carlin’s monologueabout the many symbolic milestones in the pantheon of birthdays: ‘turned 30, like bad milk, made it to 60!’
Birthdays aren’t the only milestones to be celebrated. Apparently countries have birthdays too, though as far as I can tell this only includes Canada. Every other real country has a national holiday: Independence Day, Bastille Day; even the Quebec ‘Nation’ calls its national day after its patron saint. The Philippines has half a dozen commemorative days and none of them are called Philippines Day. But in Canada, we have the eponymous ‘Canada Day’, which is awkward even to say. Celebrate our national day we should, but spare me the sophomoric exclamation ‘Happy Birthday Canada!’ Our national day should be acknowledged with dignity and respect. Bring back our Dominion Day I say.
I wonder if Canada minds celebrating the 154th anniversary of its Confederation (or a half hour later in Newfoundland). The date of its birth may be more illusive.
Or is it just me who gainsays birthdays?
Regardless, Happy Birthday today Madelyn. And may you all tomorrow have a pleasant Dominion Day, to remember the accomplishments of our forbears and to wish ourselves good fortune for an uncertain future.
Doug Jordan, reporting to you from Kanata Ontario
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 The Globe & Mail used to champion every year in an editorial, driven by Michael Valpy and William Thorsell, but last printed in 2004. The link is only good for subscribers though, so I give you this link to an article in the Huffington Post, oh the irony. Nevermind, here is anyway: On July 9, 1982, the House of Commons smuggled through a private member’s bill abolishing a 115-year-old piece of Canada’s heritage, with less than two minutes of debate. Their haste spoke volumes, however, of the legislation’s rationale: that the symbols of people are merely playthings. So was born Canada Day, a name of happy-face banality. To call ourselves a Dominion never was a statement of colonial servitude. It is a proud and beautiful name we chose for ourselves and gave to the world, drawn from the 72nd Psalm, “He shall have dominion from sea to sea,” whence also comes our national motto. Only those ignorant of poetry and history could fail to understand this. That is what is really at stake here: can we conceive of our nation in eternal now, not daring to imagine a greater future, not caring to remember a glorious past? Give us back our Dominion Day.