Birthday wishes: I’ve never given much credence to the old “make a wish and blow out the candles” bit simply because most of my wishes, my birthday wishes, never came true.  I don’t hold a grudge against the almighty birthday gods or fairies or whomever grants these silent pleas — it’s just that I’ve never felt their power touch me.

My whole life I’ve felt pretty blessed.  I was raised by two strong, independently thinking, sometimes stubborn parents who protected me from the harms of the world they could control. A roof over my head, food in my belly, good schools and support in what I wanted to do with my life, they were there for me.  They were not perfect, but I believe they did their best.  Whatever grudges I held as a young adult have faded now; what’s the point in being bitter.  From childhood to the day Julie and I loaded the U-Haul and drove to Los Angeles, they were my shelter, that’s for sure.  To be blunt, I wouldn’t be here if they hadn’t decided to have a child number three 39 years ago.

While my mom and dad gave me my start, I wouldn’t be who I am now if it weren’t for one person: Julie.  From the moment I first kissed her to this point in time, as we’re raising two children and facing many of the same struggles so many other people do, we continue to grow together, loving, laughing, sometimes fighting, sometimes hurting each other, but always standing side by side through the good and bad.  She is my foundation; she is my shelter.

Sometime in the mid ’90s, while flipping through a bin of used vinyl at the head shop around the corner from our first apartment, I found a copy of the 1986 Lone Justice album Shelter.  Honestly, I could have cared less about almost every single song on the record; the gem of my discovery is the title track, co-written by lead singer Maria McKee and producer Steven Van Zandt.  “Shelter” is a song I’d heard only a few times during its initial release.  Lone Justice appeared on Saturday Night Live and their performance remained on VHS for a couple weeks (it was the classic William Shatner episode) until it was recorded over (most likely in favor of my sister’s soaps).  After that, I never heard the song on the radio; and since we grew up without cable, I never got my MTV and therefore never saw the “Shelter” video.

Yet the song’s chiming intro and the jangly guitars remained locked in my internal jukebox, as did McKee’s twangy voice offering love and support.  I’m still amazed that “Shelter” never became the breakout hit Geffen hoped for. I believe “Shelter’s” enduring appeal is not just that McKee sings so beautifully or that the music is timeless (besides the minimal ’80s sounding keyboards, it doesn’t sound dated).  No, its enduring appeal is the universal way its message reaches across all spectrums of love.  Husbands and wives, best friends, parents, siblings and lovers can all identify with this song.

That afternoon, after finding the record, I returned home and played the song several times over.  Listening to the song again after so many years, I gained new respect for the lyrics.  Recently married and struggling to find my place in the world, McKee’s words spoke to me on a new level.  Since 1994, when Julie accompanied me on a wild journey from Cleveland to the west coast, she has offered nothing but support and love.   At my lowest points these past couple years, when I felt like deserting my dreams, she stood by me like the lyrics of this song suggest.  It was if I could hear her singing them to me whenever she offered a hug, a kiss, or a simple squeeze of my arm.

The power of “Shelter” has grown for me because of Sophie and Jacob.  Using our parents as examples, we have tried to protect our lovely children and make sure that they know we’ll always be there for them.  And it goes both ways.  Knowing that each night I can go home and that there will be two joyous kids running to the door to greet me brings me the greatest comfort any man could ask for.

Come November 1st, there will be candles and cake and my family gathered around me singing.  I’ll be asked to make a wish… but I don’t need to.