33 Birthday Cakes, First Time Solo

33 Birthday Cakes, First Time Solo

It’s my birthday today, but it’s also my dad’s. It’s also been just about 6 months since he died. I don’t know what to do with myself today, since it’s the first of the rest of my birthdays I don’t get to share with him. I’m not ready to celebrate. Instead, here’s what I had to say about my dad 6 months ago, and here’s the last shared birthday cake photo we took together when I turned 30 and he turned 56.

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My dad had a few last requests when he was diagnosed with cancer only 10 days ago: to have a living wake where he could see his family and friends, to eat a 16 oz steak and a lobster tail, and to get out of the hospital and home to see his birds. These requests pretty much outline the person that he was: his family and friends were near and dear to his heart even when far away, happiness for him was a good steak and the correctly chosen seafood, and he took pleasure in the little things like his garden and watching the birds.

His strength and personality in the last week of his life represented who he was as well. Despite the adversity of sickness he experienced, he was still my dad in his last days. He was still able to make people laugh and tell them he was going to need to negotiate with Peter to let him through the gates. He also said he was happy that he did not have to “watch the Phillies lose another season this year”. He commanded with clear cut precision how he wanted his pot roast sliced when I fed him, he knew how to explain where his pains were and how to request Doris to move that pillow to the left, or a little more to the right. He made funny faces at me and told inappropriate jokes. The nurses in the oncology ward were smitten him. He was full of passionate stories. The last story he told me was about how my mom and he used to drive around and pick up scrap metal to sell back to the junk yards.
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Here are some things I’d like everyone to know about my dad, especially in his recent years:

I was born on my dad’s birthday. We have had a shared birthday cake for 32 years. I used to complain that I never had my own birthday cake, and my dad teased me that it was worse for him, since his name got downgraded on his cake from “Paul” to “Dad”. It was a running joke between us, and the reality is that our shared birthday was just another way that showed how special and unique the bond was between us. I will always celebrate his birthday in the future when I celebrate my own.

He loved his garden and tending to his flowers. He would meticulously tend to his garden every spring and summer. At each of my visits, he would walk me around the garden and show me each and every flower that was growing. He and Doris spent so much of their free time in the garden and caring for their house. We tried today to represent the flowers that he loved so much, and I’m sure he would complain that we got some of them wrong.

For years, we have completed a crossword puzzle together every time I have seen him. The smell of a pencil and newspaper remind me of him. Only a few days ago, I sat in his bed and read him out clues. The last one he solved for me was “Orange and black flier, 6 letters.” He told me the answer was “Oriole.”

My dad was memorably super intelligent to a lot of people. He is the smartest person I know and I am proud to say that. You can never play Jeopardy with him because he will know the answer before you finish hearing the question. When I started traveling and eventually moved to Europe, we would be on Skype weekly and he would tell me facts and history about any city in the world that I would be visiting. It never ceased to amazed me how much he knew about everything. He told me in his last days that he was so proud of me for living abroad and traveling, and i am forever grateful that he left me with that.

He called me names like “Wabbit” and “Duckyface” and “Sweetiepie”. I see him in my nose, my hands, and my toes.

One of my best memories of him was driving to Boston in his rented Seabring convertible. We listened over and over again to Led Zeppelin and Creedence Clearwater Revival. Because my dad loves reminiscing and he always wanted a good time, I’d like to spend the last minutes together listening to one of his favorite songs. Please think about your favorite memories of him and please help me and Doris to ensure that he is not forgotten.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Aae_RHRptRg

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “I’ve Become My Parents.”

How did I get here, anyway?

When I was a teenager in suburban Philadelphia, I felt very accomplished when I was able to take 2 hour road trips to places like Baltimore and DC. When I graduated to getting on a plane for San Fran and Vegas, or the Caribbean, I thought I had really made it. There’s a perspective that sets in, in a place like I am from– “This is what you were given. Why would you want anything else?” But for me, there was something missing that seeing new places started to fill a bit. Without spending too much time on this for now, I’ll just say that moving to Europe wasn’t even on my radar or in my realm of possibilities.

Eventually, after having moved to New York in my early 20s, my perspective exploded wider than I even knew existed as possible. Surrounded by all types of people and new friends from different backgrounds, suddenly everything I knew in my little bubble was barely the tip of life’s iceberg. 7 years in New York gave me more than I could have imagined. I excelled at a career, created a new group of friends from scratch, and basically lived the New York life. I navigated subway systems daily in one of the biggest world cities. I survived an attempted aggressive mugging. I played the online dating game like it was a second job (unsuccessfully, if success is judged by settling with someone I met online.) My choices of what I enjoyed eating increased by 100-fold (before New York, I had not eaten oysters, asparagus, tomatoes, crab, sushi, fish, couscous, falafel, hummus, strawberries, or any type of Asian cuisine that was not General Tso’s chicken… And I could go on.) I was on the cutting edge of the new music coming in from Brooklyn, the food trends of the moment, and in the stopover area where people visited from around the world. But like anything else, it became my new regular life.

I eventually got a passport and, with a network of old friends, new friends, and new friends’ friends, I started taking one-to-two week long trips and saw Galway, Beijing, Phuket, Hong Kong, Puerto Rico, London, Paris, Amsterdam, Brussels, and took drives from the North to South of France, and Montreux, Nice, Monaco, Florence, Pisa, Luxembourg, Lima. I even hiked the Inca Trail.

Tick, tick, tick.  With each city and tourist site visited with my limited American-sized vacation time from work, I started to see the world. And how amazing I felt getting to do it! It made me appreciate a new level like when I left Philadelphia, to the next level. It impacted me on many levels – from the small impacts like making me look at restaurant names differently  (Hey, Cafe d’Alsace… I drove past there in France!) to the larger impacts like making me value my friendships with people with different backgrounds who help me (still) to see that the world is just not only how it was given to you.

Anyway… So that’s a little bit of background. Skipping ahead, 7 years spent in New York expanded my mind but also tired me out. It’s an exciting but exhausting city if your life currency is spent focusing on promotions, making money, eating at the next restaurant, finding free time after work to run, or meet up with friends (or all of the above in a given week). What’s good with that extra cash if it’s spent on your tiny apartment and on your meals for the month? Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there’s a way to strike the balance, but I couldn’t see it and I needed to rip out everything I knew from under me in order to start figuring out the next evolution of me that I wanted to be.

I was lucky enough to meet and fall in love with (blech, sorry 🙂 ) someone with two non-American passports and a tendency towards living around the world and experiencing new international adventures as a default to life, but yet who holds many of the same values and life goals as I do. It gave me the courage that starting anew in a strange land didn’t have to be just for the responsiblity-lacking drifters, trust fund kiddies, or trendy blogging travelers. We could get jobs (I’ll likely never change from requiring a safety plan), and reset our success metrics on a level that I could more easily comprehend and accept.

So, here I am.  I’ve traded my NYC salary for a modest European one, and my modest NYC vacation days for a more ample European plan. My weekends can be spent exploring new places on this European side of the pond without breaking the bank. I don’t have a goal in mind living here, and I also don’t exactly have a plan for the future yet. But in the 6 weeks of living abroad as an expat, I’ve visited quite a few cities and I’m looking forward to revisiting and reflecting on them here, and to document my adventures looking ahead.