As I’m turning 35, I’m ready to come clean about something the people close to me know that I’ve denied for years. As much as I’ve tried to ignore its existence, I do in fact have a birthday. I have managed, with the help of countless others, to continue to survive for another year. There is a strong possibility that I will continue to do so going forward. It’s more of a habit than anything else at this point.
For my own anti-social reasons, I’ve spent decades trying to accomplish a goal that I’m now ready to accept is just impossible: removing all indicators that my birthday is on any particular day.
It might sound strange, but I’ve never understood the reasoning behind the acknowledgement of birthdays for adults. I always appreciate a kind, heartfelt word from friends (whether birthday-related or not). If you appreciate someone, I encourage you to tell them as often as you remember it. Probably more than once a year.
I have a singular co-worker that is aware of my birthday. Early in my role, I was asked to provide my birth date to this person and I regrettably release this information out into the wild. I thought it was to be used for Human Resource purposes.
I was mistaken.
Now, every year about this time I look up from my desk to find the presence of this 3/4th stranger 1/4th co-worker as they look at me, eyes wide with a bewildering level of excitement, uttering the words “Happy Birthday!”
Considering that this person has a calendar of almost everyone in the office’s birthday, I don’t feel overly special that they point this out to me. It feels about as distinct to me as the Happy Birthday email I get from the local oil change service offering me a free brake lamp diagnostic if I come in this month.
I would say that I prefer the email from the oil change service. Mostly because there isn’t a mechanic standing in front of me right now expecting me to make a gracious acknowledgement of what they’ve just said.
Heaven help me, I loathe being the wet blanket who has to answer the inevitable follow-up: “are you doing anything special?”
“Hopefully not,” I want to say, but instead I have to fight between what is socially acceptable and what is honest.
(Just to be clear, oil change service, I know that you’re only offering me a free brake lamp diagnostic because you’re hoping one of them is busted and you want to sell me brake lamps, so don’t think you’ve pulled one over on me).
If you’re judging me right now for being a jerk, I can understand that. I’m working on it. People who get excited about birthdays genuinely do not comprehend the people who want to be chill about it.
Maybe that’s it. Maybe I just selfishly wanted to celebrate my birthday in the way that I wanted and the efforts to raise the excitement level were perceived as an invasion on that.
An elder at our church looked at me like I was crazy when I asked if there was any way to remove my birthday from the directory. Our congregation even publishes a monthly calendar with all the birthdays and anniversaries, so they were really pushing me in a direction I’d prefer not to go.
“You’ll have to talk with Diane about that” he said, visibly confused as to why anyone would have such a preference.
I was expecting a similar reaction from Diane as I explained the situation to her.
“You can DO that?” she asked, “can you help me remove mine too?” I was relieved to find a compatriot.
Several years ago, my wife, who is the Leslie Knope to my Ron Swanson, was trying to get me to give up this foolishness. She let me know that my birthday-related protests were leading to a growing circle of people that thought I was worried about people finding out how old I am.
“It’s cool. Tell them I’m in my 40s” I said.
She was not amused.
One time in college, the people who report to love me threw me a surprise party. The alleged friend that was responsible for delivering me to the party must have predicted how I would react as I opened the door to my parent’s house. Before the shout of “surprise” had died down, I found myself being pushed through the door I was halfway through closing again.
He had lured me here on the false pretense that we were just picking up my brother on the way to see Shanghai Knights. He betrayed me the way Lord Rathbone betrayed the Queen of England, but this time there were no Jackie Chans or Owen Wilsons to stop him.
Eventually we saw the movie. I definitely preferred the movie.
While my level of excitement about movies has stayed about the same, I’ve grown a lot since then on the birthday issue. Fourteen years of marriage have helped me to let my guard down and let people in. I acknowledge now that maybe it wasn’t the nicest thing to refuse to accept the kindness of others unless they did it on my terms.
The people who have done the most work in knocking some sense into me are my kids. They are the only ones who I just can’t correct when they jump up and down with excitement at the news that it’s my birthday. Their adorableness is palpable and I never want to be the one to slow them down from looking at the world with positivity.
So what does this change mean? From a practical standpoint probably not much. I’m not planning on putting my birthday back in the church directory, but I’ll at least curb the habit of temporarily hiding my birthday info on social media sites every February.
If I can be the Lorax for the Differently Birthday Inclined, I would offer one piece of advice. If you encounter someone who isn’t crazy about celebrating their birthday, try your best to wish them a happy birthday in way that doesn’t require a reaction or acknowledgement more than a “thank you” or a social media Like. The simple statement that you appreciate them and a quick explanation of why can go a long way.
With that being said, I appreciate that you’ve taken the time to read my thoughts on this subject. It means a lot to me. I would also like to take this moment to point out that while I am now more okay with birthday wishes, I will never like surprise parties.
If you are a person who wished me happy birthday this year and you’re wondering if I appreciated it: the answer is yes. Thank you for taking the time. Happy birthday to you too.
A wise man once said “I am not being weird. This is what I’m like.”
Thanks for reading. Keep it real.