Birthdays have a special place in our hearts for family and national presuppositions. For family as it is the day you came into this world, a new baby is born. Celebrations and birthday cakes and candles are all part of the performance, let alone dad not singing in tune your happy birthday song.
Birthdays also have an important place in the life of the nation. Consider:
In our legal system you become designated as an adult at 18
This confers particular rights and responsibilities such as voting
You are legally able to leave school at a certain age
In past years you became eligible for military conscription at a certain age
You can enlist in the military at a certain age
You can marry at certain age
You can consent to sexual intercourse at a certain age
You can run for elected office at a certain age
You can legally purchase (or consume) alcohol as a certain age
You can obtain a driver's license at a certain age
Credit applications (Banks, Cards, whatever) require your birth date
You can legally retire on a pension at a certain age
It's imperative you have a birth certificate with your birth date
Indeed your birthdate has great significance. I turned 64 yesterday. My wife Delma and I are away on mission so my birthday celebration was not a family celebration. But both my grand children have recently had birthdays and there was great rejoicing.
Consider when children are born, and the older children await expectedly (as did ours) as the new baby comes home and becomes part of the family. Each year the date of the birth is celebrated. It is a big event.
Christmas does this too - the nativity scene is one of the most visible and recognisable items in today's society. Jesus the baby in swaddling clothes with Joseph and Mary in a manger with various animals along with variations such as wise men, shepherds, chickens, hay bales and other farmyard paraphernalia are highlighted in shop windows, community centres, private homes and churches across the nation.
Gifts are central to birthdays and the most wonderful gift of Jesus coming into our world as a baby, creates the delight of giving gifts at Christmas to our own children and loved ones.
Birthdays mean sharing
Gift-giving is a practical way to show children the Christian principles of sharing what little you may have, with those less fortunate. Children are expected to give gifts to the family, as well as receive them from others.
All this is woven into our traditions, and it means that families are indispensable to the joy of birthdays. Every parent experiences the delight of their loved ones opening their birthday gifts that they have so carefully and lovingly chosen for each child, grandchild or member of the extended family (and sometimes friends).
We have realised how traditions pass through the generations, as we are delighted to know the delight grandchildren bring to our hearts. Their birthdays become important to us. The next generation. For Christians, the church of the future.
Birthdays have so many wonderful memories for families and as the years roll on, the children grow up, they in turn marry and have children of their own, and then each birthday becomes more and more special.
Heard first hand
So it was with great interest that we recently heard first-hand from our adult children when together their childhood memories of family life and birthdays.
Our son Wesley noted that the dad (me) you see today, relaxed and having coffee with his close mates and many other acquaintances who visit in his ministry, is a different image to the Mark Tronson the children grew up with.
Dad (as most young fathers) was dedicated and driven – working extremely hard and not seen as much by Delma and the children as they might have liked. Wesley remembers, however, that dad was ready to have fun with the family he adored.
But more than this, that as they grew up, dad supported them in many ways whatever they choose to do: with bold confidence in helping them with their own decisions, with being emotionally supportive, with providing funding, with joining personal celebrations; and when they were away, he would visit, write, email and call on the phone. In their decisions to go overseas, attend university, or leave home, the nature of dad's support is printed indelibly upon the children's hearts.
It is this that each of the four children have come away with in their own lives in relation to the choices they have made for themselves in sport, studies, partners (the eldest two are married) and subsequent careers. They grew up with someone who showed by example that to achieve significant things, one doesn't sit idle. Birthdays were central.
And most importantly, dad enjoyed having fun, whether that was sports out the back, down the park, family holidays, chatting and laughing around the kitchen table, playing tricks, and he enjoyed watching the children grow up and develop on their own personalities, good graces and following the wisdom of their parents in the choices they made.
Birthdays brings all this into context for me. I am very pleased that my children remember that families are great fun. I am also pleased to find that the speeches the children make as adults are filled with such wisdom and fun, particularly their acting out various situational family comedy.
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He mentors young writers and has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html