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The Wife’s sweet 60th

I’m not from the great partiers, neither a partygoer nor a party giver.

Going to parties was never natural for me; it always made me feel awkward. This was not because I was a nerd in my youth. No, despite what my kids like to think, despite the odd satisfaction they get from imagining their father as a dork growing up, I wasn’t a nerd in high school.

Sure, I might have been in the bowling club rather than on the basketball team, co-editor of the high school yearbook rather than quarterback of the football team, but people didn’t trip me when I walked down the hall. I was never stuffed in my locker. I wasn’t good at math. I went out on dates.

But I just didn’t feel comfortable at parties. The mingling, the dancing, the drinking, the smoking, the overall merrymaking — it wasn’t my thing. It never frosted my cake; it never fried my chicken; it never floated my boat.

And this is why — for all intents and purposes — the University of Colorado in Boulder, as good a party school as any in America and where I proudly earned my undergraduate degree, was just plain wasted on me. If ever there was someone upon whom the coolness, the fun, and the overall grooviness of Boulder were wasted, ’twas I.

Just as I was never good at going to parties, I was never good at throwing them.

I lived in fear of throwing a party where nobody would show up, so — as a result — I never threw a party.

Until I got married and had kids. Then The Wife and I threw birthday parties and Chanukah bashes galore; coming and going; fun affairs; good times had by all.

Why were these parties such wildly successful events? Because The Wife pretty much did it all. She planned the event, shopped for the event, prepared the content for the event, and spoke at the event.

What did I do? I took people’s coats when they came in the door.

This explains why I broke into a cold sweat when it dawned on me about six months ago that this year was going to be The Wife’s 60th birthday.

The Wife — she who all these years made birthday parties for everyone else in the family, she who bought all the presents, she who accumulatively must have blown up 10,000 balloons over the last nearly four decades — was turning 60, and she deserved that this auspicious occasion be marked in fitting fashion.

But how? Like I said, I’m not from the great party throwers. I was afraid that whatever I did would just not be enough. There’s a track record here, a backstory to this insecurity.

When The Wife turned 23, I bought her a fan on her first birthday after we were married. Even though our rented Jerusalem apartment was sweltering hot and she had wanted a fan, she was mortified by the pragmatic, and what she viewed as the rather unromantic nature of my first post-married birthday gift.

It’s been a long time, but I think I remember her saying something like: “If this is what you buy me on the first birthday we celebrate together, what will you get me when I turn 60 after 37 years of marriage? A can opener? A pie cutter? A cheese grater?”

So there we were: The Wife’s 60th birthday was creeping up, and not only did I not know what to buy, I did not know what to do. I asked my kids, but — being blessed with my genes in these matters — they, too, were clueless.

Exasperated, I did what anyone in 2023 would do: I turned to ChatGPT and asked for suggestions on how to mark a spouse’s 60th birthday.

“Theme Party Mania” came back one suggestion. “Why not throw a party with a theme that reflects her newfound wisdom and zest for life? How about a ‘Sixty Shades of Fun’ theme, where everyone dresses up as characters from her favorite books?”

Here was another idea: “A Surprise Flash Mob: Coordinate with friends and family to organize a flash mob in a public place, surprising your wife with a spontaneous burst of music and dance.”

I’m not sure ChatGPT knew its customer here. I can’t find my keys in the morning, yet I’m going to organize a surprise dance number in the public square featuring The Wife’s closest friends? It was then that the limitations of Artificial Intelligence hit me.

It was then as well that I heard an item on the news of an event planned to mark Israel’s 75th birthday. I thought about how this landmark anniversary — amid the great judicial overhaul debate — was played down this year, unlike previous milestone birthdays. For instance, when Israel turned 50, it was a year-long occasion, with event after event falling under the rubric of Israel’s Jubilee celebration.

Why not do the same for The Wife, I thought? Why not take the Israel Jubilee celebration paradigm and apply it to her 60th birthday. If I can’t think of one major thing to do, one major purchase to make, why not just take the mundane and declare it all special?

Why not just take anything nice that the kids or I would do for The Wife over the next six months and proclaim it all part of a grand birthday celebration?

I even devised a ceremonial name for reference purposes within the family: Misgeret Hagigot Hasishim (the 60th Birthday Celebration Framework).

“Honey,” I’d say in the morning. “Can I make you a cup of coffee? It’s part of the Misgeret.”

“Dear,” she’d say. “Can you bring the groceries up from the car?”

“It would be my pleasure,” I’d respond. “Consider it part of the Misgeret.”

Every nice thing, every thoughtful gesture, the trip we took with the kids to Eilat, every walk around the block together, every night out, everything she would purchase for herself or I would buy for her would — for the next number of months — be part of Misgeret Hagigot Hashishim.

The upside? When everything is done within this framework, then nothing can be forgotten, and no blame can be attributed for leaving anything out.

The downside? How do you top it for the 70th?

Reprinted with permission from The Jerusalem Post.

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Herb Keinon, a Denver native, interned at the IJN before going on to a career at the Jerusalem Post, where he is a senior contributing editor.

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