I love birthdays.
For my 13th birthday, a dozen friends and I piled into the back of my 1984 Ford F-150 pickup. We went to Scandia for a day of mini golf and laser tag.
For my 20th birthday, my mom came to visit me at college. She and I talked and laughed late into the night on my comfy blue couch. I miss her every day.
For my 5th birthday, I don't remember but I'm sure I had a good time somewhere in my backyard playing and smearing cake.
Yet for my 28th birthday, which was one year ago today, I made no plans. A few days before my birthday, I realized that, for the first time, the day could pass by like any other. And I wondered if this was already true for most of my fellow 20-somethings, aside from a few stark naked exceptions.
A sad possibility: birthdays are a vestige of childhood that slip away, like being tucked in at night, ninja turtles, and endless summer vacations.
Like many single young professionals living as transplants in urban areas, my closest friends now are people I have known for just a few years tops. I'm unbound from the close networks of college and years away from the carefree days of just being a kid -- but not yet with a family of my own. For the most part, my birthday celebration is in my hands. If I want a birthday, I have to make it happen.
What would birthdays look like if we did nothing to celebrate? I imagine the uncelebrated birthday would be 100 new wall posts on Facebook, texts from a dozen friends, a phone call or two, and maybe a free drink at some bar.
Otherwise, just another day.
The future of birthday celebrations?
By contrast to the cake and presents and merriment that was, this sucks. Why should birthdays in your 20s or 30s or 80s feel anti-climatic, mediocre, avoided, or all-but-ignored?
Birthdays demand celebration. It's the day you showed up -- the day that the efforts of countless generations, surviving and finding partners and procreating and rearing children, led to you, an exceptional, unique, never-to-appear-again gift of a person, in whom the very existence of unborn multitudes reside.
On average in the US, we will live to see 78 birthdays -- far fewer than the average number of cups of coffee we drink in a month! In Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, and many other countries, people are lucky to see 47 of them.
Last year, I designed the perfect birthday for me. And this year, as a call to rejuvenate birthday celebrations everywhere for all ages and life stages, I've decided to share what I did with you. I have extrapolated 9 ideas for how to celebrate your birthday with panache.
After a great year of age 28, I figure it's time to share these ideas to start the next year of your life off right.
Whether you try these ideas out or come up with your own (please share in the comments or via Twitter, @kevinfad, I hope you will celebrate the day that you showed up on this pale blue dot. Birthdays should be cherished, and not go extinct from the "I'm getting older" meteor.
February 21st, 2013
(1.) Have a party the evening before your actual birthday. I hosted a potluck at my house. At midnight, the party was still going strong. I felt very loved to celebrate with a group of great friends and serene to do so the night before my actual birthday.
I imagine the feeling is similar to attending a celebration of your life before you die. You see everyone and hear all the great stories about your time together, and smile at the end of it knowing your day hasn't come quite yet.
(2.) If you ask for gifts, ask for something simple and meaningful. I invited my friends to share their favorite book recommendations with me. If they felt like getting me a gift, I asked them to bring a copy. After I read it, I promised to give it to someone else in the group, complete with markups and ideas and spills. And they would forward it on to the next person. A birthday book club, of sorts.
In all, 26 friends and one dad (mine) showed up at the party, many with books in hand. The potluck food was great: Chinese pork buns, super energy kale soup, a delicious cheese ball, homemade lavender brownies, and a melted ice cream cake accompanied by a sweet rendition of "Happy Birthday" on the ocarina. Only two hours in, and already an unforgettable day. Bedtime.
(3.) Take the day off if you can. I wake up to the sun rising over San Francisco Bay. Today will be carefree: No worrying. No follow-ups. No emails. No texts. No Facebook.
(4.) Eat your favorite foods. For breakfast, I make peanut butter bread with honey and fresh strawberries, a bowl of granola and wheat bran cereal with fresh bananas and almond milk, and a few glasses of homestyle orange juice -- out of the carton, of course. I have a taste party with each bite.
I watch the last half of an incredible South Korean film directed by Lee Chang Dong. The main character is Mija, a very sweet if not naive elderly woman. Mija enrolls in a poetry class and learns to see things for what they are. As painful events wash away her innocence, she is freed to write with beautiful honesty about what she sees. Poetry is one of the best movies I have seen.
(5.) Go on an adventure. My day begins by exploring my own neighborhood. I check out the Bayshore Boys & Girls Club, Community Center, and Library. The sloped grassy hills in the adjoining park offer breathtaking views of San Francisco and the Bay. Sharon the Librarian mentions Carroll's Meats in Brisbane as the best around. I make a mental note to stop-by someday.
But then, why wait? It's my birthday, and I'm carefree. I have a destination.
I head up the hill to San Bruno Mountain State Park for four hours of running in the mountains. I will begin with my daily run along the Old Ranch Road trail. Then, I take the Summit Loop to the Ridge Trail, and venture out to the 2.5 miles one-way trail with a commitment to myself to somehow find a way to get down to the main road toward Carroll's Meats and not turn back.
A few hours later, I reach the end of the Ridge Trail. And manage to hike, slide, and shimmy down to the road. I will not be doing that again, as it was rather precarious at times, but I'm glad I did it today on my birthday. It was like my own Tough Mudder.
At the base of the mountain is Brisbane, a hamlet of a place with 4,000 people and cozy streets. The weekly farmer's market happens to be happening in the park. I sample a bit of everything, and practice a few words in Polish, Arabic, and Spanish with the vendors. If only one of them were Chinese, someone would have heard Happy New Year. I buy five minneola tangerines for $2.
(6.) Tell people the good news: hey, it's my birthday. Carroll's Meats is just down the street. I mention it's my birthday, and Mike (Carroll's son) treats me to samples of tri-tip and pulled pork. I leave with two handmade Hot Italian sausages for dinner, and that satisfying feeling of community and belonging that hangs around small town shops.
I arrive home in time to watch the last daylight draw away from the rooftops across the valley. For dinner, sausages dressed with chili sauce and dijon mustard, last bowl of kale soup, and a red cabbage and spinach salad with lemon juice, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar. Dessert is salted caramel ice cream from BiRite that one of the guests brought.
(7.) Do something special that you've been wanting to do, but haven't. I head into the city to do my first series of cold readings with fellow actors through the Playwright's Foundation. I'm just getting back into acting after a few years, so this was a great opportunity to meet local playwrights and actors and practice my craft onstage with an audience. I love it.
On my drive home, I chat with my brother, Kris. My birthday wouldn't feel right without him.
(8.) Find time to be still. This is a tradition of mine since my mom passed away five years ago. At the actual time of birth, I sit by myself, close my eyes, and reflect for all that I am grateful. This year, I sat on my porch, looked at the stars, prayed, thought about my loved ones, and felt lucky to be alive. In my solitude, I committed to go for it this year, to take better care of myself, to not worry, and to celebrate the 21st of each month as a special day.
9.) Each month, on your birth day, celebrate.
An hour before midnight, I sit down at my computer to remember the day -- the perfect birthday.