This could be the best advice ever

Friday, July 12, 2002

It's a terrible thing to put off celebrating your mother's birthday.

Not that my mother complained when her birthday arrived near the end of June.

For those of you arching your eyebrows, let me hastily add that I know the exact date of my mother's birth. I am not among those -- mostly of the male persuasion -- who entrust exact dates to their spouses -- mostly of the female persuasion.

Her birthday fell on a weekday. Job duties prevented us from making the 80-mile drive to my favorite hometown in the Ozarks west of here on the exact date. There were other impediments the following weekend. But we arranged to get together on the Saturday after the Fourth of July.

We sent a birthday card by mail that arrived a couple of days before her birthday. We called on her birthday. And then we went to see her and took a gift two weekends later.

Folks -- and this is aimed mostly at you men -- this is not the way to show your mother how much you love her.

I've learned a lot of things about being a dutiful son in recent years, particularly since I suddenly -- where did the years go? -- became the father of adult sons.

When your children are young, it's easy to get them excited about other people's birthdays. Any birthday will do. Youngsters love the hoopla of cakes with fire on top of them and lots of well-taped wrapping paper.

As these hiccup-prone children get older, however, one of two things happens:

1. They become loving, doting, attentive, caring, considerate daughters.

2. Or they become adult sons.

So now I have the perspective of both being an adult son and having adult sons.

Here are some differences in adult daughters and adult sons based on my personal observations, even though I have no daughters of my own:

First, daughters understand the importance of a carefully chosen birthday card. The right card looks right, feels right and reads like an angel composed the inscription. Sons -- if they get a card -- pick anything at eye level on the greeting-card display case. Short sons wind up with cards that are humorous. Tall sons pay a lot more.

Second, daughters understand that the traditional birthday telephone call is a leisurely half-hour of pleasantries and warmly expressed feelings of love and devotion. Sons use the same syllables -- one at a time, mostly -- as they utter during any other phone call.

Third, daughters choose birthday gifts with the same care and attention the Almighty must have used in creating orchids -- all gazillion varieties of them. Color, size, smell, shape, texture and taste in all their endless variations are important to a daughter's choice of gift. If it doesn't have an on-off switch, sons buy the first thing they see at the perfume counter.

As the father of adult sons, I genuinely appreciate and relish the phone calls I get on my birthday. And my wife especially enjoys talking to her sons when her birthday rolls around. But phone calls, as nice as they are, are like Cool Whip on strawberry shortcake: In just a few minutes, the zing is gone forever.

A special, carefully selected card, on the other hand, is a lasting piece of an offspring's adoration that can be looked at and touched for years to come. In the world of birthday remembrances, a well-planned card is as good as appraisable jewelry.

I am passing along these tips and hints only because it has taken me so long to learn them. If I inspire just one person in the fellowship of manhood to be serious about birthdays -- particularly a mother's birthday -- then I will have left a legacy on this earth that is worthy of a mother's tender smile and soft embrace.

Finally, I should point out that my mother looks only half her age. Maybe not even that old.

How's that, Mother, for a special column?

R. Joe Sullivan is the editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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