That One Time My Dad’s Birthday Sucked (or 9/11/2001)

My Dad and I circa 1981 or 1982.
My Dad and I circa 1981 or 1982.

Today is my Dad’s birthday.  For anyone who has been in the world for 15 years or more, you know what else happened on this day.

That particular year, I had been in New Orleans for a whopping six weeks.  I’d been on a plane just a week prior to speak at a friend’s wedding in Chicago.  I’d climbed on the plane with a huge shopping bag from IKEA.

Two days prior, I had mailed home my Dad’s birthday present, a copy of Social Distortion performing live at the Roxy in Los Angeles.

That Tuesday began with me on the phone, trying to end a relationship.  I looked up at the television and saw the World Trade Center on fire.  I ended the conversation with, “um, I have to go.”  I hung up and called work.  Donna, the producer at the time, answered and just said, “get in here.”

My drive from Metairie to the CBD in New Orleans was quiet. The usual rush hour traffic had disappeared.  It was downright eerie.

When I walked into the newsroom, it was chaos.  All eyes were glued to CNN as reports came in about a plane hitting the Pentagon.  I sat down and would not move, save for a bathroom break or two, for 14 hours.

During that time, I managed to sneak a phone call home.  I wished my Dad a happy birthday, followed by, “wow-this really sucks.”

The conversation lasted less than five minutes because everything around me was exploding in the metaphorical sense.  The station catered in food because threats had come in about the adjacent building, the Louisiana Superdome.

Finally, we were sent home in shifts to rest.  I was to report to the airport the next morning, as planes across North America were grounded.  I went home and watched the BBC’s coverage to see what everyone around the world was seeing.

I wouldn’t see non-news-related television for about 36 hours.

The first show I watched, as the cable networks returned to normal, was “Garfield and Friends” on the Family Channel.  It felt safe, as a native Hoosier.  It felt safe because it wasn’t about what had happened on my Dad’s birthday.

In the years since then, a lot has changed.  I am no longer a journalist, but still a great storyteller.  We’ve all aged and my father’s health is no longer what it was.  He has played golf every year on this day.  Prior to retirement, he would take the day off (I don’t blame him).

Each year, I think of this day as my Dad’s birthday first and a history-defining moment second.  I am very lucky to have had the love and support of both my parents over the years, even when my judgment was not the best.


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