Image and Article Source: Up Front with Dale Dudley: They Say It’s Your Birthday – Austin Monthly – August 2014 – Austin, TX.
This month, as many of you celebrate the opening of the Panama Canal (Aug. 15, 1914), I’ll be celebrating my 53rd birthday. I’ll have a nice dinner with my family, who might let me keep my beat-up credit card in my worn-out wallet. I’ll probably down a couple of drinks. Then I’ll chase those with a few more. If I’m lucky, there could be a Starbucks gift card on the table. My wife will ‘”surprise” me with something I really “need,” like socks, T-shirts or tighty-whities. But no matter how high my hopes, there will be no LEGO Ninjago, Minecraft or Spiderman toys for me this year. Those are reserved for the less fortunate kids, whom I’ve never met but live in such destitute ’hoods as Steiner Ranch, River Place and Lakeway.
Every month, I open my credit card statement and there are always several charges for around $30. I don’t need to ask—it was for a kid’s birthday. If the charge is in the $70 to $100 range, I still know it was for a kid’s party and things my wife decided we “needed.” I’ve learned to just repeat this mantra: Happy wife, happy life.
Before I learned to use my “inside” voice, many of my Saturday morning conversations with my wife went like this:
Me: “Whose birthday party are you guys going to?”
Wife: “I told you already, Braden.”
Me: “Braden? What kind of name is Braden? Half Brad and half Caden?”
Wife: [exasperated] “He was on your son’s Little League team last year!”
Me: “You mean the one our kid quit because he was afraid of the ball?”
Wife: [rolls eyes, grabs keys] “Come on, kids, let’s go!”
Somewhere in a box I have an old grainy Polaroid. It’s of me and four other boys sitting on my couch in Monahans, Texas. My mother had made a plain sheet cake and stuck eight candles in it. The party’s theme is, “Hey, isn’t it great to have a roof over our heads!” The presents aren’t stacked high in front of me. I remember they were 25-cent balsa wood airplanes. I think one of my friends splurged and brought me a 99-cent Hot Wheels car. Our small-oil-town parents were raised at the tail end of the Depression, and I think a birthday to them just marked another year of survival of the fittest.
Last year, when my son turned 7, he told his mother he wanted a Wipeout party. Wipeout is the reality-based TV show where contestants run obstacle courses fraught with challenges that usually land them in a pool of water. I figured my investment was going to be a few dozen squirt guns, water balloons, some Capri Sun and a cake from H-E-B.
The morning of the party, I left the house early to dutifully pick up some things for my wife. We live on a corner lot and have a metal fence, which gives a full view of our big backyard. As I approached the house on my return, I had to rub my eyes several times. I remember actually slowing the car down to a crawl. There in my backyard were two giant inflatable water-operated climbing thingamajigs and a staked-out obstacle course! I also noticed that water hoses snaked from both sides of the house. As I pulled around to the front, I encountered a young man who was struggling with large speakers. When I went to help him, he introduced himself as the DJ. I just said, “Dee Jaaaaay?”—and then I financially blacked out.
From what other parents have told me, every kid in the neighborhood and beyond came to run the obstacle course. The teens came for the music, and the adults drank my booze. It was one hell of a kid’s birthday party. Around dusk, I woke up and trudged through patches of dirt where there once was grass to turn off the water hoses. I felt horrible, knowing we were in a drought and wondering if I had shattered Lance Armstrong’s record water bill. I sat down near my son’s stack of toys that had to be worth hundreds and wept, using my inside voice.
A month later for my daughter’s second birthday (same date as mine), I was still too weak to put up a fight. When my wife told me that she wanted to hire a children’s entertainer, my post-party stress disorder kept me from saying no. My shaky hand just wrote the check.
I’m learning that I am just one man. Who am I to fight against what has become the suburban yuppie birthday extravaganza? Guys, the fight is over. Just remember the mantra, happy wife, happy life! And a new one that I have coined: “Gift for your kid? Of course I did!” PS: Congratulations to Braden on his third-place obstacle course finish.
Dale Dudley can be heard weekdays, 6 to 10 a.m., on KLBJ 93.7 FM.