It has finally happened. That little baby who totally changed my life 18 years ago today is an official adult.
I was 33 years old when I became a father. My child lived in the pre-9/11 world for 42 days. She arrived before we had iPods, iPhones, and iPads.
She’s now old enough to buy a lottery ticket, enlist in the Army, get a tattoo or piercing, serve jury duty, drink alcohol in most European countries and Canada, go to jail, and vote for president.
This is a tough time, so I am sorry I can’t buy you a whole bunch of gifts right now. They say it is the “thought that counts,” so I have been pondering all morning what to say regarding you turning 18.
First and foremost, I want to say that I am so very proud of you.
You’ve had challenges that would break some people, yet here you are: smart, kind, clever, beautiful, and resilient.
I know first-hand how it feels to be socially awkward and obsess over things with your Asperger’s, but you’ve handled life as a kid better than I ever did.
You possess an abundance of kindness and decency in your heart. As a small child in school, your teachers adored you and welcomed your loving hugs. Even before the law said you were mature enough to be responsible for yourself, an adult, I could rest easy know that you wouldn’t be out there getting into foolish shenanigans. Not all parents can say that.
I want to say that your bravery inspires me.
I’ll never forget the time you were at that middle school dance and went out in the middle of the gym floor by yourself, risking the potential humiliation of dancing alone. My heart broke, feeling the weight of everyone’s judgment upon you, but then some amazing happened: You were the ice-breaker who got your classmates out there to enjoy some fun. You’ve amazed me with the way you stand up for yourself and on principle.
I hope you never lose that fearlessness!
I want you to know that having you as a child made me realize how beautiful life is.
Some people arrive in this world as happy accidents. You were deliberate. Your mother and I wanted you and fought to create you. Your happiness and wellbeing have united us throughout the years. I will always have love in my heart for your mother because, without her, there would be no you. Precious girl.
I’ve tried to hold your hand as you discover who you are in these difficult adolescent years. In many ways, it gets a lot easier from here. In other ways, tougher.
You can do it…
As you start your senior year in high school, you are poised to possibly experience the best time of your life.
I desperately hope that you sail through it and experience all of the things you’ll actually miss when you graduate.
A year from now, you’ll be starting college.
Hang in there, kiddo.
Very shortly after you were born, I wrote down some thoughts that I wanted to share with you in the event that something happened to me. I felt it critical to be around to be a meaningful presence in your life. I wrote it all down and gave it to your aunt to share with you if something happened.
Here are some of the things it said:
- Find your unique voice. Speak up. Write your own story…
- Learn the word “NO,” and don’t be afraid to use it without guilt…
- Don’t chase boys. We aren’t worth it…
- Learn how to be happy in your own skin and be content alone. Don’t ever let anyone convince you that you aren’t enough…
- Fight! But choose your battles wisely…
- Realize that failure is one of the best ways we learn, so our mistakes can be gifts to the future versions of ourselves…
- Set goals and really give it your best effort. Even if you don’t get all the way to what you set out to do, you’ll still end up farther than you would have if you never tried. And simply by trying, you’ll already be ahead of most folks…
- Don’t compare yourself to others because you are awesome and there will never be another like you.
- Even when you aren’t feeling particularly great, keep your head up. Confidence is attractive…
- Never be afraid to share anything you feel passionate about. Those are the things that make us happy and give us purpose…
- Read books. The keys to a brighter, easier future lie in what you know and the value you can provide to other people…
- When you are old enough to get a job, set out to be the best person who has ever done that job. Work hard. There’s greatness in having the ability to provide for yourself…
- I know that between your mother and I, you will share the artist’s eye, so seek beauty in all things…
- Don’t be afraid to cry when you feel like you need to. I know depression is tough to overcome. Try to embrace every bit of life, making the best of moments you dread and memories you hate. And when it feels too heavy, take a nap or watch a funny movie, do something that gives you the time and the space you need to recharge your soul. Bad and sad times are temporary states that will pass while you sleep them off…
- You’ll be happier if you start your day with an attitude of gratitude…
- Take life one day at a time. Live in the moment. You have no control over yesterday or tomorrow. All you have is RIGHT NOW, so just be happy.
I want to say I’m sorry that I didn’t spend more time with you when you were a tiny baby. One of my biggest mistakes in life was living to work instead of working to live.
I hope you never felt lacking for anything you needed and much of what you wanted. I put in those long hours hoping you would never feel inferior standing next to the daughters of wealthier men.
I’ve tried to make up for that earlier lost time and love you with every bit of my heart and soul. I do miss how special it felt to cuddle you in my arms when you were tiny. If I ever growled at you or got grumpy, it’s because I knew you were capable of doing more. It’s the way my father showed me his love.
I want to say I’ll miss you now that I probably won’t see you as often.
You have a boyfriend, so I expect to see less and less of you. I hope that the way I’ve treated you influences the way you’ll allow any man to treat you.
I’ve cherished every single moment spent at your side watching Shrek, Ice Age, Finding Nemo, Jimmy Neutron, Invader Zim, Futurama, Family Guy, Sailor Moon, and all the rest of it. Sometimes when you aren’t near, I’ll play those programs in the background because the memories are soothing. I also love all of those trips to the Dairy Queen drive-thru with Isabelle on your lap and Saturday morning breakfasts at Huddle House. Let’s not stop doing things like that.
I’ve got to see things fresh through your eyes as if I, too, am experiencing them for the first time. Truly the coolest part of being a parent. I love the fact that we can have actual intellectual discussions now that you’ve grown up.
I want you to know that I will always love you without condition, and if anyone or anything breaks your heart, I will always be the one person completely devoted to you.
You can tell me anything, any time. I will always be here for you. My love for you is a limitless oasis.
I want to say that you are so very special to me, my greatest creation, my mini-me, and I hope these sweet memories of our friendship will last all of the days of your life and mine. Your smile always brightens my day.
It’s your birthday, but I feel like I am the one who has gotten the gift by raising a wonderful daughter. It has not only been the joy of my life to raise you, but also my reason to live. I love you bigger than space.
Now that you are 18, I hope you know that Home is who you Love, not where you Live.