Author’s note: I wrote this post five years ago, on the eve of my 42nd birthday. Today I turn 47 and tomorrow marks the 9-year anniversary of my father’s death. (Has it been that long already?) In keeping with tradition, I am heading to the beach today with my wife and kids. We usually go on the 3rd to remember my dad who was laid to rest at sea, but the sun is shining and the beach is calling, so why wait? I will be back tomorrow, with a little more marshmallow in my beard.
A few summers ago, while on vacation at the Cape, I roasted marshmallows with my wife and kids. They were huge marshmallows, the kind you have to bite three or four times to eat, and we poked them through long wooden sticks and held them over the grill until they turned brown and gooey. I took a bite into one and its melted bottom got stuck on my chin, bits of white caught in the prickles of my two-day beard. We all laughed, even the mosquitoes biting our skin, and the kids used their little fingers to pick my beard clean.
Yesterday, my seven year old son noticed some flecks of white on my chin. “Papi, do you still have marshmallow stuck in your beard?” he asked me. “I don’t know,” I said, and we walked over to the mirror in the bathroom. I leaned close and tilted my chin up, rubbed my fingers across the stubble a few times.
“Well, what do you know,” I said, “I guess I still do.”
And I looked at my son and he was wide-eyed smiling, and then he ran off shouting, “Guys, guys, Papi still has marshmallow in his beard!”
Tomorrow is my 42nd birthday. One day I’m a little boy watching his father shave in the bathroom, the next day…
The little boy is my son watching me.
Did I ever tell you that I was born with my umbilical cord wrapped around my neck? It took me a few seconds to breathe when I entered the world, and I sometimes wonder, like this morning when I woke up early because I couldn’t sleep anymore, if those first few breathless seconds had any impact on the rest of my life.
The day after tomorrow is the four year anniversary of my father’s passing. I remember sitting by his bedside at the hospice on a quiet morning like today, with my head down and eyes closed, counting the seconds between each of his breaths…and now the years.
Thirty one. If I live as long as my dad, I have thirty one years to go in this world. Doesn’t seem that long, does it?
Tomorrow is my birthday and I’m taking the day off, and the next day too. I’m going to the beach with my family, my mom and sister too, and we’re going to splash silly in the waves, maybe fly a kite and see how high it can go. And when the time comes to eat my birthday cake, I’m going to take a big bite and smear frosting on my chin, enough to stain my beard white for years.
And we’ll all laugh, as my kids use their fingers to wipe my beard clean.