My birthday is on March 30. This year (2020), I turned fifty-eight, and when fireworks heralded the new year, I didn’t expect to remember my birthday for COVID-19. I thought it’d be just another tick towards a more significant (sobering) milestone, sixty. But now I wonder should I forget it this year?

But the thing is, I like celebrating birthdays. And dipping into my diaries dating back to 1987, I’ve had some good ones over the decades. So, I thought I might share a selection of my birthday highlights and thoughts in this blog post.

Most were happy occasions, some less so, and, frankly, a few do read like ticks towards something more significant. Like this first diary entry from 1987:

Two-and-a-half decades on this planet. With luck, five-and-a-half to go.

Ah, to be twenty-five again! Where have the years (and birthdays) gone?

The England years, 1988-1995

1988: Tried to keep my birthday a secret in the Brighton office. But C (my wife) told the team, and after lunch, they surprised me with a cake and card and chorus of Happy Birthday. (I was secretly happy they did so!)

1989: Caught a black London cab to Madame Tussauds. Some waxworks looked more realistic than others. Gave Aussie PM Bob Hawke a telling off. Wasn’t keen on the grisly Chamber of Horrors exhibit.

1991: Explored the Isle of Wight. Less traffic than the mainland, with quiet roads running through green, rolling hillsides and picturesque villages. Favourite sites were the Needles and Yarmouth (for its quaint pubs).

1992: Arranged to meet J (my younger brother, newly arrived from Australia) in Oxford. However, he wasn’t on the scheduled bus. Drove home to Brighton, wondering what had happened to him. Knock on the door late at night. Opened it to find a dishevelled figure on the doorstep: ‘Happy thirtieth, brother!’

Ward Lock's Isle of Wight

1994: Grim time at the dentist. Two fillings, without anaesthetic, and a hygienist who attacked my teeth and bloodied my gums with what felt like a paint scraper. Note to self: never again book a dentist appointment on your birthday!

1995: Boarded Eurostar at Waterloo Station (which felt more like Heathrow Airport than a train station). Left London at a pedestrian pace, travelling slightly faster through Kent until we reached the Chunnel. Twenty minutes of close darkness and then bang, daylight and open French countryside and a top speed of 300 kph to Paris.

Back in Australia, 1996-2001

1996: Champagne breakfast with WA family in Perth before catching flight eastwards for dinner with C in Sydney. My first cross-continental birthday!

1998: Sorely tempted to skip philosophy class. Seems I wasn’t the only one put off by the tutor’s Marxist rant last week, as two other regulars were absent. Thankfully, tutor gave me an unwitting birthday present, and after a brief (ranty) recap, he moved on from Marxism.

1999: Raining in the Blue Mountains when we arrived in Mt Victoria. I didn’t mind, as it was an excellent excuse to stay inside the Manor House, sit in comfy sofas and read our books beside the open fire.

2001: Had birthday breakfast in the back garden. I opened my cards and presents, and then C handed me an extra envelope. Inside was a card with a baby on the front, and in it, she had written, ‘If you’re still willing to be the house dad, I’ll give parenting a try.’

2002: Drove to Jabiru airport for my fortieth birthday treat, an aerial tour of the Arnhem Land Escarpment. Our single-prop plane was so small I doubt six-month pregnant C would have fitted onboard, even if she had wanted to join me. I sweated from fear as the plane bounced up and down in the thermals. But views of Kakadu, the Escarpment and Jim Jim Falls were fantastic.

A baby card

A new dad, 2003-2010

2003: An odd birthday. I was spoilt with cards and presents, and surrounded by my favourite people and dog, but for some reason, it didn’t feel ‘special’. Perhaps it’s a sign of getting older. Or maybe I was just shattered after another sleep-interrupted night with J (my baby boy)?

2004: After struggling with J on my own all day yesterday, I felt exhausted and not in the mood to celebrate my birthday. But when I collected him from childcare, he greeted me with a big smile and ‘DAD-DY’ at the top of his lungs, and suddenly the day felt special.

2006: J got up and had a pee, turned on the lights and asked if we could open my birthday presents … at 3 am! Took an hour to get him back to sleep, yet he was first up when the sun shone through curtains at 7 am. And still keen to help me open presents in the morning and blow out my candles at night.

2007: J (my younger brother) called to wish me a happy birthday. I reminded him it’s fifteen years since he knocked on my flat door in Brighton to wish me happy thirtieth.

Helping daddy blow out birthday candles

2008: Off to the SCG with J (my son), both dressed in red and white, to watch Sydney Swans play AFL. Loved our seats near the fence, right near the players. Cheered the Swans to victory, and then, the best part, we had kick-to-kick on the ground after the final siren. Perfect day for this footy-fan dad!

2010: J crawled into bed beside me with my birthday present in pitch darkness. Sometime later, he checked the bedside clock and announced it was 6 am. Kept him still and quiet for a little longer before getting up for another bleary-eyed birthday.

A middle-aged dad (2011-2019)

2011: Nice touch when the manager at the gym came and shook my hand, wishing me a happy birthday. ‘Thanks,’ I said. ‘This year, turning forty-nine, I do feel a year older!’

2012: J commented on our walk to school, ‘Dad, you’re not going to live to be a hundred, are you?’ ‘No, son,’ I replied, ‘that’s very unlikely.’ He paused and smirked, ‘So even though you turned fifty today, that means you’ve been middle-aged for a while?’ Thanks, son!

2015: No time for celebration with a busy day of chores before driving J to water polo training. At least it gave me a chance to unwind with my well-into-middle-age laps in the pool while J trained for next week’s Gold Coast championships.

2017: Blustery and bucketing down for water polo training. But it meant I had the fifty-metre lap pool to myself when I pushed off to attempt fifty-five laps for my fifty-fifth birthday. All the training paid off, I smashed my goal and did sixty laps!

2018: J gave me the perfect gift: books. Though, The Stolen Bicycle by Wu Ming-Yi seemed an odd choice. It’s about a father who rides off on his bike and deserts his family.

Swimming pool

2019: Returned to the pool after a long break. Shoulders stuffed from the start. Couldn’t finish one lap freestyle, let alone fifty-seven. However, I limped to my goal with breaststroke (in sets of ten). Might be the last time I mark my birthday swimming laps!

A Birthday to Forget?

I didn’t do my birthday laps this year. After 2019’s painful swim, I had an MRI and learned I’d torn the tendons in both shoulders. And anyway, the pool was closed due to COVID-19.

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Thanks to the wretched virus, life has changed dramatically for everyone since the start of the year. And there is an understandable desire to write off 2020 and fast forward to 2021.

It’s tempting to forget this year’s birthday, too, but I won’t! Like 2003, I spent it surrounded by my favourite people and dog (albeit in lockdown). But unlike 2006, I blew out my birthday candles without ‘help’. However, there were socially-distanced well-wishes from family and friends. And my son gave me more great books to read.

I have another reason for not writing off this year: my son turns eighteen in June. It’s forty years since my eighteenth. I’ve still got the polished wood card from that day, with the well-wishes of family and friends written inside.

In truth, my memories of my eighteenth are distant and dim (and dimming further as I tick off the years towards my milestone sixtieth!). Maybe COVID-19 will etch this year more firmly in my son’s memory.

18th Birthday Card

For his sake and all of us, I hope there’s some joy among the gloom of 2020. And that, like me, he and we all have a birthday to remember.

© 2020 Robert Fairhead

N.B. You might also be interested in these memoir pieces shared on Tall And True, Sixteen Xmas Memories and New Year Memories.

Note: This post originally appeared on the Tall And True writers’ website.

This post was proofread by Grammarly


Welcome to the blog posts and selected writing of Robert Fairhead. A writer and editor at the Tall And True writers' website, Robert also writes and narrates episodes for the Tall And True Short Reads podcast. In addition, his book reviews and other writing have appeared in print and online media, and he's published several collections of short stories. Please see Robert's profile for further details.


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