It was my birthday this week. Birthdays are often a time of joyous celebration, a look back on the highs and lows of the last year, and anticipation of things to come in the next year. But if you are estranged from a family member, a birthday can be a difficult day, marking another year of an unresolved rift.
In high school, my birthday was always a moody day for me. It falls during the busy football season, leading up to Super Bowl. My father, George Michael, was just getting started as a sportscaster in Washington, DC, so he was either away or too busy to celebrate it in January. We usually celebrated my birthday in late March, jointly with my father’s birthday. In those days, it was my friends who made my birthday special, with a surprise cake, or one year, by filling my locker with balloons.
Later, after my father disowned me, I downright dreaded my birthday. New friends, who knew nothing about my family circumstances, thought my birthday angst had more to do with my age. It didn’t. It marked another year he didn’t want me in his life. It was the one day of the year I could not resist Googling my father’s name to see how he was doing. Or more painful, perhaps, watching one of his shows on YouTube.
And yet, it was this annual habit of mine that gave me hope. It was January of 2008 when I stumbled across a story in Washingtonian magazine in which my father mentioned me by name, Cindi spelled correctly with an i at the end. He was recalling his wedding day, his second marriage, when my sister and I were maids of honor. My father had recently retired and this mention seemed to reinforce my belief that much of our rift was caused by my father’s fame – that once he slowed down, he would realize all he was missing out on as a father and grand father. I didn’t know then that my father was battling cancer. Neither of us knew that he would die within two years, too late for a reconciliation in this lifetime.
He’s been gone seven years now. There is no new news about him to torture myself with. At most, I might see a reference to how he shaped the career of another sportscaster. This year, I stumbled across a few tweets about him, people reminiscing about how innovative his show was at the time. I don’t even know why I searched on twitter this year – maybe it was because the Packer’s game was more painful to watch. In an odd way, these new mentions comfort me as I am glad other people still remember him.
I no longer have to lament that we didn’t reconcile in the last year: he’s gone, he couldn’t. So my birthday is a little less painful. And my present family always knocks themselves out to make it special. This year, we went to see Carole King’s Beautiful on Broadway, the music moving and inspiring. And there’s cake, always made with love when the kids are home, or when not, bought with love as my husband doesn’t risk that undertaking on his own. Whip up a Beef Wellington, any day. Bake a cake, no way.