My dad (Jim McNeal) with his dog Guess
All my life I shared my birthday with Pop. Our birthday is on March 18. As a kid I resented sharing the attention with my dad. Being the self involved urchin that I was and most children are, I wanted my own birthday cake. So, for a while, we had two cakes: coconut for Pop and vanilla with bananas between the layers for me. I know my mom was glad when I got over that episode of “it’s all about me” behavior.
As we spent more and more birthdays together, we began to plan our birthday dinner in cooperation each getting a choice on what food we wanted and what kind of cake (only one) we desired. When we went to renew our drivers’ licenses every four years, we started planning what costumes we would wear. I did everything from a Nehru jacket to a cowgirl outfit. It became an event and was special to us.
Pop was quite a liberal thinker. He let my sister, Mary, and I draw pictures and write on our bedroom walls. When notes came home from my teacher that I kept my book bag with me at all the time, even at recess, my dad sent her a note back telling her to let me do it because it was my way of dealing with separation from my mom while I was at school. He laughed when Mary and I burned down the closet and the fire department came to put it out. Okay, that was after he punished us and he had no idea we heard him when he made light of it. Being a meteorologist, he taught me about the weather, how fronts worked and what the different clouds were. We went on nature walks, learned how to make a vegetable garden, what the stars were in the night sky and taught us to always have bird feeders and what the different birds like to eat. I learned how to write a check and balance my checkbook, trust in my fellow humans and how to become self reliant from my dad.
I was thirty-seven when I spent my first birthday without him. The magic and fun was suddenly gone. Some years I don’t really want a fuss made over me on my birthday and other years I’m okay with the special attention. But regardless of how I feel, happy or sad, I always remember to play my dad’s favorite bagpipe tune and light a candle in his memory. Even though we used to scrap a lot with each other and our tempers would flare from time to time over my need for independence, my dad was my protector, my guru of wisdom, my sparring partner and my friend. He believed in me and he stuck up for me and I will hold my memories of him dear to my heart always.
Happy birthday Pop.