I didn’t get any birthday presents this year; not even a single card. Even my kids phoned it in – – hastily re-branding their Father’s Day presents at the last minute. My wife and I long ago stopped exchanging birthday presents; too stressful. After all, how many bottles of perfume and Jerry Garcia ties can a person really enjoy? But, really, if not for Facebook, I would never have known that last Friday was the big day. The Big 4-3. To be fair, the world was scheduled to end the next day, so people were probably preoccupied.
But, all is not lost. I got about 200 “Happy Birthday” wishes on Facebook from friends, clients, old girlfriends, two guys I hated in High School, and at least four people I swear I never heard of. I cannot decide if this phenomenon constitutes social progress. In grammar school, birthdays meant no homework, cupcakes for the whole grade, a free period during which the class sang Happy Birthday, and some home-made cards. High School birthdays were even better because they always ended with some kind of house party. In college, I went out with my girlfriend for dinner, or with friends for drinks.
Today, we go to work and spend the day refreshing our Facebook page to see who cared enough to write “Happy Birthday!!!!!!!” A few thoughtful friends add a personal touch, (“Have a great day, Ar”) which generally causes an absurdly euphoric reaction (“thanks SO much. Let’s get together soon.”) It’s all very cute, but I want my parents to show up at work with cupcakes and lead my co-workers in a rousing rendition of the Happy Birthday song, while my boss embarrasses himself by trying to harmonize. I want home-made birthday cards from my paralegals. I want to take the day off and hang out at Six Flags with my 4 best friends, and 5 girls from the cool clique. But, most of all, I want a day off from being a grown up. I want to remember what it felt like to not worry about money. Or my children. Or my clients. Or my cases. Or my health. Or my marriage. Or the politics in my local Jewish institutions. Or thinking of clever tweets. I want to remember the birthdays where my biggest responsibility was blowing out the candles and coming up with a wish that really mattered. It’s funny. In those days, I only wished that I was a grown up. With a job. And money. And a family. And lots of clients. And that no one could boss me around or treat me like a child.
I have a client who is an extremely well-known, well-paid professional athlete. It was recently his birthday and he invited me to a small party in a restaurant in the city. He took me aside at one point, walked me passed the models, celebrities, and the catering that easily surpassed 6 large figures, and confided in me: “I hate birthdays.” It elicited a poorly timed chuckle on my part. After all, if anyone should be celebrating his own life, this is the guy. He explained further: “people look at guys like me and compare their lives to mine. But I only see my life through the eyes of my childhood self. And, no reality can ever compare to the fantasy and dreams of a child.” It was profound. And eye-opening. But, it was not depressing. It spoke to a truth about human nature. We always want more for ourselves and our loved ones. We constantly strive for better. Birthdays often remind us that we are coming up short. The entire year will pass and I will spend every day grateful for what I have and extremely contented with who I am and what I have become. Except on my birthday – – when I realize that I will likely never become President of the United States or fly in space. That’s why we exchange presents in the first place! You didn’t become an Olympic athlete, but here is a new set of tools!!
I can live without the gifts, or the cards. And I can enjoy the mild discomfort of the Facebook Birthday. Because, the day will eventually end, and I can go back to the life that has carefully been constructed, refined, and improved each year since it all began.