In the 2009 movie 500 Days of Summer, it begins with a narration by American voice actor Richard McGonagle. He wraps up the monologue by saying reassuringly, “This is a story of boy meets girl, but you should know upfront, this is not a love story.”
This blog is not a love story.
It’s exactly one week to my 44th birthday and I can’t help but reminisce a little as I sit quietly in my hotel room in a quaint little town east of Montreal, Quebec. When I was a kid, I never had a birthday party before. No wait…there was one. I was in preschool and my mom baked me a chocolate cake to share with my friends. I wanted frosting on it but she insisted on not having any for some unknown reason. I still have pictures of that morning at the Trout Lake Community Center, smiling joyfully with friends because it was my birthday. I was only 5 years old.
Since then, I’ve never had a birthday celebration growing up. Whenever March 11th rolled around, I would wait eagerly in anticipation for presents, surprises and a super big cake with white frosting wrapped around it and candles to blow out. But by the end of the day it would always end in disappointment because none of that happened. My father didn’t believe in giving presents whether it was Christmas or Birthdays. I only remember getting a quiet wish of “happy birthday” from him, but with no sign of affection or what I really wanted which were presents. My mom to some extent didn’t do much either. She used to work part time at a restaurant called the Baron’s Inn inside the Hudson’s Bay department store downtown. For a number of years she got me a gift card to eat there and a Little Rascals’ poster. Some years she would cook a great big meal and invite my aunts and uncles over, but I was always unclear whether it was for my birthday or just a random dinner gathering she wanted to have with her brothers and sisters. I recall there being cake on some occasions but we never officially celebrated March 11th. Other than that my birthdays came and went like a busboy at a restaurant.
Most years I remember even getting beatings by my dad, bullied by brother or yelled at and scolded. Screaming matches took place which ended in me slamming my bedroom door and locking myself in there until I felt safe to go out again. One year, I actually watched my dad give my uncle some cash to take me to Chuck E Cheese‘s on my birthday. It was an enjoyable few hours for sure, but it didn’t feel like it was for my birthday and it felt like a major inconvenience for my dad hence he needed to have someone else take me. My birthdays are honestly a bit of a haze maybe because I’m trying to tune them out, but the only thing I can remember is that my birthdays never equated to fond and lasting memories.
Growing up, my birthdays felt like a burden to others.
In my adult years, it wasn’t much different. The main difference was that I had a bit more of a say in what I wanted to do: some years a quiet dinner with my son, others alone and some years maybe a meal with my mom. When I was married, my wife decided to throw me a surprise party and invited about 10 of my friends. She planned and mapped it out carefully and coordinated a brunch at the nearby seafood restaurant that I liked. Somehow I managed to find out she was planning a surprise for me and instead of embracing it, I made a big fuss and insisted that I could not make it and needed to get a haircut. The poor woman tried her best to accommodate my needs and rescheduled with the restaurant and my friends accordingly. I eventually got into a big argument with her about how I explained I could not make it for brunch. Miraculously, we eventually managed to go but not without strife.
Years later my girlfriend back then wanted to bake me a cake from scratch with butter cream frosting and vanilla filling for my birthday. She delightfully explained that’s one of her loving gifts that she wanted to give me. I kept insisting and asking for a Black Forest Cake (which happens to be my favorite). We got into a huge argument and she insisted that a Black Forest Cake is not a birthday cake. We fiercely argued and I closed off by telling her not to bake me anything at all. As a result we didn’t speak to each other for days and I ended up going to the nearby supermarket to pick up my own Black Forest Cake to share.
Finally last year which was the tipping point of our relationship, we once again got into a big argument just before my birthday. We argued endlessly about love, life together and my abuse in our relationship when she finally shouted, “you do this EVERY time it’s your birthday! You start an argument about something! You need to take care of that!” – days after my 43rd birthday she packed up her belongings and moved out while I was away on a business trip. She called me when I returned to my half emptied apartment and said “…this is all your fault. I love you so much, but I can’t be with you..” – and that was the last I heard from her.
With the support from therapists along with a lot of dedication and commitment, I eventually realized and drew the connecting dots to my childhood days. At the time, I could not agree at all with my girlfriend’s statement but I eventually found some truth in it…I did need to take care of my inner relationship with my birthdays.
Growing up abused I did not see a whole lot of self-worth. It was amplified when my birthdays came along and family members reminded me that I’m not special enough or worth celebrating over. And because while growing up I experienced so many arguments and fights during my birthdays, as an adult I subconsciously saw March 11th as a chore and inconvenience to others and that I needed to ‘earn my right’ to have my birthday celebrated. Of course, my subconscious would never be satisfied which drove me into a state of anxiety and resulted in anger and abusive behavior. The first year I was dating my then girlfriend I happened to be out with my son for dinner. She and I texted and I told her it was my birthday. She gleefully wished me a happy birthday, but for some reason, I replied, “…shhh…don’t tell anyone!”
Clearly I did not feel worthy enough to be celebrated over.
Once I was able to connect the lines back to my childhood, I began to understand a bit more about my relationship with my birthdays. I’m slowly but surely reaching a few healthy conclusions: I am worth celebrating over and I don’t need to earn my way to a happy birthday. I am worth being reminded of the day I was born. And I am not an inconvenience to others when it comes to my birthday – my friends are more than happy to celebrate it with me.
Next Saturday I’m sharing my 44th birthday with many of my dearest friends along with my son at one of my favorite restaurants in town. I can’t wait to celebrate…