Dad’s Return From the War Should Not Count as a Birthday Gift, by John Ambrosio
Mom? Dad? We need to talk. Let me say first that I am as happy as the next guy to have Dad home from the war. I missed him every day while he was serving our country in the Army; I love the guy. That being said, I believe it to be a gross miscarriage of justice that his homecoming counted as my birthday present this year.
I know, I know, I hate to kvetch, but if I don’t address this now, I’m afraid of what precedent it might set for future birthdays. So first off, let’s discuss the day in question: April 30, 2016. My seventh birthday. Right off the bat, I thought it was both an incredibly creative and theatrical touch to have Dad come home that particular day and surprise me. Covering him in wrapping paper near the fireplace and having me open him up like a present? Inspired work, Mom. Really. In that moment, I thought, “Oh this is nice! It’s kind of like a play on gifts.”
But as the week dragged on—and as I played with toys that were, at their newest, from a frankly underwhelming single-parent Christmas—I grew concerned. Surely, I thought, there must be more presents to come. I see clearly now, in the middle of June, that this faith was only a symptom my childish naiveté.
Perhaps you’re asking yourself, “Why does this matter?” Let me be clear: If Dad’s safe return had been one of a few presents, then I would not be here pleading my case to you. However, the fact that it was my only present alarms me. It has, quite simply, set me up for failure.
You see, like it or not, we live in a capitalist society. This means that the acquisition of material wealth is really the name of the game; it’s a rat race, I’ll tell you, and whoever has the most toys wins. Even if I kept pace and got real gifts for every single birthday and Christmas going forward, I would never in a million birthdays or even a billion Christmases close the toy gap that this well-meaning, misguided effort has created. I would like to reiterate that I am as proud as anyone about what you did, Dad. I bet you did a great job in Iraq or Afghanistan or whichever of those two we’re still in—I’m a little hazy on details, as I am seven. But that doesn’t mean I can afford for your return to be the only thing that I get for my birthday, which I will remind you comes but once a year.
I’ve been discussing this matter with the other kids at school and, to be honest, we all agree that it’s a little selfish on your part. After all, you went to war voluntarily. While you were there, you got to play with all sorts of toys: guns and trucks and bombs and everything. You must’ve had a ball. And now that you’re home you won’t afford me, your only son, the same joy? I was not born yesterday—again, I was born seven years ago—so I know when I’m getting the raw end of the deal.
Let’s also for a moment consider the origins and meaning of birthdays, shall we? The first birthdays were celebrated in ancient Egypt, where the people paid tribute to the pharaohs with lavish gifts and sacrifices on the anniversaries of their coronations, which represented the day these spiritual and political leaders were reborn, so to speak, as gods on Earth. This tradition of celebrating the births—both literal and metaphorical—of religious figures persisted and spread until sometime during the early Roman Empire, when people began celebrating the birthdays of “common” men with gift-giving and celebrations. These common birthdays were, like many pagan traditions, then adopted by early Christians, who perpetuated the tradition of giving gifts in celebration of a person’s continued triumph over death. While these rituals have evolved dramatically into what we now recognize as all the trappings of a proper birthday, with cakes and cardboard hats and candles, it is significant to note that one tradition has remained a consistent staple of birthdays since their inception: that is, gift-giving.
I tell you all this to ask a simple question: Would you dare to knowingly break with that long-standing tradition, which stretches back to civilization’s own childhood in the fertile Nile River Valley? I didn’t think so. Birthdays, we can therefore agree, should categorically be an all-out bacchanal of gifts. Just as the Egyptians paid homage to their society’s spiritual idols, so too should we pay homage to our own society’s idols of consumption and excess.
I think I’ve raised a lot of good points here, so I suppose I’ll give you some time to mull all this over. Perhaps we can discuss the matter further over dinner; I hear Mom is making mac ‘n’ cheese again. In closing, I’ll just add that, while I would prefer Dad stay where he is, I would also be willing to exchange my current birthday gift for another, if you catch my drift. Think about it, okay?
John Ambrosio is a writer and comedian based in New York City. He performs at the Annoyance Theatre in Brooklyn and credits include IFC’s web series Boy Band and The Special Without Brett Davis. He tweets sometimes at @brouje.
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