April 15, 1993
It was Dad’s 50th birthday. Everybody chipped in and bought him a brand-new GE television set for the den. It was worth $300-350 dollars and came in a box the size of a dishwasher. My siblings covered it with “Over The Hill” wrapping paper and put a big bow on top.
Dad was at work and we had no idea when he was coming home. We never knew when he was coming home, we never knew where we was working, and he rarely left any way to contact him in case of an emergency. It frustrated Mom to no end and they fought about it constantly. Dad yelled that he couldn’t put an exact time on when he would finish and he thought it demeaning that he had to check in with her like a little boy. On the other hand, his screwy hours absolved Mom of dutifully awaiting his return with a hot meal on the table – something Dad always said was one of her chief responsibilities.
Meanwhile I couldn’t wait for Dad to come home and open his gift, partly because I wanted to see his reaction and partly because I wanted to see what was in the box. I wasn’t involved in the TV-buying process so I had no idea what they got him. The hours ticked by. He wasn’t home at 5, he wasn’t home at dinner, and one by one my brothers and sisters gave up and went to bed. I was the last holdout and Mom urged me to go to sleep too. But I wouldn’t move from my place by the living room window, waiting for his truck to pull up. I was upset that Dad was missing his birthday and the celebration we had planned for him.
Finally my mother tucked me into bed and did her best to console me. I drifted off to sleep in a miserable state, and Dad arrived home shortly after midnight. Mom tore into him as soon as he walked in, shaming him for keeping everybody waiting. Especially me. Dad told her that he didn’t celebrate his birthday anymore and trashed the balloons and signs we put up. He wasn’t interested in opening his gift either, and went on a rant about the money it probably cost while he was up to his eyeballs in debt.
The next day Mom and I had a mini-gift opening party. She wanted to cheer me up, and since I had wanted so badly to see what the present was she let me do the honors. I put on my best play clothes and brought all my dinosaurs out to watch as I unwrapped the TV set. I was actually excited about the new TV even though it wasn’t strictly for me. But I was an avid TV watcher. And it had a remote control! A big step up from our old set with the VHF and UHF dials.
A few weeks later I was hanging out with Dad in his basement office. I sat in his office chair and pulled my legs in and let out a shout of glee as he spun me around and around. When things calmed down we started talking, and I finally asked why he didn’t come home on his birthday. Mom thought it was because he was upset about turning 50. But he complained to me that everybody treats him like shit during the rest of the year, but then they were going to pretend to be nice to him on his birthday only to go back to treating him like shit the following day.
“Well, maybe they wanted to make things up to you on your birthday? But you never gave them the opportunity…” I observed. Dad’s retort was lost, and he slumped back in his chair with a pensive look on his face.