As his 50th birthday approached, people constantly asked my husband: "Are you depressed?"
Joel smiled kindly at them and explained that no, he was not. Turning 50 was a privilege his father never had. He felt wistful, but Joel was utterly grateful to celebrate five decades on this planet.
He feels the same way about turning 60, which he did today.
I admire and envy his attitude. He doesn't care if he is going gray; he's thrilled to still have a thick head of hair. He is genuinely delighted, rather than freaked out, when our friends become grandparents. He doesn't care if he's too old to wear a hoodie.
I turned 50 on Yom Kippur, two weeks after our only child left for college. Suffice it to say that I did not take this well. I realized I was old enough to shop at Chico's, and have scowled ever since.
Conversely, Joel seems to be aging like the best balsamic vinegar, getting sweeter, richer and more complex every year.
The first thing that attracted me to Joel (besides those beautiful brown eyes) was how very kind he is. When I say kind, I don't mean a pushover, though I know one is often mistaken for the other. I mean that he has a big heart and isn't afraid to use it. He remembers all his friends' and relatives' birthdays. If it's cold or snowy outside, he drives me to the train. If a friend is having a bad day, he bakes him brownies. If our daughter needs more contact lenses, he will federal express them to her the next day. If someone is sick, he will show up at the door with chicken soup. If you need help with a drippy faucet or installing a ceiling fan or a ride from the airport, he'll be there in a heartbeat.
He is not just good to his mother; he is also good to mine.
As a musician, he is a consummate professional. He never, ever just "phones in" a performance-even when he's playing under less-than-optimal circumstances. His personal and artistic integrity would never permit it. He has never given in to cynicism and couldn't be indifferent if he tried.
He cares, and often cares deeply. When he does, he is not afraid to show it.
Joel is never bored or uninterested. He can cheerfully occupy himself with re-finishing a light fixture, doing a crossword puzzle, or reading a book about most anything. I am amazed by his capacity to learn, and to remember what he has learned. He knows so much about so many subjects that I have almost stopped asking him: "How did you know that?" (Hence his ability to fix a drippy faucet, install a ceiling fan and re-finish a light fixture.) He has a boundless sense of wonder.
Becoming a father seemed to enhance his ability to continually see the world through fresh eyes, and to expand his sense of joy and immediacy. Having lost his own dad halfway through his childhood left a chasm in Joel's heart; when his own child was born, I watched him fill that void with his love for Jenna. I have never seen a father and daughter who are closer.
He may not be rich or famous, but he is Jenna's daddy, and for him, that is enough.
To me, he is everything, and more than enough.
Happy Birthday, Joel. May you live to be 120.