My Father at 90 Reveals His Birthday Wish
May every one of us find the joy in our lives that he and my mother have found in theirs
Before my father blew out the candles today on his 90th birthday cake, he stood slowly at the end of the living room.
He did not have notes, but he clearly had thought about what he wanted to say.
Great-grandchildren played on the Oriental rug. My sister and I watched with anticipation, our kids gathered round. My mother sat on her scootie next to the big yellow cake’s bright candles. Uncle Bert, 92, the widower of Mom’s sister Edna, sat next to Dad on the divan.
“I want to thank you all for coming to my birthday party,” my father said after we had sung “Happy Birthday” as Marie paraded his cake into the room.
Ninety happy years. The first 25 years I fell in love with Lois, and we created a wonderful family. In the following 40 years I spent in the business career, and then devoted the next 25 years to charity and to enjoying my growing family.
I want to tell you my wish.
My wish is that every one, every member of our family find the joy in your lives that Lois and I have found in ours.
After a round of applause, Dad sat down and said, “You’re not supposed to tell your wish.” The three candles were still burning, one each for past, present, and future.
My cousin Stuart, who had flown to Boston from Aspen for the party, noted that my father had earlier announced that 90 was officially old. “You can do what you want!” Stuart’s brother Jim, who lives in Lexington, Mass., added.
“That’s right, exactly,” Dad agreed. “Ninety is old. And wait till next year!”
With that he leaned in toward the cake, took in a big breath, and extinguished the candles with a forceful exhale.
My niece Fran, cradling the youngest great-grandchild, her son Simon, led us in singing “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow.” Those of us holding babies bounced them to the beat, and the rest of us kept time by clapping.
Before the birthday cake, there had been a brief entertainment program there in the living room.
Stuart, Jim, and their sister Gail from Vermont sang a song they’d written with their brothers Bruce and Andy, who weren’t able to attend in person. It was a cute number sung to the tune of a long-time family favorite, “Charlie on the M.T.A.”
I accompanied Fran on guitar as she sang a stirring rendition of “Sunny Side of the Street,” which over the years has been a sort of theme song for my father. We all know him as an eternal optimist, so the lyrics fit him to perfection.
Grab your coat and get your hat. / Leave your worries on the doorstep. / Just direct your feet / to the sunny side of the street.
I have been working on the chords to the song daily for the past month, with help from my Cambridge guitar teacher. Fran and I practiced together several times during the week before the party.
If I never had a cent / I’d be as rich as Rockefeller. / Gold dust at my feet / on the sunny side of the street.
“That was better than Benny Goodman,” Dad said when we finished — high praise from a music lover who grew up in the Big Band Era.
My sister Stephanie stood in the middle of the room for a moving recitation of 1 Corinthians 13, the New Testament chapter on love. Her partner Tim read a Robert Service poem. And we all sang “The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round.”
I am glad Dad broke tradition by sharing his birthday wish today.
As he stood in the most beautiful room of his and my mother’s home, filled with four generations of family — new babies, toddlers, growing children, grown children, adults young and old — he seemed to speak to each one of us individually.
May every member of this family find the joy in our lives. That was this remarkable man’s wish for us today.
And wait till next year!