60 Thoughts on Your Birthday: A Letter to My Father


Hey Dad,

So listen. I was going to surprise you and fly to Lafayette, but Ashlie beat me to it. And what’s worse, she brought an adorable grandkid. I can’t top that. (Although, if I came home with a grandkid, you would be surprised.)

Then I thought I’d make you a book and mail one page at a time for 60 days. That seemed grand. Except, I started calculating the postage and it added up. It’s not that you’re not worth $29.40, it’s just that I also don’t have 60 envelopes.

After that, there wasn’t much time because I’d put all my thought into the buying a plane ticket and the piecemealed book idea. And The Walking Dead is back on, so that ate up some time (pun intended).

I decided, that maybe I wasn’t playing to my strengths. My strength is writing (yes, and eating. Thanks. That’s hilarious, Dad.). I considered writing something sweet along side my favorite picture of us on Facebook, but then I remembered you don’t have Facebook (which I still completely support by the way).

So then what? A card? That seems too simple. Not your style. And also, I should have mailed it days ago. So here we are. And while this may not be the most private of ways to wish you a happy birthday, I think it can only increase your fan club after Rinse the Damn Dish (from and the floor was always lava, on sale now!).

People will be like, wait, is that the same Dad that had all those rules in your book? And I’ll be like, yeah, Dude, I only have one Dad. And then they’ll be like, so is your book still for sale? And I’ll be like yeah, in both paperback and ebook formats via all major online retailers (on sale this holiday season).

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So here we are, Dad. You with your brand new renewed license and me with too much time on my hands. Today, on your 60th birthday, I hope this brings you joy, laughter, and slight discomfort. For that is the Junot way.

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* * *

One. I loved hearing all the stories about the women you dated including Betty Crocker. I loved hearing how you proposed to Mom. I loved the way you reenacted it in front of all of us without her even knowing. I loved that we have always had a part in your love story.

Two. I hate when you try to flirt with Mom in front of us. It makes me nauseous.

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Three. Do you remember the morning we were running late for camp or school or something of that nature, but you insisted we eat breakfast? You made a table out of a cardboard box with holes for our legs to slide under and rings for our cups of chocolate milk so we could eat in the car. It was not a time-saver in the least, but it was my favorite day.

Four. Thank you for checking us out of school every year for vacation. It drove the teachers crazy, and it was amazing. We loved the time y’all packed us up in the middle of the night, and when we woke up, we were half-way to Disney World.

Five. I miss having a packed lunch with notes in my sandwich bag. The day you added candles for my birthday was the best.

Six. I learned to love Valentine’s day and St. Patrick’s Day and lesser known holidays, because I knew it meant a surprise card in our booksacks when we got to school. I still get excited to open my mailbox here, because I know I’ll always have at least one card.

Seven. Maybe this means we were poor, but my favorite toys will always be the blocks and the empty spools of thread. The possibilities were endless.

Eight. Seven may only be trumped by the “White Belt Night.”

Nine. Thank you for always having the video camera out. Thank you for making us watch home videos. Thank you for “the victor.”

Ten. Hey. Remember that time you tried to hoola hoop? That was awesome.1990 079

Eleven. I’m really glad that you were the kind of dad that worked all day and came home at night and played with us. That seems really exhausting. When I get home, I just sit down a lot. Sometimes I let Roomba run around, but mostly I just sit.

Twelve. Thank you for taping popsicle sticks to my wrists when I couldn’t get the hang of punching straight. I’m sure there are no emotional scars associated with that at all.

Thirteen. Thank you for surviving cancer. That was really scary.

Fourteen. Thank you for letting us see your cancer treatment. And for letting us see you sick. And for telling us that it was scary for you, too, but sharing the ways you passed the time in prayer while you waited in that machine.1929061_75961081933_2745491_n

Fifteen. I will always value our talks: Our talks on the rare mornings you took us to school, your razor humming around your face, driving my not-a-morning-person self crazy. Our long talk on the way to Spring Hill in Alabama when Mom woke up and said, “Why are we in Florida?” And our four-hour conversations when I moved to Baltimore and you wanted to know all about school, and the apartment, and the city, and eventually the landlord.

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Sixteen. I may always love telling the story about the time I dated a guy 12 years older than me, and you were worried he was 30.

Seventeen. Thank you for teaching me to ride a bike by simply taking off my training wheels and just not telling me. I have to say, that one was a risk.

Eighteen. Thank you for teaching me to take risks.

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Nineteen. You taught us how to properly fold a towel. You taught me how to properly scramble an egg—never wear sleeves! No sleeves in the kitchen! You taught us the possibilities of adjustable shelves and customizable closets, and in recent years, you’ve convinced me it’s a great idea to keep a frozen mug in the freezer.

Twenty. Because of you, the most comforting smells to me will always be fresh sawdust and wet paint.

Twenty-one. Remember that morning when I walked back into the house after telling you goodbye and said I thought there might be something “really really wrong with my car?” And you came out in your bare feet and told me to drive it around the driveway so you could check it out. And I sobbed that it “just wouldn’t go!” And you fussed at me and said “you have a flat tire.”

Twenty-two. Thank you for changing my tire.

Twenty-three. Remember the time I hit that yellow pole and made up a story that you immediately knew wasn’t true? But you let me keep going with it for like ten years?

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Twenty-four. Thank you for marrying Mom.

Twenty-five. Thank you for wanting a third kid.

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Twenty-six. Remember camping at the Property? Remember buying a mini-porta-potty for that adventure so I didn’t have to go outside?

Twenty-seven. I still think it was kind of mean that you bit the tip off my ice cream cone every single week. I was only four, Dad.

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Twenty-eight. Thank you for telling me what you hope for in the man I marry. Thank you for telling me when I’ve clearly missed the mark. Thank you for telling me when you think I’ve found it, and for comforting me when it still goes wrong. Thank you for being the kind of dad I could talk about love with. The kind of dad boyfriends are scared to meet.

Twenty-nine. Thank you for barbequing in the rain.

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Thirty. I’m really glad you got past that time in the early 90s when you put corn in everything.

Thirty-one. I’m really glad we’re past your Rotel phase of the late 90s.

Thirty-two. Thanks for buying me lobster for my 11th birthday, especially when it turned out I didn’t like it as much as I thought I did.

Thirty-three. Thank you for taking my birthday as seriously as I do.

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Thirty-four. I’m glad you taught us the importance of laughter, and most importantly: when to laugh at ourselves. Also, thanks for giving me a love of puns and corny jokes. My friends thank you, too.

Thirty-five. I have hazy but strong memories of being rocked, a binky in my mouth, my little fingers rubbing the callouses, caulk, and dried paint on the palms of your hands until I fell asleep. I didn’t understand how our hands were both hands but so different in every other way.

Thirty-six. Thank you for not letting me drown in the ocean that one time.

Thirty-seven. I love that you introduced yourself to all my friends and classmates and teachers as my “distant-uncle” because you were a little nervous about your portrayal in my book. What you didn’t realize is that no one but you had read the book yet…so they all just thought you were crazy.

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Thirty-eight. Thank you for letting me write a book about our family. Thank you for not only letting me, but also buying 20 copies for all your friends.

Thirty-nine. I can’t believe you drove all the way to Baltimore. I can’t believe you hated the city that much. I can’t believe you left me here. (Just kidding. I’m really grateful y’all got on that plane and I didn’t.)

Forty. Thank you for showing me that sometimes, the next step in life is hard. Sometimes it feels unbearable and really scary. And sometimes it makes you want to run or cry or throw up or curse. But it’s still the next step, and you still have to take it.

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Forty-one. Thank you for the marks sheet and the chores. I’m sure it made us better people, or whatever.

Forty-two. Your texts made me laugh, but ultimately, you were not helpful during the mouse crisis of 2014. I’ll assume that was some kind of teaching moment.

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Forty-three. Thank you for believing me when I said I don’t feel good in church. Thank you for eventually taking me out yourself instead of Ashlie. Thank you for telling the others that there was actually something wrong with me.

Forty-four. I think of your deep voice, singing to us as children, every time I sing a hymn in church.

Forty-five. It makes me smile that sometimes, you still introduce me as the baby.

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Forty-six. At first, I was really glad that you got an iPhone. Because, hello, it’s the 90s. But then, we were all really uncertain about the iPhone. Because you hated it. But now, we’re all really glad again. Because you own those group text messages, Dad. No matter if we’re sleeping or in a meeting or trying to get a mouse out of our purse, you’re owning that group text.

Forty-seven. I love the way you loved Zoey but still hate Scout.

Forty-eight. Unloading groceries. Sunday mornings:

milk: in the refrigerator, on the right side, top shelf, behind the remaining milk from the previous week (eventually this would change to the left side above the eggs, and then in the door of the new fridge which really shook things up)

biscuits, cheese, ham, orange juice, frozen waffles: on the stove next to the fridge

soft drinks: on the ground next to the pantry, but not so next to the pantry that he couldn’t get the doors open

canned goods: on the countertop next to the pantry

vegetables & fruits: placed on the right side of the sink to be washed. Except for the bananas. Because who washes bananas? (We did after a CNN report in the late nineties.)

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Forty-nine. Reading in lent. Monopoly. Rummy 500. Sock Monster. Glasses of cold water when we wouldn’t get out of bed. That damn intercom system.

Fifty. You taught me about deep grief. And heart ache. And you prepared me for the days when I have kids and they’re going through it and there’s nothing I can do about it except know about it from experience and tell them, I know and I’m sorry.

Fifty-one. Your reasons for getting off Facebook still make me laugh: it’s all some bullshit! People just say what they’re doing all day. Who cares? No really, who’s supposed to care about that?

Fifty-two. I should probably be more embarrassed about my nicknames—I was in high school—but I’m not anymore: baby chub, tuddy, shell, ashlie, the favorite.

Fifty-three. Thank you for trying to teach me how to play tennis. Thank you for not being upset when that was a bust and letting me instead be the family ball girl.

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Fifty-four. I still don’t totally get the 9-minutes-fast logic. I remember all our clocks—ALL of them—being 9-minutes fast for about 20 years. I think you said that if they were on time, we’d be late. And if they were 10-minutes fast, we’d easily just do the math. Eventually, we got better at Math, Dad.

Fifty-five. Remember the time you had a change of heart on the 9-minutes fast thing while we were all away at school or Alaska, and when we came home, no one bothered to tell us that after 20 years, all the clocks were set back to normal-people time? That wasn’t cool.

Fifty-six. I won’t forget the phone call in the Houston airport when we got back in the country after a week of no communication. You asked about our trip and our flight first. And then you calmly told us about the accident. I wonder if you practiced that call or dreaded it or didn’t think much about it because you’d already explained it to Patrick a thousand times since his memory no longer worked.

Fifty-seven. Remember that time when we thought someone was on the roof of our house, and you went out to look. I thought you were brave. Remember when you told us to come out to see what was there? I thought you were crazy.

I’m glad it turned out to be a raccoon.

Fifty-eight. Did I mention the night of the white belts? Cause really. That happened.

Fifty-nine. I’m grateful you told me who God was. I’m grateful still that we still talk about Him together.

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Sixty. Thank you for the knowledge that I am deeply loved. No matter how far I go. No matter how successful or unsuccessful I am. No matter how many times I lose the remote, or how single I stay. I am loved.

* * *

Dad, there are still a million other things I could write—crossing the Evangeline through-way on bikes, the boat, feeding ducks at the park, my first dance review, my last review, etc—but you’re only sixty. We’ve got time.

I know you’re not perfect (see “The Big Step” chapter in my book, available in both paperback and ebook formats), but you’re my dad. And I think you’ve been a pretty great one.

Happy Birthday! We all love you,

Tuddy, Sweet Pea, Pumpkin, and Mom

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Sorry, Pat.

P.S. Pat, this is the balance out the embarrassment:

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