I was recovering from a wicked cold last week when I received an email from Thu, the woman who inspired my pandan tapioca cake (banh bo nuong) adventure. Thu had read the post about my dad’s 80th birthday bash and wrote to me about her family’s surprise celebration for her dad. It was actually for both of her folks who were coincidentally born on January 1.
It’s a wonderful human story that tells you lots about humility, family, gender roles, and the gift of good home cooking. Thu’s email uplifted me from my physical doldrums. Hope it does the same for you too! [Note that the text in brackets are my comments or clarification.]
I would like to share my story with you because we also celebrated my parents’ birthday for the first time in their life. My mom and dad both were born on January 1.
We always wanted to give them a birthday party, but they always said, “Gia roi, birthday gi nua.” [That loosely translates to: “We’re so old, why bother with a birthday celebration?”] So we never did, until last Saturday.
My mom called my sister and said, “Since dad will turn 72 on January 1, let’s give him a surprise birthday party.” I was kind of shock to hear that birthday idea came from my mom because she never likes that kind of party for herself and we used to ask them to go out for dinner for their birthday but they always said “NO”. But I was so glad that my mom finally got into the “birthday” celebration.
All of my sisters called each other to plan who would cook and bring what. I come from a big family. My mom has 4 boys and 5 girls. All of my sisters love to cook so we did not have any problem about the food. One sister made bo nuong vi, grilled beef rice paper rolls with mint leaves and a fish sauce dipping sauce. Another sister made pad thai while the youngest one made soup mang tay cua [crab and asparagus soup]. My other sister made angel hair pasta for the little kids. I made sticky rice with chicken and a goi vit duck salad. All of my brothers had the easy task of bringing beer and wine. [Ladies, we need to change this somehow!]
We invited all my uncles, aunts, and their spouses. The birthday celebration day finally came. We all came over to my parents’ house.
My dad still did not have a clue! He thought that we were giving my sister a baby shower since that was what we told him a few days before the party. My mom’s kitchen was full of “the Nguyen Chefs."
We each made our own special dishes and we talked and laughed. My dad helped with the cooking too. We set up the tables/chairs. All the food brought up to the table and they all looked so yummy. The house was full of people and laughter. Finally, everyone sat down except my sisters and me.
We all stood behind my parents and my oldest sister announced to my dad that the party was not a baby shower, but for my mom and dad’s 70th and 72nd birthdays.
My sister spoke on behalf of all my sisters and brothers and thanked my parents for all the hard works they did for us all these years – they still cook for us even on Father’s or Mother’s Day. She wished them health and happiness. My sister could not say her speech without tearing up. She made everybody cry.
The party was so much fun. Everybody enjoyed the food, wine, and beers. My parents talked and laughed so much. I’ve never seen them have so much fun like that before. They enjoyed every single minute of it.
We’ll definitely do this again for them next year but I wish we never took their “NO” for an answer all these times when we asked to celebrate their birthdays.
Parents can often times be too humble and self-sacrificing. But you gotta just break on through and show them some love!