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CJ's Birthday

June 27, 2014

Today is our son CJ’s thirty-fourth birthday. I don’t feel old enough to have a son that age, but the wrinkled face in the mirror assures me it’s true. Mrs. C. and I were twenty-eight and had already been married six years when we had our one and only child. Since we’ve known each other since high school it isn’t inconceivable that we could have a son in his forties. I shiver at the thought.


Two reflections tango in my mind today as I think about my son. Surprisingly, the first involves one of the worst days of my life. CJ was two years old and I was out of work during a terrible recession that struck the Northwest in the early eighties. Mrs. C. had a job and was carrying the lion’s share of responsibility for supporting our family. I struggled to find work but my art background made me about as hireable as a shepherd. I decided to take little CJ to the park to feed the ducks and distract me from fretting that I’d never land another job.


At the park it started to rain. I’d failed to consider the weather and hadn’t grabbed CJ’s umbrella or raincoat. Adding to my failure as a provider, I now felt like a failure as a parent. When the shower hardened into heavy rain we took shelter under a tree that did little to keep us dry. I noticed an empty waste can nearby with a clean plastic liner. I pulled it out, tore three holes in it and slipped it over the head of my two-year old. He thought the makeshift raincoat the greatest thing he’d ever seen. He ran about in the rain, spinning like a whirling dervish until he fell down, repeating the process over and over. I remember the happiness on his little face as he dashed about in that garbage sack. I was glad the rain camouflaged my tears. Shortly after this incident I was hired by a local jewelry store where, it turned out, I had a gift for selling jewelry.


Years later another incident cemented itself into my mind. After years of selling jewelry and working my way into a management position, I quit retail to pursue my love of art. I began my career as a freelance illustrator. I’d located my business in a vintage building in downtown Portland, and one winter’s day the weather was unusually brutal. Light snow had been predicted but instead we experienced a rare blizzard.


MAX, Portland’s light rail, was a mile from our house in the suburbs and I usually walked to the station and took the train into town, but I wasn’t sure how long it would take to walk a mile in blinding snow. I called Mrs. C., who’d left work early and was already home. I told her I was leaving and would be home as soon as I could. She informed me that CJ, in his early twenties at the time, would pick me up at the MAX station.


Due to the snow, MAX shut down just as I reached my stop. The only people I saw were bus drivers chaining up their vehicles. I shivered and wondered where CJ was, if he’d even be able to come at all. Then his familiar CJ-7 Jeep rumbled into the parking lot and lurched up to me.


The door opened and my son stepped out. I hadn’t realized until then how much he loomed over me.


“Need a lift?” he asked, grinning.


I don’t know how long I could have stood there without freezing, but all I remember was a flood of warmth that filled me as I looked at the young man who’d somehow replaced my little boy, tall and confident, a rescuer—a man. I felt like I could bust with pride.


We all come to life’s banquet with our own unique gifts, gifts we’re born with, but I couldn’t resist basking in the satisfaction that his mother and I had done our job and done it well. For the first time I felt old, but for reasons I couldn’t possible articulate I wasn’t upset, even though I’d avoided this realization for some time. I slid into the passenger’s seat. CJ revved the engine, shifted gears and drove us home. Along the way I saw my Dad in his face and in his gestures. I suspected the grandfather who died before I was born was there also.


It was one of the happiest days of my life, a day when I was given a rare gift—a glimpse at immortality.


Happy Birthday, Son.






This is the last portrait I painted of CJ, back when he was in high school. 


Happy birthday to CJ! He shares the same birthday as my dad, who would have been 73.
By: PT Dilloway on June 27, 2014
Your son is so lucky to have you as a father- Happy Birthday CJ! Your father and mother are two of the best gifts you will ever have!
By: Kathe W. on June 27, 2014
I can picture your next painting of CJ in my minds eye. A tribute to your son's heroic efforts on that snowy day. CJ the super hero and his CJ-7 Transformer Jeep. Happy birthday!
By: Daniel LaFrance on June 27, 2014
love this post. thanks for sharing your heart and your love for him.
By: TexWisGirl on June 27, 2014
Happy Birthday to your son! He has your smile.
By: Coloring Outside the Lines on June 27, 2014
Aww - made me tear up. Happy birthday CJ!
By: The Bug on June 27, 2014
Please wish him a very happy birthday from me. He's a find looking guy, and yes, you and Mrs. C are awesome parents. :)
By: Scott Park on June 27, 2014
Beautiful post. I have the happy but almost about-to-cry tears of joy. Favorite Young Man is 34. I take such delight in staring at him as he speaks because he has my father's expressions and voice. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on June 27, 2014
Aww. That made me tear up. Happy Birthday to CJ!! :)
By: Lexa Cain on June 27, 2014
Many happy returns of the day to your wonderful Son!
By: mimi on June 27, 2014
What a lovely post about a parents pride in his special son. Wonderful memories you have shared. Happy Birthday CJ. Enjoy those cool parents.
By: Akansas Patti on June 27, 2014
Beautiful--i know how you felt!!
By: fishducky on June 27, 2014
I loved this post! Isn't it great when you can look at your grown-up son (I have two) and know that somewhere along the way, you must have done something right?
By: Eva Gallant on June 27, 2014
Well told. A moment like this is almost as if you can see the figurative tables turn in this game of life.
By: Pixel Peeper on June 27, 2014
Awww. That even made me sniffle. Happy Birthday, CJ.
By: Val on June 27, 2014
This is so beautifully written. I have two sons---one is a teen still at home, but the oldest is 27 and I feel the same way when I see him---he's all grown up.
By: Marcia @ Menopausal Mother on June 27, 2014
You've written a very nice tribute to your son. Happy birthday CJ.
By: red on June 27, 2014
awwww Stephen, you are an old softie and can bring a tear to my eye so easily. storytelling is surely your gift. your art ain't bad either. happy birthday to CJ
By: Fran on June 27, 2014
Happy birthday to CJ! This is a wonderful tribute to your devoted son! What a handsome portrait too! I'm so glad to meet you, Stephen!
By: Julie K Pick on June 28, 2014
Happy Birthday to CJ!
By: Izdiher on June 28, 2014
Wonderful portrait and wonderful reflection. Happy Day to CJ, and to Mom and Dad!
By: Tom Cochrun on June 28, 2014
Beauifully written and a highly moving and loving tribute to your son on his birthday. I love the story and the painting, You are rather like me - a dad who loves his children.
By: Eddie on June 28, 2014
What a lovely post, and what a great portrait to accompany the text. I envy you your son.
By: Snowbrush on June 28, 2014
Awww ... I know those feelings, too. Beautiful post and hope your son has a happy birthday and many, many more.
By: jenny_o on June 28, 2014
Lovely post, you always leave me with a tear in my eye!
By: Tabor on June 29, 2014
Best wishes to your son on his birthday. It certainly sounds like your family has much appreciation for each other and I also like that you know how to take care of each other.
By: CiCi on June 29, 2014
A belated happy birthday to CJ. I know that feeling too, I have 3 adult sons and a 13 year old step son and I am blessed!
By: John on June 30, 2014
I kind of wish I'd had a kid. But given that it's incredibly difficult for me to be able to support myself, I don't know how I could possibly support another human being. We'd have to live in squalor and that just doesn't sound right.
By: Michael Offutt on June 30, 2014
Moving story - my hay-fever kicked in when you referred to glimpsing immortality.
By: Bryan Jones on June 30, 2014
What sweet birthday tribute to your boy. I can relate to the pride you feel for how your baby tuned out. Lovely story, CC. Happy Birthday to CJ.
By: Hilary on June 30, 2014
No child could do better than to have a dad like you. By the way, does CJ stand for Chatterbox, Junior?
By: Jerry E. Beuterbaugh on July 1, 2014
I am so very late to this posting but it is so dear. Congratulations on your wonderful son and his insightful father
By: omalinda on July 6, 2014
The portrait and the stories warmed my heart. There is nothing like those little moments when you suddenly realize how filled with love you feel.
By: Mitchell is Moving on July 11, 2014

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