Tuesday, January 29, 2008

birthday toasts

Last Saturday we had a party. A birthday party to be exact. We were celebrating my sixtieth birthday and I had the good fortune to be surrounded by family and friends. The highlight of the evening came just before the birthday cake was presented ( a cake in the shape of a golf ball that daughter-in-law Katie had spent a week experimenting with and perfecting).

On past occasions like this, I have frequently offered toasts to the celebrants in the form of rhyming doggeral. So this time I was the recipient of just such poetic efforts by my two children, Carrie and Jonathan. I think I may have created a monster. Like father, like children?

Anyway, I thought you might enjoy their efforts on my behalf so I will share them here with you. While reading them again, I got all teary and sentimental and ended up blubbering like an emotional idiot. You need not blubber along unless you really feel like it.


It was a beautiful day back in 1981
When you were given a wonderful son.

Over the years you’ve lead by example
And today I’d like to share a small sample.
Of the many things you’ve passed on to me
And how they’ve shaped the man I am and hope to be.

From early on one thing has always brought us together,
Our love of sports regardless of whether
It was playing or talking, you’d always know best
And admittedly sometimes I was impressed.

I can remember as a kid I’d wait for your truck to drive in
So I could help you unload lumber and get a quick game of catch in.

You always made time to throw me some flies
And those evenings with you I’d never revise.

You always supported me on and off the field
And came to every game with lips not usually sealed.

I played pitcher, catcher, shortstop you know
While you told the umps where you thought they should go.

But one thing I could count on is when I’d look around
You’d always be there and never let me down.

Basketball was one of our favorite sports to play
At the Y, in the driveway, and I still remember the day
When I finally got big enough to beat you one-on-one
And how I thought I was one bad son of a gun.

Golf is another sport we often play together
Regardless of rain, wind, cold, or bad weather.
On the golf course I usually kick your butt,
And you’re usually left wondering if you could only putt.

But many a lesson has been learned on the links,
And one thing’s for sure the more I think
That if I hadn’t spent so much time with you it’d be scary
Just how less extensive would be my vocabulary.
But all things considered we’ve always had a great time
By simply playing another nine.

Besides playing we’ve always talked about sports
And if the Packers or Badgers lose we get all out of sorts.
We love to discuss what should have been the approach
And how we know everything and should be the coach.

Florida is a place that brings back many memories
Of how we played shuffleboard and aerobi in the warm ocean breeze.
But road trips were more than just warmth in the sun
They provided quality time with family that can’t be undone.

Then there are the memories that the cottage has brought
Of countless things that never leave my thoughts.
Like bonfires, waterskiing, hitting golf balls in the yard,
Playing Trivial Pursuit, watching movies, and beating you at cards.

The holidays bring feelings that I often retrieve
Such as making and eating cannelloni on Christmas Eve.
Getting and giving gifts—some great, some not bad—
But each felt very special when they came from my dad.

Back in the day I used to cut your hair,
But I never got paid which I still think is unfair.

Then there was the time you shaved off your beard
And mom thought you just looked really weird.

Since then I’ve often tried to grow hair on my face,
But never could pull it off with quite your grace.

Building decks with you taught me about hard work.
And looking back I can’t help but smirk
As I wonder if you ever had a slight hunch
That the highlight of my day was usually lunch.
Woodworking has always been a way for you to provide
Long lasting gifts that will never subside.
Looking around my house I see tables, a desk, and a bed
Made with love that I appreciate though it often goes unsaid.

One of my fondest memories came only a couple years ago
When you officiated my wedding and put on quite a show.
That day was great to an immeasurable degree,
And your role in it all was extra special to Katie and me.

Those are just some of the memories that stick out
Though there are countless more I could talk about.

But those are stories for another day.
I just hope this toast was able to adequately portray
What you’ve meant to me for so long
And how I hope some day I can be a man half as strong.

So please join with me and raise your wine or your beer
And toast my dad for his sixtieth year.


All of you now, it’s time you must hear
My ode to my dad for his sixtieth year.

From this sage with the beard, (that I’ve never not seen)
So much wisdom and knowledge and skills I have gleaned.

He taught me to throw like a boy and to catch,
A skill the dogs love when it’s time to play fetch.

And when I was little, something close to my heart,
My dad grabbed a pencil and taught me about art.

I remember in preschool my Thanksgiving drawing,
A dinner scene, I’d have them oohing and aahing,
But instead the dumb kids thought it absurd
that the dad in this picture had his face in the bird.
“Idiots!” my dad said, that’s called perspective
And though I never did charm them with my invective,
I figured at four that’s not a bad start
To launch a lifetime journey in art.

And when I learned to ride bikes, boy did we ride,
‘cross all of Up North through pines and up sides
of hills that never ended, those summers
past the sign for the poor family named “Dummer”
and wwe laughed at that and the “slow children” sign
and continued our riding till I could hold mine own
on the roads.

And today as I bike to and from school
I’m never timid nor lose my cool,
‘Cause I’ve been a biker for so many years
Since my dad bought me my first bike with gears.

And he taught me to work hard and enjoy
The kind of labor one might expect from a boy.
Like hauling and hammering and sawing and hence,
I still know how to build my own fence.
Or we’d work in the yard planting the flowers
In the hot sun for hours and h ours.
And when we finished our labors dad always would say
“Wow, kiddo we sure got a lotta work done today.”

And this man with the beard and the always gray hair
Has for us kids always been there.
For the art shows and concerts, science fairs and matches,
Games and races and even square dances.

He took me to Boston to cheer me in my race
And sent me off one summer to bike ‘cross our state.
He met me one stop in the middle of that ride
And I remember my overwhelming feeling of pride
That I have dad who will go out of his way
To make sure that he sees me and all is okay.

Who’ll pick me up anytime, anywhere,
Who’ll help me move my whole life from here to back there.

Who’ll laugh with me—man, don’t get us started—
Mom’ shake her head and think we’re retarded.

Who’ll go with me to museums to discuss works of art,
And rant with me about politicians and other old farts.

Who’ll trek down a trail, even if he must be carried
To get to the beach where I’m to be married.
Who pulled off quite a feat there that day,
Acting both as the Reverend and giving me away.

And now it comes down to all I can say
Is that my dad is the greatest and not in that way
Of mushy platitudes and Hallmark greetings,
But from a proven life filled with real meaning.

And while we all know that sixty is just getting started
Today you must sit on your throne and be lauded
As we lift our glasses to you and say
Happy birthday, dad, happy birthday!

1 comment:

Mary Lyn said...

When I was growing up my father always wrote poems for us and about other things as well. Were he alive today he'd be writing about Obama. I was googling sixtieth birthdays, trying to decide what I will do and came across your blog. So, happy birthday and bravo to your kids and you for poetry!

I hope Wisconsin gives it to Obama; that would make my birthday in April all that much better.