Teenage Birthdays

There I was: talking with some other neighborhood-fathers about the amount of money we parents usually shell out when it comes to celebrating a birthday for our children. What I was doing even talking about birthdays just goes to show you how far I’ve progressed up the evolutionary chain both as a dad and a parent. But when the discussion focused on the teenage birthday party of a friend and how much it cost, my radar went up right away.
It dawned on me right then that the innocence of birthday parties gets muddled as our children get older. When she was younger, my daughter was more than happy to invite her friends over for her birthday party that consisted of little more than listening to CD’s, eating cake and washing it down with a few soft drinks. So how much did that set me back? Less than the price of a pizza. But as she started to close in on her teenage years, the scope of my daughter’s birthday parties began to change.

Case in point: my daughter had been to a teenager’s birthday party. The friend of a friend. Invitation by association. Now by “teenager” I mean 13 years old. Not much of a teenager granted, but a teenager none-the-less. I heard later that this youngster was on the receiving end of a cellular phone, CD player, and enough designer clothing to open up a boutique. And she even got a motor bike. What was going on here? Were dolls no longer sufficient? My wife – fashion magnate that she is – explained it all to me: You can’t invite 20 kids over for a birthday party and then not present the child with something substantial. What would the other kids think? It could be traumatic to my daughter. well how about it being traumatic to my wallet?

My kid’s birthday was still a few months away and I realized that I better put some cash aside for this. But wait – she was only turning 12. There was still hope. Then my wife went on to tell me that a child’s 13th teen birthday was almost more important than when they turned sixteen. The coming-of-age birthday party was a once-in-a-lifetime affair. No more dolls and stuffed bears. Hey, maybe I should call my accountant.

And sure enough, as all my daughter’s friends were getting older, the gifts she gave them for their birthday’s was proportionately more expensive as well. If she didn’t spend at least $15.00 I was informed, it would be embarrassing. Maybe I missed something. A ten-dollar gift is not embarrassing. Splitting your pants in public is embarrassing. A pin-hole in a condom is embarrassing. Birthday celebrations are becoming big business and plenty of parents just like me are turning into repeat customers.

The price of putting on a birthday party is skyrocketing. And while talking to my neighbors, I vowed right then and there that when it came time for my daughter’s next birthday party, we would go to the park. I would give her a savings bond and that would be the end of it. If she wanted to attend a friend’s birthday party and a simple card wasn’t good enough, then it was coming out of her pocket not mine. I was determined. But then it dawned on me that I gave my kid an allowance. So no matter how I cut it, I was still paying for something.

This entire birthday party conversation was making me uneasy. And the realization that my daughter would one day become a teenager made it even worse. All the fathers within earshot seemed resigned to these out-of-pocket birthday expenses. I did some simple math. My daughter would have seven birthdays between age 13 and 19 and they were all going to cost me a bundle. No doubt somewhere in there I would be expected to purchase her a car as a present as well. And then my kid would attend other parties for her friends and I would give her money for those. A never-ending cycle. I just don’t remember all these parties happening during my youth. Or maybe I just wasn’t invited. I know I wasn’t having them. Who had money for all that stuff? My parents were killing themselves just trying to put food on the table. In the blink of an eye I thought back to when my daughter was 5, and I cursed myself for working so much and not being around as much as I wished. And now this is how I would pay for it. Literally.

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