Dad and I are birthday twins, 31 years apart. Well, not exactly twins — his birthday is Feb. 27 and mine’s Feb. 28. He was born in 1930 and passed away in 2014; I came along in 1961 and, thankfully, am still here.
As I grew up in our family of four in the Houston area, where we moved from Huntington, West Virginia before I turned a year old, I always thought it was the coolest that Dad’s and my birthdays were back-to-back. My memory isn’t the greatest, but what I can remember is that our family waited until my birthday to celebrate. We didn’t exactly throw huge parties, but there were always a few gifts and a cake Mom (Olga) made for Dad (Clark) and me. Chocolate, always. Dad wouldn’t have it any other way.
Then in 2005, another birthday twin suddenly appeared in my family, this time one who shared my actual birthday. Learning of his Feb. 28, 1944 birth date — exactly 17 years before I was born — was among the whirl of events that brought three full siblings into my world and changed it — for the best — forever.
Incredible as it is to believe, the oldest of those three siblings, my brother Crys (named Crystal after our great-uncle) Edward Workman, was born just over three months before D-Day and just over five months before Anne Frank and her family were discovered in their Amsterdam hiding place and taken to concentration camps.
So, doing the math, Dad would’ve been 93 today, Crys will turn 79 tomorrow and I’ll celebrate with him while turning 62. I’m sure I’m the youngest member of my Conroe High Class of ’78, having turned 17 three months before we graduated after having been bumped from kindergarten to first grade at age 5 — when it was decided not long after school started that I’d be bored out of my noggin spending the whole year in that classroom.
It’s also neat to see that my big brother Crys was born the same year as a long list of well-known names: Danny DeVito, Al Michaels, George Lucas, Michael Douglas, Craig T. Nelson, Barry White, Carl Bernstein, Boz Scaggs, Frank Oz, Jimmy Page, Gladys Knight, Sam Elliott, Diana Ross, Jeff Beck, Rudy Giuliani, Patti LaBelle, Joe Frazier, Roger Daltrey, Shelley Fabares, Peter Cetera, Joe Cocker, Michelle Phillips, Tom Seaver, Harold Ramis, Peter Mayhew and Dan Reeves, just to name a couple dozen or so.
That same year, a Dutch doctor named Willem Kolff invented an experimental dialysis machine and used it to treat patients with kidney failure. An American pharmacist named Benjamin Green invented sunscreen in an effort to protect U.S. soldiers in the war from sunburn. The Office of Strategic Services, the agency that would become the CIA, was created, and FDR signed the G.I. Bill of Rights into law — five months before his election to an unprecedented fourth term as president.
But let’s get back to Dad. Come late July, we (his family) and all those still living to whom he brought such joy with his ever-present humor, smile, caring nature, and insatiable desire to make others happy, will have been missing him for nine years.
So many vividly unforgettable memories of Dad float through my head and heart. After a childhood with an Everest of anguish and challenges — because of Mom’s drinking and the inescapable emotional and physical abuse it caused her to wreak on our family — it’s the enduring visions of time spent with Dad that make it all less painful. Whether it was baseball, basketball or my band activities, he always found a way to be involved with my brother Isaac and me, which helped ease the misery.
I can still see Dad and me playing catch in the front yard of our house in Oak Ridge North south of Conroe. We had a basketball goal above the garage door for a while, and I can see Dad — who loved basketball and played as a youth in St. Paul, Minnesota — hooping it up with us. He helped coach our youth baseball teams and also was the coach of our Conroe YMCA basketball teams for several years — and we were always really good.
Dad was a jock at Murray High in St. Paul, playing football and basketball. I always got a kick out of watching Dad — who was a lefty — shoot two-handed and put up baby hook shots in the lane when he was coaching us. They sure played a different game in the 1940s. I would’ve loved to watch Dad and Crys play during their high school years (more on Crys’s sports exploits in a bit).
And although Dad didn’t always get to attend Conroe High football games to watch me playing the clarinet and marching with the band, he came when he could, and he never missed a Christmas or spring concert. When I became a journalist, he constantly bragged about my writing abilities to his colleagues and friends.
Dad’s pride in his sons and their achievements was always transcendent.
When, during my college years at Texas A&M, Isaac and I learned the big secret we’d never been told — that we were adopted, not that we were surprised — it was hard for me to be mad at Dad for not telling us. (I was already full of bitterness at Mom because of what she’d put us through.) The way Dad had always seen it, and always would, we were his sons, and that’s all that mattered. Another subject for another post, but through all the thick and thin — and there was a ton of it — I never doubted Dad’s love for me for a millisecond.
And that brings us around again to my brother Crys, the guy I’m blessed to share a birthday with. Although we’ve now had 62 birthdays as brothers, this is only the 18th we’ve shared, since we’ve only known each other that many years come June 11th, when we first heard each other’s voices by phone.
Those of you who’ve read the many posts I’ve written about my journey since finding my biological siblings know how much Crys means to me. I love him dearly, and pretty much from the moment we connected — telling each other without reservation about ourselves and our families for two hours — I could tell we were going to become and remain close. I know how much he loves me, and the three-way text chat we keep open with our sister Terry is a lifeline that I hope they know means everything to me.
Being children of the same parents as we are, it’s no wonder Crys, Terry and I have developed such a bond. I feel like I wasted (and regret doing so) the three-plus years I had the chance to know our brother Robin before he left us in January 2009 at age 61. I wish Crys, Terry (in Colorado) and I could see each other more often, but we’ve tried to make the most of the wonder of video calls — which we hope to do Tuesday on the evening of Crys’s and my birthday.
My birth siblings have been gracious in giving me many photos of our parents Betty and Bob, other relatives and themselves. So I have lots of pictures of Crys, ranging from his early childhood, through adulthood when he was raising his three children, to more recent years.
But I’m including one with this post that’s pretty awesome: It’s from the spring of 1960, during Crys’s sophomore year at Huntington East High School. He was 6 feet tall, his max height, which he hit in ninth grade.
Crys’s two sports were basketball and track, and in track, his specialty was the 400. He told me his personal best was 54 seconds flat, which he recorded in 1961 when he was a junior attending Ironton High School in Ohio, across the Ohio River from Huntington, while our mother was pregnant with me. (I was curious, so I looked up the current world record in the 400 — it’s 43.03 seconds!)
In the spring of ’60 at HEHS, Crys also ran the mile relay, and the photo below is that group. It includes another sophomore, Bob Ashworth; a senior, Fred Lambert; and a junior, Eugene Layne. I just think it’s amazing that Crys had that photo, which was in a batch of old pics he gave me several years ago. What a jock he was!
OK, I’ve gone on enough about the other two birthday boys — but after all, it’s their birthdays and they mean so very much to me.
Happy birthday, Dad. Happy birthday, Crys. I love you both. Always. ❤
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