April 13, 2022
-by Frank Macdonald
Another birthday has come and gone.
I won’t bore you with numbers, but I can remember when I couldn’t count this high.
In the beginning, I looked forward to my birthday. Until it began to lose some of its shine when I discovered that just about everybody I knew had one, and that their invitations to their birthday parties was just a way to try to get back the gift their parents made them give me on my birthday.
Some birthdays are memorable, most forgettable, and a few are milestones along the road to ‘coming of age,’ as the cliché so fondly says.
There’s turning 10, the year that gets you into the double digits. That’s one that matters.
Thirteen, of course, marks the arrival of your young life’s ambition. You’ve known for a while that one of these birthdays was going to turn you into a teenager. That’s when all the magic was supposed to happen; shaving, the driver’s licence, the first this, the first that, which, when they did happen didn’t have that ‘wild and crazy guy’ edge to it that was promised you when you were 11. It had more to do with the terror that you were the only teen in town who wasn’t cool, wets palms, trying to talk to girls without grossing them out, throwing up behind the hall at a high school dance…
Twenty-one was the major milestone!
Twenty-one brought with it your very own birth certificate proof that you were now officially a man. You didn’t need your brother’s or your cousin’s ID to get into a tavern. You were there because of the hair on your own chest.
Your 21st birthday was your passage into adulthood. Then the rug was pulled out from under that magnificent age by lowering the age for getting legally drunk all the way down to18. It also meant a teenager enjoyed the questionable perk of being allowed to vote for a prime minister or the Winter Carnival Queen.
We, who had arrived at 21, felt betrayed and would have said so except that the lowered age let 18 year old girls into these places without them needing to steal their sisters’ IDs. The popular political excuse for the age change was that lowering the voting age allowed more people to participate in the democratic process. The tax-based reason for lowering the drinking age was that alcohol was a lucrative government cash cow. Some of those teenagers could drink a lot of veteran imbibers under the table while the government’s liquor store and tavern registers went on ringing a steady cha-ching-cha-ching-cha-ching.
Turning 21 might not mean much any more, but a person’s 40th birthday is still the age that brings on another burst of childhood. Usually, it’s guys who get the credit for this greying, balding crisis that drives them to sports cars and the company of someone they pretend they are still as young as. There may be a female version of turning 40 of which I am unaware.
That was probably because at my 40th birthday party I was being completely ignored by 40-year-old women who had their eyes on a grander, younger prize. Of course, my romantic cause wasn’t helped by my two-pack a day habit that required me to make about 30 wishes just to blow out 40 candles.
The next birthday that matters arrives when one is in their 60s.
This, of course, raises the question, “At 60, are you still coming of age?” Or simply aging? It is an age when it’s not your birth certificate that matters beyond those senior discounts when shopping, or going to cheaper-for-seniors afternoon movies because that’s your best chance to stay awake through the whole show, a time when all the proof of age one needs is the brown envelope with the old age pension in it.
I cherish each one of these monthly allowances from Ottawa because after a bit of research I discovered that Canadians were never expected to receive their old age pension. It was just a promise like most political promises.
In the early 1950s, the old age pension as we now know it, was introduced, $21or so a month to allow elderly Canadians to eat cat food sandwiches only half the month. The bureaucratic gimmick behind this social largesse was that in 1950 the life expectancy in Canada was 61 years. The old age pension was made available to Canadians at age 70! Obviously, Canadians rose to the challenge. Canadians longevity increased dramatically since 1950, once we learned that we would be getting paid to stay alive.
The next milestone will be, of course, 100. I might have a few things to add when I get there, but for now I can only speculate, meditate, or just try to remember the signposts that have whipped past while I feel like a passenger on a speeding train.
My most recent birthday, and probably a great many other ones, might have slipped past with not much more notice than a thin slice of heart-smart cake accompanied by a dollop of ice cream and a couple of off-key friends singing Happy Birthday to You.
That quiet slipping by of the years has now changed dramatically.
Thanks to Facebook everybody gets to feel like their birthday is a national holiday. Dozens, scores, and even more kind wishes pour into your FB account (all gift free).
There is an actual national holiday that celebrates the Queen’s birthday. It used to be Queen Victoria’s birthday until, to everyone’s surprise, she eventually died. But the holiday stayed in place.
This way, we’re not following the Queen or King-du-jour around the calendar holding a long weekend holiday whenever there was an actual monarch’s birthday. And speaking of monarch’s birthdays, I notice she didn’t send me a greeting this year. Well May 24th will come and go without me sending her a string of Happy Faces.
Taking this birthday discussion back to the subject of milestones, with the arrival of “the pension” every birthday becomes a milestone worth celebrating because it continues to mark the absence of a headstone and the end of your pensionable days on this planet.
Whether you are still earning a baby bonus for your parents, a pay cheque for yourself, or collecting the brown envelope, Happy Birthday to you when the calendar turns up the date of your birth. And may the candles on your cake be free of a two-pack a day exercise as you try to make your wishes come true.