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The games we play between our ears

October 28, 2014

I forgot to call my brother this week to congratulate him on his 60th birthday. Well, that’s what I tell myself. Did I really forget? Maybe… or maybe I neglected it… or even repressed it. It’s on my Outlook calendar, so there’s no excuse. But his birthday was on Sunday, so I could claim that I missed it. But, no… my office is in the home, and there isn’t a day of the week that doesn’t find me wandering by. So, that’s not it either.
While walking the dog on Sunday, my beloved wife reminded me (she’s good at that), and even held out her cell phone for me to make the call. For some deep-seated and possibly dark reason, I declined, asking her to remind me again when we got home. Of course, her answer was that I’d have to remind her to remind me. Of course, the reminder got lost on both counts and the call never happened.
Pondering my failure some, I’ve resolved to take full responsibility for my inaction. I own this one. There’s no way to blame anyone else. “Procrastinate… now!” is perhaps not the best strategy when it comes to such timely assignments as birthday greetings.
So, I ask myself. Where does my failure come from? Certainly not from my mother. She sent birthday cards every year to all her grandchildren, never missing and almost always arriving in the mailbox a couple of days ahead of schedule. And certainly not from my mother-in-law. Every year, she starts working on a card for me two or three months ahead of schedule. With a Russian/English dictionary in hand, she always writes out a wonderful card for me. The translation often provides bonus entertainment, but the thoughtfulness and effort is always appreciated.
It doesn’t come from work habits, for sure. I’m always on time, and often a week or more ahead of schedule. I hate late and make a point of being punctual (or better) in everything I do. I often arrive in out-of-town destinations for meetings a day in advance, not wanting the stress of making connections and the risk of being late for meetings. Once, I drove into Toronto for a golf tournament (this was 30 years ago), leaving home four hours ahead of time… it’s only a two hour drive. Sure enough, the highway was closed and it took three hours and fifty-five minutes. I walked on to the first tee just in time.
Recently, there was a seven week stretch in which I made numerous trips by air all across North America… Fort Worth, New Orleans, Tampa, Boston, Philadelphia, Montreal, Tulsa. More than once I woke up not knowing where I was. Tired of airport lounges late last month, I opted to drive from home (London, Ontario) to Brooklyn, New York, then through New Jersey to Philadelphia and home again. I don’t do it often, but I had ten schools to visit, so I could justify taking the time. Key to my decision, the Autumn season always makes for a wonderfully colourful drive through upstate New York. (I guess while in New York, that would be a colorful drive… eh?). To my point, I left two days ahead of my first appointment, meandering all the way. On schedule, was looking to cross over south Manhattan to Brooklyn mid-afternoon on the Sunday. Following my navigator every step of the way, I found myself in New Jersey being re-routed from dead end to dead end. At least five wrong turns. Construction will get you every time. Let’s not go there. Things didn’t get any better as I approached the crossing. My first clue should have been the 30 minute wait for the Holland Tunnel. Once in Manhattan, I quickly became grateful for a full tank of gas. Gnarly traffic had me improvising this way and that way, seeking a clear path. I timed more than a full hour sitting at the intersection of West Houston and Broadway. No big deal. I had no obligations until Monday morning and it couldn’t take me that long to get to Brooklyn… could it? I guess I should have listened to the news that morning. I would have learned about the climate change protests that day in NYC. What should have been a pleasant 20 minute drive across Manhattan took more than three hours. But I was on time.
So… there’s nothing in my experience, or habits, or genetics that explains why I would procrastinate in calling my brother to say, “Happy Birthday.” There must be something else.
Karen, our (much) older sister, also had a recent milestone birthday. She turned 65 early this month. I had no difficulty wishing her a happy birthday. At least, I think I said Happy Birthday… when she called. Let the record show that I did call her back, the day before her birthday, while walking the street in downtown Brooklyn (my second trip there in two weeks… I’ve got a million and one excuses).
In the end, I cannot find fault in myself, so I’m left with no alternative but to blame my brother. It’s his fault, after all. Here’s my logic. You see, Karen is much older than I, so her aging is far too distant to affect me personally. Even Robert, next in line, is way too old to have any relevant impact on me when his birthday comes around. Every year, he leaves a birthday message for me, with a lilting sing-song voice pointing out that I’m getting older… again… as if I need to be told. And every year, as I push the ‘delete message’ button, I quietly respond, “Yeah, right… and you’re still five years older than I am.”
Brad is different. He’s only 2½ years older than I. He’d rightfully be offended at the notion that we were playmates as children. We were not. I was a tagalong little brother, what you might correctly term a pest. I remember the first day of Grade 9, my arrival at the ‘big school’. Before leaving home, Brad held up his hand like a stop sign and admonished me with, “Just remember, Kevin. If we happen to pass each other in the hallway, you don’t know me… and I DON’T know you.”
Nonetheless, our close span in age saw us traveling in occasionally overlapping circles. One of these was sport. He captained the high school wrestling team until graduating, at which point I took over. As the provincial champion at 106 pounds (can you believe that, Brad, so many pounds ago?), he taught me well how to fall on a concrete basement floor. Now, that’s a lesson you have to catch quickly. There aren’t many second chances here. One of the things we shared was a love of the guillotine. That’s a devastating wrestling move. I’ll leave you to Google it.
My point. Seeing Brad age touches me a little too close for comfort. Not only does he possess the audacity to turn 60 while I’m pretending to be 17. He also has the outrageous gall to retire at such a young age. Ouch! That cuts deeply.
My point. Seeing my siblings advance in years, especially the one nearest in age, brings me one step closer to the same. Not ready for that, kicking and screaming all the way, thank you very much. Make that journey if you must, but go without me. I’m not going.
My point. A grudging… and belated… “Happy Birthday, Brad.” Make the most of each day. Every day you wake up beats the alternative. Here’s wishing for you many more of the same.
With deep respect and brotherly love,


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