There are many men in the world celebrating a birthday today, millions and millions of them. There aren’t that many birthdays to choose from, when you think about it – only 365 possibilities, and we all have to share them.
We focus in on the man in the photo up there, the one wearing the plaid shirt and the white socks, the one holding the fat cross-eyed baby, his firstborn, on his lap.
Happy birthday, man in the plaid shirt. You might be wearing one today, although I don’t know that for sure. When I picture you, I picture you in tan polyester pants with a stain on the front, and a short-sleeved plaid cotton/poly blend shirt. Large brown tie shoes. Black socks. A zip-up jacket.
Where are you now? In the 35-year-old new room, maybe, perched on a chair ludicrously small for your large frame, playing computer solitaire.
Looking for your wallet, which you will find, after searching the kitchen, the dining room, the new room and the living room, on the mantel above the fireplace.
Putting a hat on and heading out to your car, which will be unlocked, with the keys in the ignition, to drive five miles to the diner, where you will meet your cronies for breakfast, a 30-year and counting ritual.
Stooping down to rough up the fur of your dog, or, more likely, sitting in your recliner and calling her to you so that you can manhandle her large bulk into your lap and rock her.
Making your way down to the vast woodpile and chopping some more logs into woodstove-size chunks.
You are the man who took his children on a two-week road trip every summer, road trips that, over the years, came to encompass nearly every battlefield and fort in the eastern states, north to south and back again, who who came out of the gas stations – back when you paid for your gas inside at the counter – with his hands full of candy bars, one for each child.
Who sat for hours with your parents after the massive meal had been eaten, catching up on all the latest news. Who, not young yourself, bent to the floor and picked your mother up in a single motion after she fell leaving that one restaurant.
You are the one who short-sheeted your sergeant’s bed in basic training, and slipped the dead fish between his covers. You are the one who hung the tire from the butternut tree, who stayed up all Christmas Eve putting together the race track, who makes the stuffing at Thanksgiving.
You are the one so tough and uncomplaining that the doctors didn’t believe you were in any real pain even though your appendix had burst 24 hours prior, the one who had to lie down on the floor of the doctor’s office to make them believe you.
You are the one who drives your fearful rural friends to Yankee Stadium every summer, who books the cheap motel where you all cram into a single room, and you are the one who tells the stories afterward.
You are the one who puts your campaign sign on the front lawn, opposite your wife’s opposing-party campaign sign.
You are the one with the big frame and the big station wagon who wore the flame-orange polyester shirt to Parents’ Weekend at your firstborn’s exclusive upper-class college in the mountains, your giant voice roaring with laughter; the one that all your firstborns’ friends gravitated to.
You are the one who drives the old people and the young unable people and the people without cars or friends to their doctors’ appointments.
You are the one who wept when your father died: the first and only time your children saw you cry.
You are the one who called your firstborn on her 33rd birthday and told her you loved her on the answering machine tape, back when there were still answering machine tapes, and she yanked it out of the machine and put it away in a drawer, where it has accompanied her to every one of the six apartments and houses she has lived in since.