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St. Patrick’s Day marks my daughter’s 5th birthday, and I am thinking about our journey together so far. I never thought that this kind of love for anyone or anything was possible. It is so far past butterflies in my stomach or my favorite sandwich that I have to believe God is involved.

I remember when she first came home; it was pure need. She needed us, and as a new parent, you step up. The silliness I used to worry about faded away. I wanted to be there for everything: first word, first step, all the good things and all the bad things – her first visit to the emergency room, her first skinned knee.

When asked how being a dad was so far, I would reply, “I love it, even the bad stuff.” I have never thought anything else. I love it. I love that she is here and I love that I’m her father.

So, to my daughter: I’ll be here as long as I can and try to teach you how to get along in the world the best I can. I worry about you sometimes. I sit at work and think of the structural integrity of the roof of your school. I am getting better, but I know I will always be concerned for your safety. If I am anywhere near you, I will not allow anything to happen to you – ever. That’s my job.

My mother told me that kids grow up fast and I thought, “no, they don’t,” but she’s right. You are going to be 5. It seems like yesterday when you first smiled at me, your first gift to me, and it will always be better than a tie. It seems like yesterday I heard you babbling in your crib and when I walked in you had pulled yourself up to the side rail, signaling, “I’m up now! Pick me up, let’s start our day.”

Recently I asked you to stop growing up so fast, to which you replied, “Daddy, I have to but I will always be your darling,” which is the second priceless gift you gave me.

Some advice off the top of my head: Respect your elders, but don’t blindly follow whatever they say. Just because they have been here longer does not make them correct all the time. Don’t use the word hate. Be charitable. Be kind.

If you need female role models, look no further than your great-grandmother, your grandmothers and your mother; they are smart, strong, successful women. If you need a male role model, your grandfather is a hero who served his country, and your other grandfather took care of seven children while finishing college before he died too young.

You can be whatever you want. I know your dream now is to be a cowgirl, and if it still is in 15 years, I will support it. After college (you are going to college) never own more than you can fit inside a car, so you can move easily. Your talents will likely be in high demand.

Go to lots of movies and read lots of books. You should wait tables at least once to teach yourself humility and how to deal with difficult people. Don’t worry, one day they will wait on you and you will know how to treat them.

Don’t litter. Learn how to drive a stick shift. You should be able to drive away from any situation where you feel threatened. You can always move home. Travel the world. Learn pluralism and do not associate with anyone who is intolerant. Exercise and eat right, but never turn down a milkshake.

Before I wish you a happy birthday, remember family is always first, go to the dentist regularly, don’t buy a mattress online and Buffalo has the best pizza in the world. Happy birthday to the little person who inspires me every day.