Author Essays, Interviews, and Excerpts, Chicago, Literature

David Royko on his father’s birthday

Dad, a.k.a. Mike Royko, would have turned 78 yesterday, Sunday, September 19, and if he were still around, I would not greet him with a “Happy Birthday.”
Many people, men and women alike, especially after a “certain age,” prefer to ignore their birthdays and wish the world would too. But the rest of us prefer to ignore their wishes and gleefully rub the day in the birthday boys’ and girls’ faces. Hey, we all get older, so get over it, right?
Dad, though, was different. On September 19, 1979, Carol—Mom—died. He’d loved her since they were kids, married her when they were very young adults, and lost her on his 47th birthday. They had been coming up on their 25th wedding anniversary. She was 44.
And that was it for birthdays.
I might’ve tried a quiet, mumbled “happy birthday” one year, but the reaction, the grunt and turning-away, taught me not to try it again. So year after year, I’d try to find some excuse to stop by, either his home or down at the paper, and casually drop something off, like a book or CD, and never with any mention of why. He’d accept it with a quick “Oh, thanks,” and move on to something else. Dad probably would’ve preferred I’d not even done that, but the gift and lack-of-acknowledgment was my way of letting him know I hadn’t forgotten what day it was, on both counts.
Those who got to know Dad in his later years often would attribute his birthday abhorrence to the usual reasons middle-aged and older guys hate them. Dad had a better reason, and the irony was that being a celebrity meant his birthday would always be noted somewhere in the media.
“Celebrating his birthday today is Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist, Mike Royko.”
They always got it wrong. He wasn’t celebrating.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t, and now, it won’t bug him. So Happy Birthday Dad, and as I have thought for the past 14 years, I’d be much happier ignoring it with you than saying it without you.