I have a few favorite men in my life.
One of them has only been on this earth for a little over a decade.
Another passed from this earth after more than eight decades.
Turns out, we honored the passing of the latter on the same day the former turned the ripe old age of eight.
Talk about an unhappy coincidence.
Each year since, my son has said, “I remember going to Papa’s funeral on this day.” It’s not exactly the way I want him to think of his birthday.
It has made the day bittersweet for me also.
I remember giving my father’s memoriam from the church pulpit. I struggled with tears, of course. But as I looked into the pews, there my youngest sat. In his best suit, hair combed, looking up at me wide-eyed.
And it hit me. The changing of the guard.
I was now all that was left of the old vanguard for him. If we were looking for wise ancients, it was me, baby.
I thought of all the sage advice I had been given to pass down.
Eat your veggies.
Take your vitamins.
Slow down, hon. Waaaay down.
Money isn’t everything.
When we have each other, we have everything.
This is just the beginning of the folksy wisdom my father passed on to me.
When, just before he died, Dad learned of the reasons for my divorce and what was happening in my life, the folksy sounded less so to me. I do not know if it was because I was terrified of all of the immense changes in my life or if Dad just got more prescriptive.
Lean on your family. They are your rock.
Ask for help.
Know that I am always with you.
I watched my small son in that big church and felt, almost in a literal sense, the mantle being placed on my shoulders. It was now up to me to be the purveyor of folksy, but sage, counsel.
We had cake that day, at my father’s kitchen table. Sang the Happy Birthday song as it had been sung scores of times in years past for a multitude of family members.
One voice was missing. The one that usually added “and many more” to the end of the song in his best Al Jolson impression.
It is in the passing on of the precious bits—the love, the stories, the admonitions, the small cowlick that whorls at the back of my son’s head just like my father’s did—that we honor each other.
In that sense, bittersweet is ok. For now.
Because if I’m doing my job right, my tiny favorite man will have so much joy piled into his special day over the years that the bitter becomes a distant memory.
And only the sweet remains.