Birthdays Unite the Family!

Dr. Ralph Winter wrote a letter to all of his daughters, sons-in-law, and grandchildren on November 21, 1994. In one portion of it, he is discussing ways to stay connected as a family across the distances where each family lives. He says he recently prepared a table of all of the birthdays of the family members. He writes, “I did not do this to remind people to send gifts, but to enable people to acknowledge milestones. And, I certainly did not notice until this moment that my own birthday is the next this year. I’ll be 70.” The family had communicated an idea of exchanging video clips with each other, but Dr. Winter laments that this is not working out very well in spite of all of the equipment available then. He wonders if the problem is that a video cassette is usually two hours in length and no one would want a message that lasts that long. Another problem he proposes is that certain occasions for filming video footage are absent in the families’ lives.

Dr. Winter’s idea is for birthdays to be the times that prompt taking video footage of the whole family, of course including the birthday honoree. He mentions that maybe the rest of the families can sit down and send birthday greetings to the person on [cassette] tape, “each member of the family saying something nice about the one having the birthday. That [way] we would gradually [rack] up a fairly consistent logging of the growth of each individual in a family.” Even better, the family with the birthday person should film a video clip including the honoree saying something historic on his or her birthday, and the other families might film a video of each member saying something nice to the one celebrating. As the children grow, Winter believes this kind of birthday greeting will become more meaningful and insightful to them. He states that it does not take much imagination to reflect on how significant a birthday person would find even a 30-second greeting from 21 people who are all related to him or her!

If each family patched together the annual “statements” of the birthday honorees, what an amazing picture that would be according to Winter of how the person has grown, to be seen years later even by the next generation. Since birthdays are unavoidable occasions when families are forced by our culture to do something special, why not have video footage as part of the celebration, Winter wonders. And if every family films a video of each member saying something nice to the birthday person, then that person will feel like the entire family remembered his or her birthday and celebrated even though they are not physically present. Winter doubts that giving gifts would be as valuable as the “gift” of videos or cassette tapes, but he is not forbidding the giving of gifts either. He wraps up the subject by commenting, “I am not in a position to impose this kind of thing. But I can at least ‘pledge’ myself to lobby for this kind of activity in the corridors of power at 533 Hermosa Street [his house]. At least Roberta and I ought to be able to send greetings to the birthday people on this list I enclose.” He promises to see what he can do for each birthday event.

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