A few weeks ago my incredibly awesome teenage niece got her high school student card featuring a expectedly terrible headshot. She’s a pretty amazing person, and she handled the whole thing with way more grace and confidence that I could ever have wished for when I was her age. In short, she rolled with it, embracing her awkward teenage self.
In an act of solidarity I dug out my old student cards which clearly showed how very dorky I was in high school and posted them to twitter for my niece (and all the rest of the world) to see.
I keep such very important documents in a cosmetics case that my mother gave me. She inherited from her grandmother and it’s one of my cherished possessions. It’s also the place I keep things such as old passports, old ID cards, the lock of hair my mother kept from my very first haircut, and other sentimental gems.
As I was digging through the case I came across my mother’s university ID card, her old passports, letters that she had written me, letters that The Mick had written her, and a photocopy of my father’s birth certificate. That’s where I paused.
See, The Mick just recently celebrated his 80th birthday. He has been reminding me of its approach for the past year and a half. It’s a significant birthday, quite a milestone, complete with me forgetting to send him a card, and him calling me at 2pm because I had not yet called him to wish him a happy birthday. I felt terrible. He was hurt. Happy birthday.
He was born in 1936. I have a hard time conceptualizing what life in Toronto must have been like back then. He’s told me stories of his parents and about his life as a child but I just can’t seem to really imagine either him or Toronto way back then. Back before the CN tower. Back before the subway. Hell, back before the suburbs.
His birthday was at the front of my mind when I saw the copy of his birth certificate folded up at the bottom of the box. I had seen it before. I had even talked to my mother about it. It, along with his marriage license, were some of the documents that the private investigator that my mother had hired had turned up about him. Why were they important? Well, aside from his very Jewish middle name that I can’t pronounce and always forget, it shows that he was born in 1937, no 1936.
I once asked him about his birthday and this birth certificate as I had come to understand that they didn’t,in fact, match. He told me that when he wanted to start working he needed a birth certificate as proof of age, and when he set about getting one he lied about his age in order to have his birth certificate show that he was old enough to work. This seemed entirely likely to me, as a child of the 80’s, because in the time before ATMs, cell phones, and desktop computers, I could see how you would have been able to tell this lie in the 1950’s and get away with it. He is also my father and I wanted to believe him, so I never questioned the verity of this statement.*
However, when everything was coming apart in my parent’s marriage (likely when she was going through the family court system for a divorce), it somehow came out that he was not born in 1937 as he had told her, and as his birth certificate clearly showed, but rather in 1936.
This was never much of an issue to me. I was far older than I like to admit when I realized that my mother had been saying she was 27 years old for yet another year, so the fact that I didn’t actually know how old my father was didn’t bother me much. My mother; however, at some point in the mid-eighties, found herself married to a man that she never really knew. He excelled at keeping secrets. He was comfortable with the duplicity required to live a double life. My mother didn’t even know his real birthday.
* In fact, sitting here typing this, it never even occurred to me to check the issue date of the certificate. Was it issued in the 50’s or was it issued in the 70’s when my parents met and married? I’ll be rushing home tonight to check.
Update: the certificate was issued in 1972, which I believe was before my parents met. I’m seeing The Mick this weekend, and I’ll be sure to ask him.