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Turning 21

Updated: Feb 16, 2022

Every year I could look forward to one story in particular from my father on December 10.

Maybe it was in the morning before school, or that night at dinner, or after we cut the birthday cake. It became as customary as opening a new outfit right after I woke up.

I feel it’s only fair that I be the one telling it for a change.

He was in Florida when mom went into labor with me a couple months before she was supposed to. Even before being born was I afraid of being late and I was coming whether he was ready or not.

Because of the late notice of my arrival, definitely my bad on that one, he couldn’t get on the earliest flight. While he had tickets for a later one, he feared that he wasn’t going to make it in time. That he would miss the birth of his first child.

Then, a random man who dad never got the name or number of, gave him his tickets. Suddenly, Dad was going to make it home.

And he did. He made it home. He didn’t miss my birthday.

With that story, Dad promised to never cut it that close again. To never miss one of my birthdays. And, to the best of his abilities, he kept that promise. The only one he ever missed was the one I spent at college my freshman year – but he called me multiple times a day, facetimed me after my math final, and sent me a Krispy Kreme gift card to celebrate never having to take a math class again.

I told myself it was good enough then, that there would be other Birthdays I’d get to celebrate with him and my family. I told myself we’d spend the next one together in person.

And we did… but it wasn’t the way I dreamt of.

When the clock struck midnight, and December 9th fizzled away into December 10th I was standing alone in a dark office staring at a wooden box.

I kept my word. I turned 20 with my father.

The last birthday either of us would spend together.

Birthdays are supposed to be filled with laughter and love. Of screaming with your sorority sisters as you celebrate the next chapter of your life and grabbing brunch with people who make you feel more loved and accepted then you ever have before.

But, along with the highs, it is allowed to be hard. How does the song go – “it’s my party I can cry if I want to.” And while you may not be wanting to cry, you may need to.

I never expected to turn 21 without my dad. I never expected to turn any age without him. That’s just something daughters and sons don’t think about. But it is a reality.

My father promised me he’d buy my first drink on my 21st many years ago. He said it didn’t matter where I’d be, what he was busy with, or anything else - he’d make the time to come see me. To buy me a drink. To celebrate his first girl. That with every fiber of his being, he would never miss one of my birthdays.

He didn’t buy my first drink. But my mom did.

(technically she bought the whole brunch but I’m trying to make a point here)

My mom called me first thing in the morning and told me how much she loved me and how proud of me she is. She made me feel special. She always does. And I don’t tell her enough, but I appreciated it. I appreciate her.

My friends counted down till midnight and cheered with me as my birthday embraced me warmer than it did last year. They made me smile, and laugh, and surrounded me with as much joy as possible.

Do I miss my dad today? Without a doubt. I would give anything for him to be here beside me having a drink tonight. But, I know he’d want me to go out and celebrate in a way that would put the Rallsy Bear to shame (iykyk).

So. It is a Happy Birthday. I know while he may not be beside me physically, but he’s here. Wishing me a happy birthday too.

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