Today is my dad’s birthday. He is now 58 years old. It’s strange to think that in the photo above, Dad would be around the same age I am now. Sometimes, I’m almost in denial that time has marched on as quickly as it has. But Dad will openly admit he’s got more grey hairs, more wrinkles, and somewhat of a bigger belly than his 30 year old counterpart. Not to mention they just don’t make cars as classy as they used to!
Sometimes, I feel sad about what the intervening years held in store for Dad. The last thirteen years, in particular, have been tough for him, and it’s the loss of the carefree personality that defined the young man above that has been hardest to witness, rather than the inevitable physical effects of ageing.
In his young days, Dad was an adventurer in his own way. Classic cars were his mode of travel, and he frequently took to the open roads around Australia with his mates. Perhaps his horizons shrunk once he had a family, but he would always take us places when he wasn’t working, and to me, our Sunday drives were the height of excitement. The suburbs weren’t built up back then, and the world seemed like a bigger place.
These days, Dad doesn’t really like to go anywhere. He’s lost contact with friends. He doesn’t care much about his appearance and would never get dressed up now the way he did in the photo above. The hardships he’s endured have resulted in him losing interest in a lot of things, and sometimes I struggle with accepting that reality. At the end of the day, I just have to remind myself that it is what it is.
One thing that has remained constant throughout the years, though, is Dad’s nonchalance towards birthdays. He doesn’t like a fuss being made, never has, and is content to spend his special day like any other day. I feel much the same way about my own birthday, but at the same time, there’s no way I could let Dad’s birthday pass by without acknowledging the occasion in some small way.
We’re not big on presents in my family, but my brother and I went halves in buying Dad a new tablet. We actually bought him one for his birthday last year, but in recent weeks, the battery had started playing up. Dad’s the sort of person who would rather fix what he has than buy a new model, and he made some inquiries into a replacement battery, but it would’ve cost almost as much as the new tablet, so I think the upgrade was a good idea.
The main thing I wanted to do for Dad, though, was to cook him dinner. After returning from Sri Lanka enamoured of their delicious, flavourful food, I decided to make Dad a Sri Lankan inspired birthday feast. We both love spicy food, and I was spurred on by my success with a potato curry I’d already made the day after I arrived home. This time around, I planned to include a few side dishes, so as to emulate the generous banquets I’d been served on my travels.
The menu I had in mind was based on some of my favourite dishes I’d eaten while in Sri Lanka: fried rice, potato curry, dhal curry, fried eggplant, mango chutney, coconut roti, and pappadums. Fittingly, the final 20/20 cricket match between Australia and Sri Lanka was on TV, and I envisioned us sitting down and eating my spread of food while watching the match.
There are many reasons why I love my dad, but tonight it was because he waited four hours for his birthday dinner while I went through several meltdowns, as dish after dish failed to turn out the way I wanted. The mango chutney didn’t thicken. The eggplant took forever to fry. The consistency of the lentils was all wrong. The sauce for the potato curry looked insipid. And yet, not once did Dad complain he was hungry during all these crises. (Though he did eat the entire serve of dhal curry right out of the pot after I announced it was unsuitable for consumption.)
In the end, Mum prepared the fried rice, I couldn’t be bothered making the coconut roti , and I completely forgot about the pappadums. The mango chutney was a write-off, not because it was too runny, but because I’d added too much cornflour in an attempt to thicken it up, and it now resembled glue. All I had to show for my four hours of slaving away in the kitchen was some fried eggplant and a potato curry, the latter which had taken me half an hour to prepare the previous time I’d made it.
And so it was that my parents and I sat down with a plate of rice, potato, and eggplant to celebrate my dad’s birthday. We ate this grand feast while watching a David Attenborough documentary, since the cricket had finished long ago. Not for the first time, I contemplated that I had probably bitten off more than I could chew, but as Dad finished his plate and thanked me for his meal with genuine appreciation, I realised that perhaps dinner hadn’t been a total disaster. After all, it’s the thought that counts, right?