Yesterday, I hit a milestone…and I hit it begrudgingly.
I turned 30.
I say “turned 30” because “celebrated my 30th birthday” doesn’t properly capture my emotions towards this momentous occasion. It doesn’t properly reflect the terror I feel in my heart. The terror that…like my Father….I might start losing my hair at 30. Not to mention all the other age-induced physical changes one goes through as they get a bit older.
When people ask me if I’m turning 30 and I sadly tell them that I am, they often gush and glow and tell me that my thirties are going to be the best years of my life. They tell me this because their thirties must have been great….and most of the time they aren’t in their thirties anymore. I guess I would think my thirties were pretty darn great if I was sixty. And hairless.
I know, I know. I should be really, really, really grateful that God has blessed me with an amazing thirty years. And that he’s given me a mostly healthy life so that these years will likely continue to accumulate. I am thankful for those things, and I guess that it’s mainly vanity that is keeping me from turning 30 with a smile on my face.
Vanity, yes, but also the fact that every year that passes on is a year spent without my Dad.
My Mom and Dad always made birthdays a very exciting time around our house. Part of this good fortune was likely a result of my only child status, but most of it likely came from the fact that I just had really awesome and amazingly thoughtful parents. I look back on my life and I’m thankful for this: I never had to think about whether or not my parents loved me. I knew they loved me. And they showed it every single day. But birthdays were extra-special.
I remember the birthday parties as I was growing up. A handful of my friends would always join us for a special day, and Mom did most of the planning and execution, but Dad was always there to help and have fun. Some years it involved a trip to a fun spot in our town, like Discovery Zone or Sports Zone. We would chow down on pizza, play arcade games, and run through tunnels and ball pits until our socks wore out. Other times, my parents would turn our backyard into a fun zone all its own, with Mom cooking lots of food and Dad setting up games or piñatas for everyone to have fun with. No matter the locale, it always felt like a special day; and all the while, my parents never failed to tell me they loved me.
I remember the elaborate gifts that my parents would buy for me. Like the year they purchased me a Sega Genesis (every 90’s kid is reading this and saying the “SEY-GAAAAA” jingle). I played Sonic & Tales and Aladdin until my eyes crossed. There was the year I got a CD player for the first time…and I thanked my heavenly Father that I would no longer have to rewind cassette tapes anymore! Okay, I am really starting to feel older than 30 now…
There was the year that my Mom and Dad had bought me a bike and stowed it at a neighbor’s house for safe-keeping until a surprise gifting planned for later that night. Already having dressed for dinner, I sat in the living room in front of our windows waiting for my Mom and Dad to get ready. Suddenly, I saw my Dad hoofing it across our front lawn, pushing a flashy new yellow and blue 21-speed Mongoose. I pointed out the window and looked at Mom with a quizzical face, saying “Hey Mom, am I going crazy or did I just see Dad run across the front yard with a bike? Is that my birthday present?!”
Mom and Dad had a brief “discussion” about how he should have brought the bike over sooner and how he shouldn’t try to hide a surprise by running it in front of our huge front windows, but it was eventually confirmed that, yes, the bike was mine. I remember running my hands across the sleek new frame, grasping the stiff and unused brakes, and pedaling up and down the street where we lived before Mom told me we absolutely had to leave for dinner right then. She promised me I could ride the bike when I got home, and I remember riding the bike that night as Mom and Dad sat on lawn chairs in our front driveway, making sure I got off the bike and stood in the grass every time they saw headlights. That bike and I traversed the trails of Rentschler Park hundreds of times of the years, and it eventually came to Oxford with me, helping me get from class to class and back to my apartment. It was a special gift. Special, and also built tough—I still have it, and it still looks brand new. My Dad always had a knack for picking out high-quality, durable, and usually brand-name gifts. Unfortunately, I’ve inherited his taste for nice (and more expensive) things.
As birthdays accumulated, the childlike whimsy and fun that I remembered was always harder to recapture—but my parents always did everything they could to try and make me feel special. Mom always offered to cook my favorite meal and make me a cake or dessert that I enjoyed. The favorite tastes of my childhood, especially my Mom’s cooking, always have a way to bring me back to a happier place. Both of my parents would always make sure they wished me a happy birthday before I left the house that day, each giving me a big hug. Some years we would go out to a nice restaurant, like the year we went to the Montgomery Inn Boathouse in Cincinnati. And they kept buying me gifts—like the year I turned 18 when they helped me buy a brand new set of golf clubs. The gifts and the meals were nice, of course, but they never outranked the importance of having a wonderful set of parents to celebrate with.
It’s hard for me to think about those great birthdays of the past without thinking of how hard it is to celebrate in a new way now. Without my Dad, it’s just harder to smile on my birthday.
This is my fourth birthday without my Dad being here with me. This is my fourth birthday without having him give me a hug and telling me that he loved me. This is my fourth birthday without receiving a text from him, usually in all caps, that reads “HAPPY BIRTHDAY BOY”. This is my fourth birthday without seeing him at my birthday dinner and sharing a cake or dessert together. My fourth birthday without a card that he thought was funny and without a laugh as he told stories from when I was little.
Birthdays just aren’t the same without my Dad, and there are lots of big days that aren’t the same without him. When I graduated from Miami with my Master’s degree, I was excited to have my family cheering me on in the stands, but I was so deeply saddened that Dad wasn’t there to watch. It was really hard to stop thinking about him that day, no matter how hard I tried to put on a brave face. When I got my current job at the Oxford Campus, I really wanted to call him and tell him all about it and hear his encouragement over the phone. I constantly wish I had the opportunity to introduce him to my girlfriend, but I can’t. There have been so many big moments that I haven’t been able to share with him. It’s amazing how your hurt can simultaneously be filled with happiness and hurt in those moments. This complexity is brand new for me, and it’s hard to understand.
There are big days coming in the future—big days where I know his absence will be even more profound. I think about getting married and not having him sitting in the first row with a big smile on his face. As happy as that day will be, it will also be terribly hard for me because he should be there. He should be there to talk to me right before the wedding and tell me all the important truths he’s learned about marriage. He should be there to tell jokes about how he thought this day would never come. He should be there to dance foolishly and laugh with all those in attendance. But he won’t be.
I think about big games and events that I’ve announced. My Dad was always there for those types of things, but he isn’t there to cheer me on anymore. He isn’t sitting in his typical seat at Foundation Field when I announce. He isn’t there taping and recording games that I’ve broadcasted, showing them to people and telling them how proud he is. My Dad was my biggest supporter, my best cheerleader. But he’s not here to do it anymore.
And of course, I think about having children. If you knew my Dad, you know he would have made a tremendous Grandpa. I can’t begin to tell you how much he was loved by kids of all ages. He was goofy and playful and hilarious. He knew how to make people smile, and he never tired of playing with children when he knew they were having fun. I struggle with this one the most. My Dad deserved to be a Grandpa. He deserved to have a set of little feet run up to him and wrap their arms around his shins. I can’t imagine my Dad being an even better Grandpa than he was a Father—but he would have been. But he won’t be now.
There is a sense of finality that is terribly painful as every year moves on. There are times when I can think about him and smile, but there are just as many moments when I think about his absence and all I can do is cry. As a Christian, I am thankful that I know I’ll be reunited with my Dad in Eternity—but it doesn’t erase the pain I feel right now from our temporary separation.
Since Dad’s death, my “big moments” in life have taken on an entirely new complexity. Those moments that should be happy are often constant reminders of the person who isn’t there anymore. Those big moments signal a new chapter in life, but it’s tough to come to terms with the fact that those new chapters are missing a very important character.
But I’m also reminded that even though he isn’t “here”, my Dad is still with me in these big moments—and he always will be. I can eat birthday cake until I’m sick and laugh because my Dad taught me to enjoy life and eat every piece of cake that is put in front of you. I can show my love for another person because my Dad taught me how to put the needs of others before my own. I will someday have the ability to be a good Father because my Dad taught me how to love unconditionally and parent with a purpose. My Dad isn’t physically here with me anymore, but I try and live the way he did—and in that way, he’s still here. And he always will be.
There are some things that I may have inherited from my Dad that I will gladly surrender—chief among those being the gene for hair loss that begins at the age of 30. But I’m proud to be Scott Bradshaw’s son. I’m proud that he taught me how to overcome life’s biggest trials and tragedies. I just wish I didn’t have to lose him to test those skills.
The little moments without him hurt, but so do the big ones. I will continue to live my life, even though I’d rather live it with him here. I’ll continue to blow out the candles on my birthday, wishing more than anything that he could come back. I will continue aging with grace, just like he always did. And I will continue to vigorously and nervously apply copious amounts of preventative Rogaine, because, after all, I will always be my Father’s Son.
Dad, A birthday just isn’t a birthday without you here to celebrate. I often think about the great jokes you would have had worked up for me now that I’ve turned 30. I guarantee that there would have been some hair growth treatments involved—you should know that better than anyone. As painful as it’s been to blow out the candles on a cake without you for the fourth year, I’m thankful that I got to spend 26 wonderful birthdays with you here. You always made birthdays so special for me, and I’ll always be thankful for your unbelievably fun-loving attitude towards life. You have a new birthday in Heaven now. One that represents the start of your eternal life in paradise. As much as I hate aging, I’m thankful that with every passing day I’m one step close to hugging your neck again and telling you how much I’ve missed you. I long for that first hug, because I know it will be even better than the last one we shared. We are going to have a lot of birthdays to catch up on! And I can’t wait to tell you about every day that you’ve been gone. You’ll always be here with me, even when you aren’t. And I’ll always be grateful that on this day 30 years ago, I received one of the greatest birthday gifts God could ever give me. The gift of loving parents, and a Father who made life worth living. Thanks for giving me life, and thanks for always adding love to it. Until I can thank you in person, seeya Bub.
“It is beautiful how God has done everything at the right time. He has put a sense of eternity in people’s minds. Yet, mortals still can’t grasp what God is doing from the beginning to the end of time.” Ecclesiastes 3:11 (GW)