My sweet girl, today is your birthday. For the last nine years, I have enjoyed observing your adventurous approach to what it means to be a girl. Living in your world has been a blessing and a constant source of joy.
If I am honest, being the father of a daughter occasionally makes me nervous. As you are aware, I was raised in a house filled with boys. My childhood consisted of Tonka trucks and baseball gloves, skinned knees and muddy shoes. By nature, I am far more adequately prepared to parent your brothers than I was for you. Hair ties and bobby pins were foreign objects to me. Dolls and princess stories were of alien origin.
Yet you surprise me nearly every day. As you grow and learn and mature, you reveal greater insight into the person God design you to be; these changes have provided me relief that I do not need to worry about how to style your hair or squee with you over new boy bands. It has also made me excited to see where your future takes you.
What are these surprises? The fact you know the roster of Marvel superheroes as well as you do the residents of My Little Pony's land of Equestria. Or the speed at which you pick up on the melodies and lyrics of music I play while we drive around town. Or how every now and then, the only song you want to hear is Ben Folds' Gracie because you know it is one of the songs I used sing to you when you were little. Or how you erupted with delight upon seeing the cuteness of a Godzilla shaped money bank. Or the way you vibrate with energy while watching inspirational sports movies when the underdogs win their game. Or in the fierce pride you have for your heritage. Or how you are far more likely to be found playing in the dirt than either of your brothers.
Perhaps it is the latter of those examples which caught me off guard the most. You were never afraid to get grimy. You have always lived as if the most fascinating environment is the ground upon which you walk. Time and time again, I have found you on your hands and knees curiously experiencing the sensation of the earth between your fingers.
In many ways, you remind me of the child I used to be. Watching you explore and play brings me back to the afternoons and evenings I would spend building mountains or digging holes in the backyard of my childhood home. Your love of nature mirrors the summers I spent wading through muddy creeks and wandering trails in the Cascade Mountains. Every time I recognize your need for a bath, I am reliving roles my parents once played when they complained of my grass stained jeans and the dirt in my hair.
However, you engage in ways that are unique. You chase after grasshoppers. You catch beetles and ladybugs. You play with worms. I never did any of that; I always felt a bit of revulsion toward those creepy crawly creatures. You do not share my sense of disgust. Instead, you approach them with fascination and respect. You honor them as important members of creation.
You are not afraid to get your hands dirty. Sometimes, that means you are corralling a worm, picking it up and showing it off to anyone around who could witness your prize, and holding it in your cupped hands to feel it squirm in your palms.
When I was growing up, I never enjoyed playing with worms - I did not want anyone to think I was weird and most girls I knew were scared of worms. Now I have you - a daughter who knows no such fear. When you pull those annelids from the dirt, your eyes beam with pride and your smile radiates joy.
When I became a parent, I never imagined having a daughter would be so messy. I did not anticipate raising a girl so daring and willing to try anything. I never knew I could be capable of so completely loving a girl who constantly has dirt under her fingernails and roughhouses with the boys. You have defied every expectation and I would not want to change a thing about you.
I have learned a lot while watching you play with worms, climb trees, dance at the beach, and dip your feet into the pond. As you celebrate your ninth birthday, I want nothing more than for you to see what I have discovered about you.
You are stronger than you realize. You are braver than you know. You are smarter than you will ever understand. This world is yours for the taking. Besides, you have already conquered the realm of invertebrates.
For you, my love, I wish the happiest of birthdays to my favorite little girl on the planet.