Happy Birthday, Robby

Posted on March 14, 2014 by Robert Ringer


The day Robert J. Ringer, Jr. was born was one of those handful of joyous times that stay with you all your life. Millions of men would like to have a son, but, for one reason or another, it didn’t happen for them. That’s why I consider myself to be extraordinarily blessed, because I ended up with four sons, and all of them are very special people.

Robert Jr., to whom we gave the nickname “Robby,” was the first to arrive, and that made him very special. I can still see him in his little Dr. Dentons, his chubby pink cheeks bookending his million-dollar smile, sitting on my lap as I rocked him to sleep while humming “Rock-A-Bye Baby.” It all seems like a delicious dream now.

What I remember most about those nightly rocking-chair sessions with Robby was my pausing every minute or so to kiss him on his perfectly shaped little head. Then, when I was sure he was in a deep sleep, I’d get up and put him in his crib. For me, it was nothing short of bliss — pure, unadulterated bliss.

After Robby learned to walk, it was a thrill for me when I’d come home from work and, on hearing my car pull into the garage, he would rush to the screen door excitedly shouting, “Daddy! Daddy!”

By his fifth birthday, I was absolutely convinced that Robby was destined for greatness. He was amazingly precocious, with a personality that could light up any room, and his sense of humor was priceless. Above all, he was incredibly kind and gentle.

I remember often thinking that he could end up being anything from a billionaire businessman to the president of the United States. I couldn’t fathom any limits on what he could accomplish in his lifetime. I was just certain that whatever it was, it would be big.

RJRJBut there’s a dangerous innocence in having an expectation of a future formed on the basis of one’s normalcy bias. Even if you do everything right, from time to time a harsh reality will, without warning, collide with your desires and best-laid plans. And so it was in my son’s case: Robby was buried exactly fourteen years ago today — ironically, on his birthday, March 14, 2000. This is the first time I have been able to bring myself to write about it.

What makes it all the more painful is that no one will never know for certain whether Robby died on March 12 or March 13, because when the paramedics arrived, it was after midnight and they weren’t sure how long he had been dead. Death is always a devastating dose of reality, but to not even know for certain on which day your son died leaves an open wound in your heart for eternity.

From reading and watching the news, we are all aware, of course, that these things happen to other families. It’s just part of life. But it’s not supposed to happen to our family. Seneca described it well when he said:

So many funerals pass our doors, yet we never dwell on death. So many deaths are untimely, yet we make plans for our own infants: how they will don the toga, serve in the army, and succeed to their father’s property.

Seneca was right — thankfully, most of us do not dwell on death. We go along merrily in life — especially when we are prosperous and healthy — not really thinking about the inevitable dark moments that lie just over the horizon. And it’s a good thing that we do have the capacity to ignore the almost certain sadness that looms ahead, lest we be perpetually depressed.

We make plans for ourselves and our children as though there were no such thing as untimely death, for to do otherwise would almost certainly saddle us with the most premature of all deaths — ceaseless anguish. Better to plan for a long and healthy life and have hope and faith that premature death will not intervene.

In his book Consolations of Philosophy, Alain de Botton says:

Though the terrain of frustration may be vast — from a stubbed toe to an untimely death — at the heart of every frustration lies a basic structure: the collision of a wish with an unyielding reality.

The collisions begin in earliest infancy, with the discovery that the sources of our satisfaction lie beyond our control and that the world does not reliably conform to our desires.

One of life’s harshest realities is that no one, no matter how rich or famous, escapes the tragedies inherent in human existence. Notwithstanding our efforts to control our environment, there is such a thing as the inevitable and, no matter how positive we may be about life, we are powerless to alter certain events.

And so it is with death, which is not only an integral part of life, it is the most certain thing about life. No human being in the history of this planet has ever managed to escape it.

Even so, those of us who are members of that most solemn of all fraternities — parents who have experienced a reversal of the natural order of things through the loss of a child — have a special cross to bear. Losing a child is something that cannot be fully comprehended by anyone who has not paid the fraternity’s oppressive membership fee.

And so, Robby, that time of the year has rolled around once again, and I hope you know that I am thinking about you on this special day and that I love you more than ever. In fact, I think about you every day of my life and fantasize that someday you will greet me at the door to the other side when I come home from work for the last time.

Robert Ringer

Robert Ringer is an American icon whose unique insights into life have helped millions of readers worldwide. He is also the author of two New York Times #1 bestselling books, both of which have been listed by The New York Times among the 15 best-selling motivational books of all time.

52 responses to “Happy Birthday, Robby”

  1. Rod Caceres says:

    I'm sure there is no pain greater than losing a child. All my strength to you, Robert. It's admirable the way you can think and manage the whole situation. A sign of greatness.

    Personally I am one that cannot have a child, since my wife has cancer. It has never been an issue, we are happy, and enjoy to the maximum my two wonderful nephews.

    There are many things in life we cannot choose. But we always have the choice of how to react to them.


    Rod Caceres http://www.obsessedforsuccess.com

  2. rob says:

    Wishing you peace on this solemn day sir.

  3. Ron Maloney says:

    Thank you for sharing all your wisdom and insight Mr. Ringer.

    And, this particular writing really touched me, as I'm sure it will with many.

    My Faith tells me that we will be together with our departed loved ones when we pass, so I am confident that you will reunite with Robby one day.

    Ron Maloney

  4. Wes Hansen says:

    Mr. Ringer, I doubt we will ever meet, but since long years ago when I read your Winning Through Intimidation, I have benefited from your words. I am grateful that for whatever reasons, you have published your thoughts and conclusions. Thank you once again, for your high level of insight with this article. You have influenced me as few others have with your ideas and thoughts. When you go you will have truly left the world a better place.

  5. Linda says:

    Robert, thank you for this poignant look into your soul. I am so sorry for your terrible loss. Years ago, I remember reading in one of your books about how you and your wife had to rush to a Mexican hospital over bumpy roads for the birth of your child, and how while the Mexican hospital had little equipment, the Mexican doctor was caring, kind and talented. Now years later, you are writing about the loss of one of your precious children. My deepest condolensces.

  6. sir, i'm born at 14 march too, 39 year ago, if i have a chance to go USA, the reason is just wanna see you, your million dollar habits book in bahasa indonesia is my favorit book, you have a four special son, but i think i'm your "daughter" in another way, thank you "daddy".

  7. Daniel says:

    I am stunned. May I proffer the notion that we all are affected, viscerally, by this revelation. To one who has given so much to us, all most can offer in return is sympathy: small compensation for your loss, but weighty in sincerity, nonetheless.

  8. Bill Zimmerly says:

    Words cannot express the grief I experienced reading this. But since reality teaches us that we all will face Robby's fate eventually, it is important to seek the truth about ultimate reality.

    "I see many contradictory religions, and consequently all false save one. Each wants to be believed on its own authority, and threatens unbelievers. I do not therefore believe them. Every one can say this; every one can call himself a prophet. But I see that Christian religion wherein prophecies are fulfilled; and that is what every one cannot do."
    – Mathematician Blaise Pascal, "Pensées" note #692

  9. Logan says:

    I wish you well on this day.

  10. laleydelexito says:

    God bless you and your son Robert

  11. larajf says:

    My deepest condolences to you and your wife on the loss of your son. (I don't think you ever "get over it")

    And thank you for sharing Robby with us so we could treasure him in our hearts and minds with you.

  12. TheLookOut says:

    Robert, I know in my heart you will see Robby again.
    Life would not make any sense if this were not true.
    Thanks, for all that you share.

  13. Hal says:

    Mr. Ringer, Very few who read this article can appreciate our families feelings as I too am a member of this fraternity. Lost my middle son of three sons 12 years ago just 2 months before his 20th birthday (3/22). Coincidently the same issue as to the exact date of his death as the paramedics pronounced it at 12:20 am. Still difficult to write this as I still shed a tear every day — right now. As difficult as it is for the parents I've noticed it is just as difficult for the siblings. We do everything we can to live everyday as we cannot take life for granted. Thank you for at least giving me the strength to write this!

  14. ROBERT A. MULLEN says:

    I too am a member of that "solemn fraternity" of parents who have lost a child. He grew to become an All-American, Renaissance Man. We hunted and fished together for 50 years…from Alaska and Canada to Mexico and the Caribbean. I have many fond memories, but the anguish of his loss continues to be difficult. As a fellow writer, Mr. Ringer, I urge you to write more about your lost son. It does offer some slim therapy. RAM

  15. Trey Gilmore says:

    The picture of your son resembles my own first born. Your writing brings back the loss of our nephew and the pain endured by his parents then and now. I say a prayer for you and Robby and your entire family.

  16. Peter Mocellin says:

    Dear Robert take care

  17. Kerry says:

    Robert, Like so many people whose lives you have touched with your words, you have been a mentor to me for many, many years even though we've never met. I noticed recently in another one of your essays that you mentioned the loss of your son. I'm so grateful that you found the courage and strength to share this part of your life with your readers. It is amazing how powerful the truth is. You're a shining example for so much that is good in this world, and my admiration for you is now more fortified than ever. God Bless You for what you have done in your life to make the world a better place, and I know there's a special place in Heaven for you and Robby.

  18. james says:

    I am a 47 year old male. This broke my heart and brought me to tears. Robert you are a role model for all right thinking decent people. So sad to hear this but one thing you can be assured of, young Robby would be mighty proud of the way you have carried yourself through this. As your son, I know he must have been one hell of a guy and the World lost a good one.

    I sincerely hope and pray that one day you will meet again. James in UK.

  19. Vincent F. Kaheeru says:

    Robert ,

    I can feel your pain. We experienced that in our family in 2006 and it remains as fresh in our minds and heart as always. We pray for your strength and continued faith in the Lord.


    Vincent Freedom Kaheeru, Kampala, Uganda

  20. Brian Heath says:

    Dear Robert,

    Although it is the loss I dread the most, I can only guess at the many layers of emotions you have experienced. Your sharing these words however, is a gift today from Robby and you to all of us. I will spend the rest of this day with both you and he in my thoughts, as I refocus on those gifts I am already blessed with. Thank you for giving on this special day.

  21. Sandy Pierre says:

    Thank you for this beautiful essay.

  22. Tex says:

    No parent ever wants to out-live their children. We lost our 2nd son 46 years ago. Unlike you, I just refused to deal with the situation. I busied myself in other activities. I still haven't dealt with it. Thanks to your article today, I feel challenged to finally acknowledge our loss. Thank you.

  23. John john says:

    thank you for your bravely and wishing you thoughts and prayers

  24. Jitin says:

    This is very touching. I wrote a comment few days ago on ETR about one of your articles. The comment was that whenever I start reading any of your essays, there is an effortless smile on my face and a thought in mind that I'm gonna read something good today. That's how gifted you are. Today your writing brought tears in my eyes. What to say. May you live long and blessed and keep blessing us with your rare wisdom. More power to you.

  25. Sharon says:

    Dear Robert,

    When I first started reading this article I thought it was your Dad writing about you to wish you a happy birthday. (I tend to scan things rather hurriedly so I apologize for that error.) When I reached the bottom of the page I realized my mistake and went back to read the entire thing a bit more closely. I am so sorry for your loss 14 years ago today. there are no words of condolence adequate enough to erase sadness. Just caring and expressing that care will have to do so God bless you and hold you as you remember your dear son on this day. My prayers and thoughts are with you.

  26. Ray K. says:

    Thank you for sharing Robert. Your wisdom and insight is always appreciated, and your many gifts have made the world a far better place.

  27. Maryann says:

    Let me begin by saying I am truly sorry for your loss and the agony associated with that loss. I too am a member of the "solemn of all fraternities" and share your grief. It is true that one cannot imagine how the loss of a child changes your life until you personally experience it. I lost my son Robert 8 years ago next month and daily I live with the results of the day I received that dreaded phone call. I commend you for sharing your story and encourage your readers to feel your words and express empathy in the world. May God walk with us as we walk through this journey. Thank you for sharing Robby's Birthday with us.

  28. Ron Rafn says:

    Like you, I have four wonderful sons and a beautiful daughter. I can't begin to imagine the sorrow and anguish you and your wife have endured since Robby passed away. I would be devastated if one of my precious children died. My own beloved father passed away 10 days ago after suffering from Alzheimer's for the past four years. Here's a beautiful passage from William Shakespeare's play, "Julius Ceasar": “Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once. Of all the wonders that I yet have heard, it seems to me most strange that men should fear; seeing that death, a necessary end, will come when it will come.” Robert, I know that you and your precious son will be reunited again when our gracious God calls you home. I offer you my deepest and sincerest condolences. I pray that God will continue to strengthen and comfort you.

  29. DOL says:

    Dear Robert: I am shedding a few tears for your heartache that I know will never go away (completely). We lost a beloved nephew many years ago 2 months before his 14th birthday and the pain of It, though not the same as it was, is still there. Especially when his anniversary rolls around. He died the day after my mother's birthday and I was many miles away and could not go to his funeral as I had just nearly died myself from an infected appendix. God bless and keep you and give you peace.

  30. Rudy Denham says:

    I’ve been reading your essays for about five or six years now; this is the first time I’ve commented. My condolences to you for the loss of your son. Reading this brought me to tears; I can hardly imagine that pain. I don’t know what ask to say here. I just want you to know that I really look forward to reading your essays nearly every day. They are one of few things I read regularly that I know will be very well written, eloquent, intelligent, and thought provoking. You are an amazing man. Thank you. Good bless you!

  31. Marco Marco says:


    I am father of one son, he will be 17 soon, and I do enjoy just about everything about himself; however, as your writing today starts, my most fond memories are from where he was a little baby and an enthusiastic toddler. That time of their lives when kids are all happiness, innocence and just pure, immaculate love.

    Based on the previous common ground of sweet fatherhood, I tell you that I am completely incapable to say anything that reflects what I feel about your lost.

    In the last paragraph of your writing today, you allowed us to see a deep feeling inside your heart, and I appreciate you wanted to share with us, loyal readers, such a personal and private emotion beautifully expressed.


  32. Paul Haslam says:

    Hi Rob,
    Feel for you,

  33. lonny sterling says:

    " I think about you every day of my life and fantasize that someday you will greet me at the door to the other side when I come home from work for the last time."

    That's pretty powerful. I don't believe life ends and goes nowhere, it doesn't make sense. I'm convinced he'll be there on that day Robert.

  34. joesugar says:

    My condolences. No parent should ever have to outlive their children.

  35. craig cacek says:

    A wondeful piece. I'm reminded of Jim Morrison's biography: "Nobody Gets Out of Here Alive." And like the famous philosophical question "If a tree falls in the forest……………?", if a death occurs, there IS a sound: The sound of grief that serves to bear witness as if to say, "Yes, we honor the end of a life today, but remember the life for all time."

  36. Serge says:

    Life is precious. Thank you Robert for teaching us to live life with wisdom and reality.

  37. edward henehan jr says:

    Sorry for your loss Mr. Ringer. I know how difficult and painful not only the death you tragically endure everyday but also the fond memories of your boy. I lost my daughter in 2006 right after her 22nd birthday. It happened with no warning. Something you never prepare for or expect. I hope you get through the day with the support of you wife and children. Your son loves you. That he took with him.

  38. william toolen says:

    thank you robert for sharing your story with us. i wish i had your way with words so i could adequately express my sincerest condolences to you and your family, but i haven't so i will just say i am very sorry for your loss.

  39. Dave Pipitone says:

    I'm sorry for the loss of your son. My condolences and prayers to you and your family….

  40. real American says:

    Dear Robert, I am writing through my tears for you, your wife, your son, and your other children. I lost my sister when she was 20, then my brother when he was 33. They were sudden, tragic losses and as you can imagine my parents were devastated. I can only say that the brightest smile comes from the deepest tears. I vow to live each day as a sacred gift –as you do — and I praise God for the inspiration and wisdom He imparts to you and then which you share with us. I am so grateful for you and especially today. May the peace of God bring you some comfort and peace on this special day.

  41. Dorothy says:

    This was so wonderfully written from the heart and I'm sure I speak for all who read it in saying 'thank you for sharing'. As one who has lost a child, I felt myself clinging to words you expressed so eloquently … such a perfect tribute to the love you feel for your son. With your words, you gave voice to my own reflections about things I have not written or spoken … again, thank you.

  42. Ganesan Arumugam says:

    Dear Robert,

    good morning Sir.

    In this "journey of life " of ours, we try our best, to console ourself over things / events which happens without our doings !

    Untimely death of our loved ones, is one of the most extreme experience , needing our total "strength" and
    believe in our faith, that all happenings are for the "better" .

    I have no other words to console your loss !


    Ganesan Arumugam

  43. Thanks Robert for everything. What you revealed is so touching I don't what to say.

  44. michael maher says:

    I would like to express my deepest sympathy for you and your family's loss.

    I too was born on march 14th… which also happens to be the birthday of Albert Einstein.

    God rest your little boy's soul.

    Michael Maher

  45. Phil says:

    Thank you, this is a very sad piece except that surely your family will be together again one day in paradise.

  46. Robert K says:

    Condolences and thank you for sharing. As a brother in that solemn fraternity initiated by the death of my oldest son you, as in all your writings, find the words to exquisitely express our emotions and beliefs. Although God gifted us with other children to soften the blow, my heart sinks deepest for those He did not. We know too well the holes in our souls. I can only Imagine theirs. Two, could have been fatal, out of body, personal experienced accidents erased any doubt for me we will be with our loved ones again. Be patient, their bright lights await us.
    P.S. I still refer to “The Little Green Book”

  47. Thank you for sharing, Robert. Must have been heart wrenching to write this piece.

    Losing a child is probably the most painful experience anyone can go through.

    God bless you and your family.

  48. Robby Bonfire says:

    I like to console myself with the thought that the severity of the painful loss equals the extent to which the person we are mourning touched our life. We do not grieve over those who meant nothing to us, we grieve over special people who had the special mission in this life of touching us deeply and making us complete.

    Two years ago, this month, in fact, I wrote a song, at the request of a bereaved mother who is familiar with some of my music, in memory and in honor of her suddenly-departed 13-year old daughter. I would like to share one line from a verse in the song, called "The Day Olivia Died," with the hope that it is apropos, here….

    "Why do the living mourn the deceased, when we know they're in Heaven and resting in piece?
    The cross that we bear pulled us down on the day Helene's angel was carried away."

  49. Robby Bonfire says:

    Peace not piece.

  50. Heather says:

    Thank you for sharing this part of your soul, Robert. I don't think we can know how to truly live until we know how to die and look at death as transformation. I was wrought with family deaths throughout my youth and through a survivor's eyes I know how this can change you, change the way you process things. I love that you shared Robby with us – see, he lives on!

  51. Nikish says:

    Robert, I always look forward to reading your thoughts and writings. Because you are so full of wit, wisdom and common sense which is so rare.
    But this time you have shown your readers a wound. It takes a lot of courage to share it with compassion, wisdom and grace. Let Almighty give you peace, strength and grace to bear the pain. Thank you for sharing such a private emotion.

  52. Tim says:

    Lost my daughter last year on March 13th. Just a random passing at 24 years old. My sympathies Mr. Ringer.