Happy Birthday Dad!

Joanne at 6February and April are bitter-sweet months for me.

Today, February 11, would have been my father’s eighty-third birthday. He died suddenly after his sixty-second birthday in 1993. Even today, twenty-one years later, on February 11, the loss feels as acute as when the doctor led us into the room to say our goodbyes.

My father died on April 4th,  and one of the reasons April’s so difficult is because my young’un and I celebrate our birthdays in April, too.

This year I decided, for every day in February through April, I’m going to write down a favorite father-daughter memory, smile, and share them. Don’t worry this will be the only one I’ll share publicly.

On my fifth birthday, we were still living in Guyana—we immigrated to Trinidad the following year—my parents threw this huge party for me. In the West Indies, both kids and parents attend a child’s birthday party, and there are a whole host of birthday traditions to observe, including one of ‘sticking the cake.’

My grandma and my mom made me the most beautiful doll birthday cake—that’s it in the picture. I was so in love with that cake.

This is how the whole event unfolded:

My dad and I greet the invited parents and their child/children at the front gate.

I thank everyone for coming, accept my gift, and I take the kid/kids  and run to the table and arrange the present with all the other gaily decorated gifts. Then the child/children goes to play with all the other kids.

This goes on for a good twenty minutes. My dad takes a nature break and I’m left alone at the gate. A new boy who goes to the same Montessori I attend arrives. His parents are foreigners and new to the country.

They drop off their son who—isn’t carrying a present!!!

Horror of horrors.

“Hi,” Peter says.

I fold my arms and snap, “Where’s my present?”

Peter looks bewildered.

“You can’t come to my party. Go home,” I declare.

Peter starts to cry right as my dad returns and realizes what’s happening. Immediately, he whisks me to his study, and we have a father-daughter talk.

“You hurt Peter’s feelings and you were rude. I’m so disappointed in you, daughter. I thought I had raised you better than this. I want you to think of a way to make it up to Peter.”

It’s traditional at all birthday parties (not just kids’) in the Caribbean to ‘stick the cake.’ Sticking the cake is a ritual similar to that of cutting the first slice out of a wedding cake. The male cuts the cake, and the female gives him the first bite, and he feeds her cake. For a birthday sticking, the birthday-ee chooses his partner, usually someone he or she loves.

I asked Peter to stick the cake with me. Peter was so nervous he slipped, and fell face-first into my beautiful cake. I didn’t cry once and even managed to reassure Peter that he’d done no harm. We served smushed cake.

After the party, my dad told me he was proud of me, not only for choosing Peter, but for not shedding a tear.

My father was everything to me, and I was the apple of his eye. That was the first time he’d ever not been proud of me. To this day, I love giving gifts, especially when you find that perfect present, but I am sorely uncomfortable receiving them.

Happy Birthday Dad. Hope you’re still proud of me.