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Jay Paterno: Radio Program Sparks Memories of Birthday Celebration on TV Quarterbacks

by on May 31, 2012 6:00 AM

Driving a couple of Saturdays ago, I caught part of the NPR Show, “Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me.”

In one segment called “Bluff The Listener,” they presented three possible birthday party events that someone could set-up for their children. The participant on the phone had to guess which one was real.

One of the three choices was a 16th birthday party where the birthday boy or girl and their guests would go to a crash test sight to witness car wrecks’ effects on the human body. The description mentioned that some of the dummies would be filled with red syrup to overplay the ugly aftermath of a potentially fatal crash. At the end, one of the dummies would be filled with Skittles, and the kids would be free to gather them up in a sort of crash test dummy-pinata fashion.

The second option: A birthday child interested in being a doctor and his or her guests would don lab coats and head to a nursing home. They would ask the residents what was wrong and try and guess what was ailing them. They would sort pills and make rounds.

Interesting maybe, but this one certainly did not sound as fun as the crash test dummy party.

The third option allowed parents to hire an evil clown that would stalk the birthday child for a week and ultimately show up at the party after scaring (and maybe scarring) your child. As a parent, this sounded like a lot of fun — a lot of fun. But it couldn’t possibly be real.

It was.

As the father of children that will eventually turn 16 and be driving, I was rooting for the crash test birthday party and would have immediately looked to book them a few years from now. But alas, it was the evil clown stalking that was real.

As funny as it sounded, it did make me wonder about parents that would consider subjecting their kids to that kind of terror.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am one of those parents. A memorable birthday? Without a doubt. A few years of therapy after that birthday would be one way to make sure your child recalls that special day.

As I finished my crosstown drive to visit my mother on her 50th wedding anniversary that same day, I could only think of how I have benefited from parents that found even simple ways to make birthdays special. There was a clown birthday cake my mother baked and decorated for me when I was young. Thankfully, that was as close to a clown as I ever got for a birthday party.

I did have one big birthday event. In third or fourth grade, my birthday fell on a Wednesday night when my father would do the TV Quarterbacks show on WPSX-TV (now WPSU-TV). The eight of us all sat quietly off camera while the cameras rolled, showing a set with my father, Jim Tarman and Fran Fisher in three chairs. The backdrop was made up of a series of stylized blackboards with football plays diagrammed on them.

As the show concluded and the credits began to roll, my mother gave us the go ahead to go out on the set. As “Fight on State” played in the studio, eight elementary school kids walked onto the set. The cameras were still rolling and the crew tried to get us off the set. One friend stopped right in front of the camera with his name visible on the back of his shirt. He turned and looked directly into the camera, so there was no hiding for him in school the next day.

The eight kids began to scurry to try and find their way off camera. One of us (not the author) went behind a blackboard where his legs were visible the rest of the time the credits were rolling.

Not quite an evil clown stalking me, but certainly a memorable birthday.

What I guess I learned amid laughing at the real and fake birthday party ideas on the radio was how unique days, days like Mother's Day, birthdays, anniversaries and holidays mark the passage of time. They create moments but also spark memories as we get older.

At dinner on Mother’s Day, my father-in-law read some words he had written for my mother-in-law and for my wife. The theme was that as a mother of young children the days and weeks may drag on but how the years just fly by. Before you know it the babies have grown, moved out and you look around and wonder where it all went.

As the day ended, it was a reminder that every day is an opportunity to do even small things that my children will recall for years. And I didn’t even have to hire an evil clown — but at least I have a good threat to keep them in line.

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State College native and Penn State graduate Jay Paterno is a father, husband and political volunteer. He’s a frequent guest lecturer on campus and at Penn State events and was the longtime quarterbacks coach for the Nittany Lions. His column appears every other Thursday. Follow him on Twitter at
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