So You Say It’s Your Birthday

Every couple of months for the last few years, my parents (I am sure at my father’s behest) have been cleaning out the nooks and crannies of the house they (and we) have lived in for 40 years. I snarkily refer to it as cleaning before dying, but they are just basically going through the house and dealing with old bullshit and making space for new bullshit. Every time they do it, I am the recipient of a bunch of crap that I know is supposed to be meaningful, but really, it boils down to my mom not being able to throw shit out, my dad refusing to not throw shit out, so they compromise and distribute the stuff to the kids. At any rate, today’s haul included a bunch of Steelers paraphernalia my mother had accumulated and this:



That is a ginormous birthday candle that each and every kid got when they were born, and every year, you burned it until it went down to the next year, at which point you stopped. My parents were such good parents.

What cracked me up, though, was that my candle, instead of being burnt to the ground when I hit eighteen, stopped at age fifteen, which was about a year after I became THE BIGGEST ASSHOLE TEENAGER ON THE PLANET. Seriously, I was that bad. I was awful to my parents, awful to my siblings, completely self-centered and self-destructive, nd just a fucking total tool. If I listed some of the horrible awful things I did as a teen-ager to my family, half of you would quit reading this website. I remember one holiday meal where HORMONES something pissed me off and I threw an entire glass of milk on my dad, then ran out of the house as he chased me and I ran backwards down the street yelling “You can’t catch me fat man, I’ve been playing soccer and lacrosse and running all day every day for years.” Yeah, I was a dick. I remember graduating from basic training years later and my dad almost crying and talking to my drill sergeant and telling him “How did you do this in 16 weeks? I had 18 years and came up with no answers.”

So I laughed when I saw the candle. It was as if my douchebaggery as a teen was sealed for all time in amber- “AGE 15- when John G. Cole was affirmed as a total dick.”

Fortunately, as many of you long time readers can understand, life is full of second acts. I live down the streets from my folks now, having moved back a few years ago because in part I regretted leaving the way I did, and all of that bullshit seems like a different lifetime ago. Maybe I am just easier to deal with now than I was then (let’s be honest- cancer is easier to deal with than me as a teen), but they seem to kind of like me these days. Never underestimate the ability of those who love you to forgive.

92 replies
  1. 1
    khead says:

    Be glad you understand all this while your parents are still alive.

  2. 2
    srv says:

    You’re still not in the will.

  3. 3
    Elizabelle says:

    The packaging makes it look like you were born in the 1940s.

    Your parents are probably glad you didn’t use it to torch their house.

  4. 4

    Testosterone is a poison. Period.

  5. 5
    BGinCHI says:

    My stepfather is currently dying of mesothelioma. It’s fucking horrible. Any day now my mom thinks. Between that and having a toddler I’ve been spending lots of time reflecting on the past, mortality, what’s important, how to make every moment count. My dad died young and so it’s all just coming up again. So, as khead already said, be glad John that you have your parents to thank and apologize too.

    And please, I’m not writing this to get people to tell me you’re sorry. I know everyone is good people here and it’s just nice to have a place to be able to share stuff (I have actual friends, too, so don’t feel bad for me). I have a great life and I’m thankful.

    Oh, and fuck Ted Cruz and Mitt Romney. My stepfather hates those assholes. That’s what 40 years in a factory will do to you.

  6. 6
    Elizabelle says:

    And the way the candle looks atop the Apple.

    It’s like having Miss Havisham at each birthday.

    Still, it’s touching your parents maintained this tradition for each and every one of you.

  7. 7
    nancydarling says:

    Ditto, khead. I was a shitty teenager too, John. My parents never gave up on me and neither did yours. You and I and others like us are lucky. I have friends and lots of acquaintances who never get back to that place of unconditional love and carry the anger and resentment forever. I hope you’ve forgiven yourself. I’m pretty sure your parents have.

  8. 8
    Just Some Fuckhead says:

    That explains why they vacation in South Carolina.

  9. 9
  10. 10
    Baud says:

    Aren’t you on like Act 5 now, John? Some of us should be so lucky.

  11. 11
    Just Some Fuckhead says:

    I was a perfect kid. I’d clean the house before my mom got home from work so she’d be able to come home to a clean house. In high school, I’d skip school and me and mom would spend the day gallivanting around town. She had a hard life, my two older brothers nearly killed her. It was the least I could do.

  12. 12
    👽 Martin says:

    I was awful to my parents, awful to my siblings, completely self-centered and self-destructive, nd just a fucking total tool.

    And yet you went on to become a Republican. It boggles the mind…

    That said, I wasn’t any better as a teenager.

  13. 13
    Baud says:

    @Just Some Fuckhead:

    Way to not live up to your nym.

  14. 14
    Maude says:

    @👽 Martin:
    I was awful. I think it comes with the territory.

  15. 15
    eemom says:

    Well, I was Miss Goody Two Shoes as a teenager and look how I turned out.

  16. 16
    gnomedad says:

    I confess I haven’t actually read this book but I love the title. Something about radical brain rewiring going on.

    Yes, Your Teen Is Crazy

  17. 17
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @eemom: Oddly, I was also a fairly good boy.

  18. 18
    Gin & Tonic says:

    What khead said in #1. My father died a painful and mercifully quick death many many years ago, before things could be resolved like you’ve done. Be thankful you’ve had the opportunity.

  19. 19
    Yutsano says:

    I was the responsible kid. Dad was out to sea and Mom worked a shit ton while we were growing up and someone had to be around to take care of my two younger brothers. My older brother was a total fuck-up (moved out when he was 16, never finished high school) so I got stuck with that duty. It’s probably why I never had a job before college and why I didn’t learn to drive until I was 19.

  20. 20
    the Conster says:

    I was overall pretty good, but snuck around doing drugs and sex stuff I knew they wouldn’t approve of but did it discretely so I didn’t get caught, but I still felt guilty and sneaky, because it was. I always admired the in your face, fuck you you can’t make me approach. There’s a lot to be said for letting everyone know who you are and what you are.

  21. 21
    ruemara says:

    I was goodygoody. I cleaned house, made dinner, raised my kid brothers and was in the top 15% of my classes. Bible study quiz leader par excellence. I never got one of those candles. correlation may not equal causality but, how do you know what was released when you burned it? Appreciate your parents, John. There are times when I wish I knew what it was like to grow up with people who seemed to like me. They did right by you.

  22. 22
    Just Some Fuckhead says:

    @Baud: I threw out a wallet when I was 15 and she fished it out of the trash and found a condom in one of the inner pockets. She was devastated and cried/talked to me for an hour about how I could throw my life away by making one little mistake. She scared me so bad, I didn’t have sex again until after my second kid was born.

  23. 23
    Mandalay says:


    My stepfather is currently dying of mesothelioma.

    I am sorry to read that. My father died the same way, and it wasn’t good at all.

    My unsought advice is to think of anything good or comforting you might want to say to him, and then do it. There are many things that I delayed saying, waiting for a more appropriate time, and (you can guess the rest…).

  24. 24
  25. 25
    geg6 says:

    No matter how much an asshole you were at fifteen, Cole, you couldn’t hold a candle to this fifteen year old girl, coming of age in the 1970s. Never had a moment of discord with my dad (well, there was ONE time), but my mom and I had a painful relationship through my teens and early twenties. We didn’t really have much to say to each other until my late twenties, when she saw me doing more conventional things with my life. Not that I ever really became the person she wanted me to be, but I was mature enough at that age to decide to move past our differences. But we never became close like she was with my sisters and I still hold some resentment toward her and she’s been gone since January 2001. But I did love her and she me.

    Now my dad, who I lost suddenly in ’99, I miss him every day of my life. He was my hero and good friend. The most wonderful man I have ever known (but my John is a close second) and the inspiration for my being true to myself all these years.

  26. 26
    srv says:

    @Just Some Fuckhead: So she’s the one you came up with your nym? What did she call your bros?

  27. 27
    the Conster says:

    Really Cole, though, why can’t you ever take a clear picture? Is it you, your equipment, or the distorted gravitational electromagnetic field in the vicinity of Tunch?

  28. 28
    Bobby Thomson says:

    John, if it makes you feel any better, it’s pretty damn universal. At a certain age, most boys are a hair’s breadth away from doing something that can get them hard time. And that holds true across different cultures.

  29. 29
    Csbella says:

    I promise that when I get a new camera someday I’m gonna send you the old one so we—the blog audience— get focused photos.

    When our son turned 13 we pretty much gave up taking to him in full sentences. He’s 22 now and I’m guessing it will take a few more years before he considers us as part of his social world again. We sure had lots of fun parenting though.

  30. 30
    jl says:

    Congrats on growing out of the teen monster years, Cole.

    The candle pics are cute, even if it looks like Cole never made it past 15.

    But, never too late for a self check. Does Cole still try to run backwards when he gets riled up? That would explain the household accidents :).

  31. 31
    Just Some Fuckhead says:

    @srv: When I was 17, we were out one day, probably going to yard sales or something, and we stopped on the way home to get some food. In the McDonald’s drive-thru, I was trying to order and she kept ordering over top of me, “Get something for Jeff, get him..” and then she’d bark her order loudly from the passenger side as if the drive-thru speaker was broken. I said, “Ma, you’re fucking the order up!” You shoulda seen the look on her face. She started whaling on my leg, slapping me, yelling at me. To this day, I still don’t curse around her.

  32. 32
    Mnemosyne says:

    “How did you do this in 16 weeks? I had 18 years and came up with no answers.”

    Probably because that drill sergeant was allowed to do things to you that would have gotten your dad 3 to 5 years in the clink.

    I was a nerdy good girl, probably in reaction to the fact that my four older brothers were hellions, so I don’t know how much credit I really get for it. I used to joke that I was the white sheep of the family because I don’t smoke, I rarely drink, and I’ve never had a kid out of wedlock.

  33. 33
    WereBear says:

    I was pleased when science vindicated my own gut feelings on raising teens: There is something wrong with their brain!

    And there is.

    Now, on the other hand, I was the oldest, had to take over when my parents divorced and things fell apart, and never did have the luxury of being a total d!ck.

    I’m hoping that the second half of my life makes up for it, because god-n-little-fishes, that was freakin’ stressful.

  34. 34
    RedKitten says:

    As the mother of two young and beautiful boys who adore me beyond reason, you folks are scaring the living shit out of me.

  35. 35
    the Conster says:

    OT but MSNBC’s teaser headline is What Does Sarah Want?

    Then there’s this little nugget:

    Her political action committee, Sarah PAC, collected about $5 million during the 2012 election cycle, most of which went to operating expenses. Palin’s PAC sent just $306,000 to Republican candidates during the cycle, including the maximum of $5,000 to Romney for President – on Oct. 17, 2012, just 20 days before the election.

    What could Sarah want? Thinking… thinking….

  36. 36
    Redshirt says:

    @the Conster: It really is a mystery. Not only can he not take the most basic of photos, but then he also decides “Yep, that blurry shot is good enough!”

    Must be the kielbasa fingers and multiple concussions.

  37. 37
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @RedKitten: I talked back to my mother once when I was about 12. Mom and I were inside and Dad was outside doing something. Since the windows were open, he heard me. About a minute later, he walked into my room and said “Do not ever speak to your mother that way again,” then turned around and walked out. It worked.

  38. 38
    SatanicPanic says:


    I have actual friends, too

    We’re actual friends too man ;)

    Oh, and I mostly got along with my parents in high school. I was kind of a tool when my parents got divorced though, which was a few years later.

    ETA- wasn’t directing the comment about my parents to BginCHI, just making a general statement

  39. 39
    dance around in your bones says:

    Ok, number one: You say it’s your birthday!

    And number two: I wouldn’t wish myself on any parent. I was a crazy ass teenager. I feel sorry for my parents.

  40. 40
    eemom says:


    I didn’t have sex again until after my second kid was born.

    Please leave your address, so we can deliver a whole fucking week of intartoobz to you.

    Seconded. I lol’ed.

  41. 41
    Yutsano says:

    @RedKitten: Okay that was weird. I JUST mentioned you one thread below and you showed up! I might be psychic! Get me to a lottery ticket station stat! :)

  42. 42
    raven says:

    My folks split when I was 11 and my old man kidnapped me and took me from LA to Chicago. By the time I was 13 I was drinking, fighting, stealing, terrorizing my mother and sister when I visited LA for the summers after custody got settled. My old man married a woman 10 years older than me and I set out on a scorched earth effort that led to the judge giving me my choice between jail and the army on my 17th birthday. I managed to get and honorable despite a special court in Korea and and article 15 in the Nam for weed. I came home and raised holy hell in a slightly more constructive way. I started to add up what I had experienced and decided it was the lie that was America. Race, class, repression and oppression just laid out for me. Somehow over the years I kept going to school, found a “career” that had meaning to me and moderately got my shit together. When I finally grew out of drugs and alcohol 20 years ago I really mellowed out. I made peace with my folks before they died and found some peace with myself. Cole, you might have been a pain in the ass but you were an amateur.

  43. 43
    scav says:

    @RedKitten: I think the takeaway is wallow in it now, revel, loll, and indulge and then grit your teeth and remember there usually is a future.

  44. 44
    the Conster says:


    I mean, really – just fucking point and shoot – everything made to take pictures for the last 15 years auto focuses.

  45. 45
    Baud says:

    @the Conster:

    Maybe it’s not the photo quality. Maybe things really look like crap in West Virginia.

  46. 46
  47. 47
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Baud: I’ve driven through a couple of times and skied at Snowshoe. Everything was in focus where I was.

  48. 48
    eemom says:


    As the mother of two young and beautiful boys who adore me beyond reason, you folks are scaring the living shit out of me.

    Don’t worry. I have current teenagers and, while they sure as shit don’t adore me, they’re still great kids.

    (With the caveat that, unlike Fuckhead, they’re perfectly happy for me to get home from a hard day’s work and find the house a fucking mess. But you can’t have everything.)

  49. 49
    Mnemosyne says:


    If it’s anything like COPD/emphysema then, yeah, it’s fucking horrible. And unfortunately I’m in the “other parent died when I was young” club, too, which did make for extra suckitude.

    I will pass along some wisdom people had for me when my dad was dying — if he dies when you’re not there, do NOT feel guilty. Sometimes people can’t let go while their loved ones are in the room, and I heard so many stories about people who left for 5 minutes only to have their family member pass right when they left the room that I think there’s something to it.

  50. 50
    Just Some Fuckhead says:

    I always felt sorry for my mom. She had such a terrible childhood and hard life. My grandfather was a drunk and a brawler. (He has a couple pages devoted to him in Sam Snead’s autobiography.) The stories she tells about growing up with abuse and getting evicted and having to move every couple months and wearing rags for clothes and shoes with holes in them, teased and ostracized by the better-off kids in their small town, they are just heartbreaking. She wasn’t a perfect mom by any stretch but she taught me empathy.

  51. 51
    raven says:

    @Mnemosyne: Agreed. My wife and I were with both of our father’s when they died and both of out mom’s died alone in their bed. You do the best you can and, in the long run, neither situation really matters.

  52. 52
    NotMax says:

    Per the norm, was not congenial with the roof-providers.

    But neither were they with me.

    There are more than enough reasons from the high school years that I left the house to take the bus to work at a movie theater in the next town on nights Monday through Thursday, and left town nearly every weekend and all summer long to work at a rural retreat over a hundred miles away that, fortunately, was available to me.

  53. 53
    Baud says:

    @Omnes Omnibus:

    Well, it was a theory.

  54. 54
    nancydarling says:

    As the mother of two young and beautiful boys who adore me beyond reason, you folks are scaring the living shit out of me.

    It doesn’t mean a thing, redkitten. My son and daughter are adults now, but they didn’t give me a hundredth of the trouble I gave my folks. They laugh and tell me the things that I never knew about. As far as I am concerned though, motherhood has been one glorious ride.

    My advice to parents. Love them unconditionally. Don’t make too many rules. Enforce the ones you do make.

    My kids never had a curfew. When they were going out, I asked when they thought they would be home, and they always had a reasonable answer and called if they couldn’t make it.They are the two best things I have done with my life.

  55. 55
    Just One More Canuck says:

    @RedKitten: my daughter is 8 and the sweetest girl ever but there will be a day in a few years when I come home, look at her and my wife glaring at each other and think “shit, I shouldve gone to the bar”. Either that or be greeted by police tape

  56. 56
    Mnemosyne says:

    Poor G was freaking out because his mom was admitted to the hospital with pneumonia this afternoon. He’s talking to her right now and it sounds like she’s pretty alert and talkative, so that’s good. But for obvious reasons we both started having flashbacks to last July (his dad) and to January (my dad) as soon as we heard.

  57. 57
    BGinCHI says:

    @Mandalay: Sorry to hear that. Heading down there to see him in a couple days. We were down recently while he was still aware and had a good visit.

  58. 58
    BGinCHI says:

    @Mnemosyne: Point taken.

    I just want to be around for my mother. She’s really strong but fuck, it’s a lot to deal with.

  59. 59
    Honus says:

    @raven: the proper spelling is “FURTHUR”
    And for the record, today happens to be my birthday. I decided to drive up and visit my mom (who lives about 30 miles south of Cole and will be 90 in two weeks)
    Don’t know what it all means, but it beats thinking about Kirkegaard selling flatware.

  60. 60
    Honus says:

    @raven: the proper spelling is “FURTHUR”
    And for the record, today happens to be my birthday. I decided to drive up and visit my mom. She turns 90 next month.

  61. 61
  62. 62
    gogol's wife says:

    @Just Some Fuckhead:

    That is so sweet. Somehow I’m not surprised.

  63. 63
    Mnemosyne says:


    We were with my dad most of the day on the last day, and I leaned over and told him, “Okay, I’m leaving now and taking Mom home to get some rest.” He died about an hour later. I really think that he was waiting for her to leave the room, because he knew it would be too hard for her to have to see him die.

    Anecdotal, but it’s all I’ve got as a data point.

  64. 64
    RedKitten says:

    @Yutsano: That IS freaky…it’s not like I’ve been here a lot lately.

  65. 65
    Honus says:

    @raven: the proper spelling is “FURTHUR”
    And for the record, today actually is my birthday.

  66. 66
    Honus says:

    @raven: the proper spelling is “FURTHUR”
    And for the record, today actually is my birthday.

  67. 67
    Honus says:

    @raven: the proper spelling is “FURTHUR”
    And today actually is my birthday.

  68. 68
    Honus says:

    I think the proper spelling is “FURTHUR”
    And today actually is my birthday.

  69. 69
    dance around in your bones says:

    One of the things we did with our daughter was to always make sure we knew where she was (hell, even if it was Tijuana) – most of her friends lied to their parents but we always knew where she was going in case we had to search for her.

    Yes, I spent many a night imagining her cold sightless eyes staring up from some ditch but it never happened. Just lucky, I guess.

    She almost died of an aneurysm at age 17 but who could have predicted that? Life is weird.

  70. 70
    NotMax says:


    Remember one incident from a grandfather’s (the real Max) last days in the hospital. All knew, including he, that the end was close.

    When asked how he was doing, he said, “I’ve always heard it said that the first time you do anything is hard. This is the first time I’m dying.”

  71. 71
    Honus says:

    Sorry about the multiple posts. FYWP kept telling me my posts weren’t posting. Hell, I’m not even +1, and its my birthday.

  72. 72
    Davis X. Machina says:

    We all but the youngest had one of those candles. At some time they became hard to find. They burned till 18, then mom put them aside and had a handy neighbor re-cast the stubs into little votive candles which were used at several of our weddings.

    She’s still with us, TBTG.

  73. 73
    RedKitten says:

    And John, I can totally relate to your situation. With my mom, it’s dishes and glassware. She has already offloaded way too much of that crap into our household. The woman owns 97 wine glasses (yes, i counted one day) and I think The Stonecutter would cheerfully murder me if I let mom foist those glasses off on me.

  74. 74
    NotMax says:


    Neglected to mention that he was at least 95 (the year of his birth being more or less a guess made for documentary convenience).

  75. 75
    gogol's wife says:


    Happy birthday!
    Happy birthday!
    Happy birthday!

    (on the multiple posts, join the club)

  76. 76
    dance around in your bones says:


    Happy Birthday Honus!

    (you’re gonna have a good time!)

  77. 77
    eemom says:


    Happy Birthday! How cool to be an Ides of March baby.

    Now go get some ++

  78. 78
    Ash Can says:

    @Just Some Fuckhead: I just gotta say, this is one damned funny comment.

  79. 79
    Yutsano says:

    @Honus: Hippo Birdie Two Ewe! :P

    @RedKitten: Maybe your wetlands alarm went off. Or something.

  80. 80
    raven says:

    @Honus: Not only that but you don’t know what the fuck you are talking about.

    Your spelling was on the plate.

    happy birthday

  81. 81
    Aimai says:

    @BGinCHI: I am terribly sorry though, big chi. My heart goes out to you and your mother and step father.

  82. 82
    Ash Can says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: I assume you were lying in bed in traction when your father came in.

  83. 83
    rb says:

    @Just Some Fuckhead: She wasn’t a perfect mom by any stretch but she taught me empathy.

    The one essential trait. Good on her, and good on you for saying it.

  84. 84
    Ash Can says:

    @raven: That is one fabulous story.

  85. 85
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Ash Can: Nope. entirely unharmed. I swear, though, I am still careful with the tone I use around my mom 36 years later.

  86. 86
    Suzanne says:

    I was a pretty good teenager. Ended up a National Merit Scholar. I got threatened with failing my history class because I only went on test days and skipped the rest of the time, but I had the highest grade in the class. I was mouthy and liberal in a high school full of gangstas and Mormons.

    I need to cut my mom some slack. I still carry some hurt around from some hard times when I was a kid, but she did the best she could, and that’s all any of us can do.

  87. 87
    cckids says:


    There are times when I wish I knew what it was like to grow up with people who seemed to like me.

    Yeah. I was always trying to be good enough for my parents.

    It took having kids of my own to really understand what people mean when they talk about unconditional love. My dad & stepmother couldn’t do that. They loved me, but didn’t like me much. And the continual contrast with the way they truly loved my younger brothers & sisters was a constant source of pain.

  88. 88
    cckids says:

    @RedKitten: Don’t worry, I’ve just ushered 2 (one girl, one boy) through their teens. We’ve had our moments, but if you build a relationship through the years where you listen to & talk with them, you’ll be ok.

  89. 89
    Cain says:


    What is your older brother doing now?

  90. 90
    BGinCHI says:

    @Aimai: Thanks A. Means a lot coming from one of my favorite people.

  91. 91
    Rafer Janders says:

    What cracked me up, though, was that my candle, instead of being burnt to the ground when I hit eighteen, stopped at age fifteen, which was about a year after I became THE BIGGEST ASSHOLE TEENAGER ON THE PLANET. Seriously, I was that bad. I was awful to my parents, awful to my siblings, completely self-centered and self-destructive, nd just a fucking total tool.

    Suddenly I understand why you were a conservative for so long….

  92. 92
    LongHairedWeirdo says:

    I’ve come to realize that, for any decent man, youth is a time to remember with a bit of shame so that they
    1) do their best to be nothing like that, ever again, and
    2) don’t kill their own sons when they hit that age

    Let’s not talk about the non-decent men who use that behavior as a guide for living. (There’s a joke about Republicans at CPAC that I’m consciously not making.)

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