Kendra Renner, with help

Kendra Renner, with help from her father Jerry Renner, blows out the candles on a Pocahontas cake celebrating her 3rd birthday. Jerry’s birthday is this weekend, and everyone will be wearing an obligatory cone-shaped birthday hat to celebrate.

My dad’s birthday is today. Birthdays are pretty important in my family.

If you celebrate a birthday in our house that means Mom makes a homemade dessert. This year, it’s sugar-free chocolate cake “because I can’t have all that sugar,” Dad says. He prefers chocolate mayonnaise cake, but due in part to me picking up a large chocolate malt for him weekly, he requested a healthier route. This also means you get candles, an off-key birthday song, and everyone present is mandated to wear a party hat (even the dog).

Two moments will indefinitely be captured here: the moment just before the 90-degree-angle-tilted cake you are posing with for a picture slides off the plate, and the moment your cheeks are blown up like balloons, letting your wish extinguish the candles. Any birthday I have had reverts me back to 10 years old each and every time. The magic of a birthday has never died throughout these 26 years. I mean, how can it when you’re wearing a party hat and blushing like a child when you’re being sung to? 

I have heard people say birthdays feel like “just another day” — nothing special, nothing to see here. This never made sense to me. Let’s put this into perspective: your birthday means you have lived another year of life. This doesn’t just mean literally live life and survive as a person, but actually “live” by moving through all the twists and turns that make up this crazy thing. It seems as though we place more value and attention on the birthdays of children, until age 21, and then not as much emphasis and celebration until someone is in their old age. 

What about the in-between? What about all the laughter, happiness, sorrow, tears, adventure, messy in-between parts of the rollercoaster that is life? Have you ever just fallen onto your bed after a heck of a day and thought, “Wow, how did I ever get through this day, this year, maybe these past few years, maybe this life?” Then a sense of relief washes through you because no matter how difficult or unimaginable it was, here you are. To me, that is undeniably worth celebrating once a year with a goofy party hat and homemade slice of 500-calorie cake with the person, people, or furry four-legged friends you love.

For some, birthdays are less exciting because it means getting older. This is a great time to remind you that the expectancies and judgments of certain ages are socially constructed concepts, and usually are not reality, but we won’t go into all of that. The birthdays which we think of as mundane or “boring” are the ones I was raised to root for and see just as important as a child turning 4 or someone turning 99. Maybe it’s because there was a time we weren’t sure if my dad would celebrate another birthday with us, or maybe it’s just my mom’s enthusiasm about celebrating birthdays. Either way, birthdays are marked on the calendar, prepped a week in advance, and anticipated. 

Dad says it best, “Life is fragile and you really don’t know day-to-day what’s going to happen. Seeing everybody and being in each other’s company makes you feel good that other people are celebrating with you.”

A birthday is your day, a time to celebrate you. Maybe a whole party is not necessary for you, maybe you aren’t into the hats and cake and birthday song. Even by doing something small for yourself like planning ahead and taking off that day of work or buying yourself an ice cream cone or doing absolutely nothing on the couch, in some way, celebrate yourself. Anything to make your birthday not feel like “just another day.”

Another year around the sun is another year around the sun, and that’s worth celebrating. 

Happy birthday, Dad!