Just recently Audrey and I attended her first ever birthday party event and let me tell you, in terms of excitement, nerves, giddiness, butterflies, exhilaration and borderline delirium: I was pumped! After two-plus years of pandemic shutdowns and virtual-only party gatherings, we were finally headed out into the real, live world…with actual people! The anticipation from Audrey and I hung in the air like a couple of helium balloons drifting towards some celestial and elusive party-town vista at the end of a mystical rainbow.
I think back often and fondly to many of the childhood birthday parties my brother and I experienced, alongside all of the preparations and excitement that preceded them. Coming up with a theme, decoration the house, selecting a cake design and doling out invitations at school…only now do I truly understand and appreciate the patience our parents exercised to make it all happen. As I’ve mentioned before, our parents owned a electronics store, which also rented movies and video games. I still vividly remember the day our dad brought home the original Nintendo system and a giant box of games before it was to be released to the public. We’ll revisit that experience and my eventual affinity for all things Zelda in a future post, but what’s important to know is that this development in gaming and our family store containing dozens of televisions to play on led to some epic birthday parties (As evidenced by the image here taken from my 30th birthday party, this activity, much like me, has never gotten old).
With all of that in mind, whether it was for a member of our family or attending the festivities of friends and classmates, I have nothing but magical memories of b-day gatherings and everything that came along them, so I was excited that our youngest was finally about to start building some memories of her own. So, with gift in hand, we set out for a night of fun, adventure and play.
Friday night, 5:00, we pulled up to the venue and made way for the entrance, a whistle in our step. As the other parents showed up to the event, however, I was surprised to learn that the general etiquette seemed to be that the dads dropped their kids off and left, while the moms stuck around for the party. My. Heart. Sank. What nonsense is this, I thought to myself?! Where is everyone going? Do they not realize what they’re walking away from? You don’t just go up to the gates of Utopia and decide to go get a coffee instead! I finally get out of the house to play, and I’m potentially expected to leave?! What about the toys? The art and crafts? The musical instruments? Not to mention the pizza, cupcakes and games?!? On top of all of that I was actually looking forward to a little bit of dad-talk. It was to be a chance for me to geek out over music, video games, baseball and to show off my sweet new tattoo; you know, real ‘hip’ stuff that dad’s do when they finally get a chance to converse with other like-minded adults. That should not suggest in any way that I don’t enjoy spending time conversing with the moms, but for what I had amped myself up for as an opportunity to bond with some of the other dad dudes, this night seemed suddenly destined for disappointment.
Alright, maybe that’s all a tad extreme, but what’s true is that I wasn’t going to just turn around and leave. I stayed and I had fun and regardless of how my own experience may have gone, let’s be honest – this party wasn’t for the adults, and while I didn’t get that chance for real father-to-father discussions, and I did have flashbacks to my grade 8 dance, standing there in the corner, trying to build up the confidence to just approach one of the women in the room and strike up a conversation, I do know the party was not for me, and I have to say: getting to see our daughter be free, explore and have fun with other kids in an open environment was a memorable experience unto itself.
Within the first few minutes of play it really clicked and dawned on me that this was all entirely new for her. This is the world that she and so many other kids have been missing out on for far too long and it warmed my heart to witness the pure and utter joy on her face while exploring the space with the other littles. Seeing them gleefully sitting on those tiny chairs and enjoying a few slices and a juice box, surrounded by friends, decorating a cupcake, laughing, giggling, dancing, every single moment of it painting streams of happiness across her face brought tears to my eyes. We’ve all been robbed of something throughout this pandemic, to varying degrees of tragedy, and I do not proclaim that anyone’s story is more heart-breaking than another. But, for whatever reason, standing there in that moment with her, it really struck me that our children, who are so innocent and care-free, have made sacrifices they don’t even know about. They’ve missed out on so much and her exuberance at that party was something entirely new. I am grateful that I stayed and I will always have that image of her smile to reflect on.
Now, I have a few theories as to why us dads may not stick around for these things; as I broke free from my corner and dipped my toes into the conversation pool it became apparent that moms seemed to have known each other from past experiences, my theory is that these bonds started from the earliest years of being a parent. Be it in library groups, music lessons or strollers in the park, my experience has been that moms are the ones to attend those early year groups more-so than dads. As a result they are able to forge some friendships and acquaintances very early on where the dads do not; friendships that follow them through swim registration, first days of school and, yes, 5th year birthday parties. Again, that’s just a theory and I know doesn’t fully hold water, as I was one of the dads that did attend many of those events and yet here I still sit in the proverbial gymnasium bleachers, but I’ll go ahead and assume for the moment that I’m a genius who’s on to something here.
I do also recognize that, given this was my own first experience in this particular social setting, it may not be the norm at all. For all I know dads are always the ones to stay for the celebration. Regardless of what is more common, for any father figures out there who happen to digest this entry, I implore you: don’t check out early. Don’t leave. Stay and enjoy what the party has to offer. Get to know the other parents, moms or dads, it doesn’t matter. Being a part of and sharing in these joyous occasions is an opportunity that won’t last forever. I know that a day will come sooner than I expect when my daughters don’t actually want me there. That, as impossible as it is for me to comprehend this now, they will some day realize *spoiler alert* I am not actually the coolest, funniest and most magical person they know. And so with all of that in mind, I am going to revel in each one of these moments and experiences, from this day to that. I love you, shmoop.