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How did we get here? Holly is turning 13!

(Editor’s Note: With apologies to the late syndicated columnist James J. Kilpatrick, this week’s Soapbox is the annual letter to Holly Brantley, from her father, on the occasion of her 13th birthday.)

Dear Holly,

How did we get here so quickly?

You know what I mean. When all those “old people” went out of their way to tell me how time moves in the blink of an eye, they’re grown before you know it, and well, blah, blah, blah. It is a wonder my eyes didn’t get stuck in one of those rolls.

Wouldn’t you know it, they were right.

In just a few days, I will be the parent of a teenager. I’ve been told that means the end is near for a parent. Well, I’m going to just have to be the outlier; I refuse to buy such negativity. I’m counting on you — and your brothers — to keep me young.

You leave a dad with a lot to be proud of. Your work ethic in your studies is so much better than mine. Some think, as I’m sure you do at times, that I push you too hard in areas of the brain. What they don’t get, and what I see in you that makes me so happy is your desire, your fire, the standard that you have set. Your mom and I, admittedly have set a high bar for you, but that is only because we know what you are capable of doing. In reality, I think you have it set any higher. This pleases me to no end.

I may complain about a lot of things — messy rooms, disagreements with siblings, etc. but what I don’t do is complain about the cost of books. You don’t read them, you devour them. Reading does make you smarter, and certainly opens a breech in your imagination that can’t be filled with video games or television. I’m glad that type of mental chewing gum is low on your list of priorities.

It is fun to watch you grow in other ways as well. Upward Basketball has been great for you, and despite the self-consciousness that comes with the territory of being a teenager, you have a nose for the ball. Keep playing. Coaches love players who think, and who seem to be near the ball a lot. The rest of the game will come. You’ve mentioned an interest in tennis. I think that is perfect for you. We’ll see.

You still surprise me. Just when I think I’ve got you figured for one thing, you slip a curveball by me. I’ll never forget the excitement you had leading up to, during and returning from your class field trip to Washington, DC. With the political views you’ve inherited from your parents, and certainly at least one great-grandparent, I did wonder if I might see a sound bite of you on the evening news giving the what-for to a couple of politicians. Okay, I think I might have dreamed that as well. We do share a love of history, and listening to you give me the highlights took me all the way back to my first visit to the country’s capital, when I was about the same age. I still think about it. You’ve already started talking about next year’s trip to a different destination, and it is a sweet sound to hear your excitement.

And that enthusiasm is what I love about our rides together. We haven’t had as many trips out in the last year as either of us would have liked. But we never have those awkward moments that you hear about or read about or see in the movies, where neither parent nor child knows what to say. I guess we’ve talked you as an adult since the day you were born, and that suited you just fine. There’s just enough silliness there to make the recipe of you just right.

Speaking of the day you were born, it is every bit as real and fresh and recent as the day it happened. I remember seeing you for the first time, smelling you, holding you, and just smiling. You were, and are, as we are told, a gift from God. Believe me, the doctor visits and CAT scans and specialists confirmed that. There is definitely a plan for you that none of us yet knows for sure.

But what I do know for sure is there is something exceptional about a father’s love for his daughter. It is hard to explain — after all, being a fierce protector, a provider and a big teddy bear is harder than it looks. I don’t always get it right. Thanks for forgiving me when that happens.

It is funny how the ways I think about you now. I maintain my car a little better, because I think to myself  it will be yours in three years — unless I do get to where I can afford a used M-1 tank. You’re a good companion on a trip, even if maybe you’ve prefer I wouldn’t sing “You’ve Got the Only Daddy That’ll Walk the Line.”

There are a lot of adventures waiting for you. This is not a time to worry about passing into another stage, or growing up. It is a time to be excited. It is a time to learn new things, have new experiences, and looking forward to what’s right around each next corner. Sure, there will be some hard days, but they will be insignificant in such a short amount of time, they’ll pass you right by. And besides, you’re not going to be having all this fun alone. Your dad is going to be right by your side when you want him, a step behind when you need him, a hand extended to pick you up, a fist raised to celebrate with you, and with arms open all the time, ready to wrap around you.

There is nothing better.

Happy birthday, baby girl, I love you.

Your Daddy

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