As my birthday rolls around one more time I thought I’d share this piece I originally wrote for Huffington Post.
Suddenly the lights go out, causing a frisson of excitement to run through the air and down your spine. Next, by pure magic, a flame flickers into existence. This spark warmly illuminates the faces of a gaggle of friends and family, whose grins are only bettered by your own. Then, just as suddenly, the drone of ’Happy Birthday to you…” begins, but nobody cares about the singing. Why? Because we’re all imagining how good the cake will taste.
That’s how it used to be, every year (like clockwork) your birthday would come around and for 24 hours you’d be at the centre of everyone’s attention. A little moment in the spotlight.
As a kid, birthdays were everything. They were better than Christmas, mainly because you didn’t have to share top billing with anyone – the stuff of dreams. I remember looking to my parents, confused to see that they didn’t share this enthusiasm for their own birthdays. Why wasn’t it something they lived for? Why didn’t they count down the days, for months, eager to breath that unique birthday air?
Today, as a parent myself, the mystery has been solved.
Suddenly a cry rings out, causing a shudder of tiredness to run up your spine and take root in the bags under your eyes. Next, probably by magic, your feet find the floor and you question your existence. The door opens and a night light illuminates the face of a crying toddler, you smile broadly – pushing back your own desire to cry. Then, tot in arms, you collapse into the chair and break into a droning “Incy Wincy Spider…” as you look at the clock. It’s 3 am. But the tot doesn’t care about the time. Why? You get your answer as the full flavour of the nappy he’s just filled wafts towards you. Happy Birthday.
From the moment a baby arrives, birthdays (for the dads in the family) change forever.
Here’s my Out of Depth Dad guide to what to expect from every 365th day of your life:
- Lots of hugs When you’re a daddy, hugs from your little ones become the new currency. So expect a lot of them on your birthday. Unlike some of the presents you may have been used to in the past, hugs don’t make you look smart or get you drunk. They do, however, have the ‘lovely’ effect of leaving little snot stains on your clothes.
- It’s another day It’s important to remember that, although it’s your birthday, the machine needs to keep on working. It can’t stop. Washing needs to be done, food needs be cooked, nappies need to be changed and kids need to be occupied. You don’t get a day off for good behaviour. Your tots aren’t a little bit easier to deal with because it’s your birthday. In fact, there’s a high likelihood that they’ll be more demanding than usual. Coughs, colds, the bubonic plague, your birthday is likely to be the day your young ’un gets them. That’s life.
- Hang up the hangover Alcohol, for many of us, is a hugely important part of birthday celebrations. This may be something you’d like to reconsider now there’s a tot (or two) on the scene. As enjoyable as a few bevvies with your mates down the pub (assuming you have time to go) – they will never be worth the utter nightmare that is dealing with a toddler when you have a hangover. If there is a Hell, I’m certain a special corner of it will be filled with hungover residents trying to placate irate two-year-olds with Postman Pat videos.
- Cake is for kids When you’re a dad, the concept of ‘your’ changes. Let me put this more clearly. Items may well be tagged with the word ‘Daddy’s’ in order to give them a title (‘Daddy’s Phone’, ‘Daddy’s Shoes’, ‘Daddy’s Coat’) but the name isn’t entirely correct. All of these items do belong to daddy, unless the tot wants them. The same goes for cake – birthday or otherwise. Notionally it’s ‘Daddy’s Cake’, however unveiling the cake is a show put on for the tot, who will (no doubt) maul it with grubby hands.
- Moving from presents to gifts Presents are something we all like to receive, of that’s there’s no doubt. There comes a’ time, however, when receiving the latest stereo, DVD or He-Man action figure no longer holds the thrill it once did (Or perhaps we’re no allowed to admit to this). So ‘presents’ disappear and are replaced by ‘gifts’. Ties, socks and shirts become the perfect ‘Daddy’ gifts. This movement from ‘presents’ to ‘gifts’ can be seen in the following way: if you undo the wrapping paper, then excitedly open a box shouting ‘Wow!’, it’s a present. If you lay it flat, saying ’That’s lovely, it’ll go with TBC”, it’s a gift.
- Specs appeal Each birthday, as you rummage through your card(s), the increased need for spectacles (to the read the messages written within) underlines the aging process. The addition of the word ‘Daddy’ makes you at least a decade older than your actual age implies. If you can’t find your specs to look at the cards you’ve truly aged. If you can’t see the cards, even with the specs on, you either need a new prescription or new friends.
- Gorging on bacon rolls As the years go by, the need to mark your birthday with something selfish and unhealthy increases – it’s an important counterpoint to your life as a skivvy throughout the rest of the year. In the past cream cakes and import lager were the naughty treats of choice. These days a bacon roll (or a similarly cholesterol loaded food) is favourite. Greasy morsels, often eaten the day after your birthday, these breakfast indulgences are perfect to counteract the hangover you were far too responsible to get.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY ONE AND ALL!