My Father Was a Fourth of July Firecracker

Published: June 30, 2023
Category: FamilyStories

According to family lore, my father actually believed until he was 10 years old that the Fourth of July fireworks were staged in honor of his birthday. He loved everything about the festivities: The Main Street parade, a family BBQ in the lazy afternoon where he was grill-master extraordinaire, and, most of all, the celebratory fireworks finale as technicolor pyrotechnics lit up the night sky. As young children, my brother and I always looked forward to this day, especially when we’d get to go on a ride through our town on the local fire engine followed by ice-cream cones with red, white, and blue sprinkles. Although everything about the celebration was simple and understated, the experience always felt magical and exciting as we felt tremendous anticipatory savoring in the weeks and days leading up to the holiday. 

My beloved father Charlie embodied the adage, “You can grow old in years and stay young at heart forever.” And he did. Practicing incredible self-regulation, he’d place all the birthday cards that friends mailed to him in a pile and then open them one at a time when the family gathered for his annual Fourth of July birthday celebration. Sometimes he’d place English muffins as epaulets on his shoulders as he wore a Statue of Liberty foam crown. Other times, he’d wear an enormous Uncle Sam top hat. Every year, we would all wear red, white, and blue clothing to make the day special. 

Creating positive rituals is a tangible, multi-sensory way to strengthen connection and add meaning to our lives. There’s comfort and continuity in this—whether it’s sharing stories, recipes, or holiday rituals that have been passed down and cherished. It’s also fun to reimagine celebrations and add meaningful elements that resonate for you. 

One of my fondest childhood memories from Fourth of July is when Gary and I were old enough to be trusted to hold a mason jar in our hands. My mother punched holes in the top of the jars and we’d gather grass (actually Gary would tear many blades of grass) to put in the bottom of our jars to make them a suitable habitat. Then we’d wait for the magic moment when the sky became dark enough for luminescent fireflies to light up our backyard. As an adult, I learned that the spiritual meaning of fireflies reminds us that the small, simple things in life matter the most. They inspire us to take a moment and slow down and appreciate all that surrounds us.  

So whatever you choose to do on this holiday weekend, I hope you savor the time with yourself, family, or friends. 

I’m sending you strength and love.


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