To my dearest Robyn on your 5th birthday,
You won’t actually read this or hear this on your 5th birthday. No, I’d hate for you to know how much I’m soaking in every interaction and every moment I spend with you. Your care-free spirit and beautifully crafted existence relies on your obliviousness of the impact it has on your father. But I do want to capture this moment so that someday you’ll understand what a powerful force you were at this young age. When you came into the world five years ago, I didn’t know what to expect. Everyone insisted a second child would make things exponentially harder. I already felt overwhelmed by being a parent for your older sister, so what would this do? And on top of that, we just lost your grandfather and I went through a brush with mortality myself with my heart surgery. But there you were, 7 pounds and 7 ounces of mellow bliss–a stark contrast to your sister’s cranky early days.
In the years since, you’ve become my daily oasis, a dose of humor, cuteness, and wonder that I didn’t know was possible. You continually surprise me with your creativity and enthusiasm towards what us jaded adults consider the most mundane of things. When you ask to use my phone, you never ask to play a game or some app that is supposed to entertain you. No, your preferred activity is a blank screen and the ability to draw psychedelic images of landscapes or people or even me (I’m always honored to be a subject of your artistic vision). I’m also in awe of how musical you are, despite your father’s clear tone-deafness (as you witnessed during those countless nights I sang you to sleep as a child). Perhaps it’s all those nights we spent watching old Motown videos on YouTube, our special little treat that makes me now appreciate those classics in a way I never thought possible. There are still times when I feel stressed and my mind wanders to memories of you sitting on my lap in front of the computer, mimicking the dance moves of the Spinners, and my stress disappears quickly. Nowadays, you make up tunes and hum them with reckless abandon. Where your sister at your age usually made monotonic, guttural noises that made me want to invest in some earplugs, your tuneful hums have occasionally made me stop and pay attention. I can only hope you never lose that combination of open creativity and reckless abandon. I can’t help but think that I’ve even started to adopt some of those principles in my life–though after a recent karaoke experience in an LA bar, I think we can table the sing-out-loud strategy. But that’s a story for when you’re MUCH older…
But beyond everything about you that makes you my beloved daughter, there’s a split-second that truly captures the image in my head of what you’ve been for the past five years. It’s the moment after you’ve said something funny that I think is hysterical and the pride you take in knowing you made me laugh. You have that big grin and you’re focused on my face, soaking in my laughter and the knowledge that you made it happen. I’ve never known anyone, child or adult, that worked so hard to make other people laugh. I’ll never forget our date night when Iris and your mother went out, so it was just you and me. We both dressed up nicely and went to Baja Fresh followed by Yogurtland, spending the whole time making each other laugh–one-upping each other most of the night. Before the night started, you said “Hey Daddy, this is going to be a great night because we’re the funny ones in the family.” Yes, it was and yes we are. As you know, your mother and I have our special wedding song (that we’ve subjected you to on many occasions) called “At My Most Beautiful”. In it, there’s the lyric “I found a way to make you smile.” The guy that sings that song has said that it might his favorite lyric that he ever wrote. And given how big an REM fan I am, it’s probably a big deal to say that it my favorite lyric that he ever wrote. The other day when the song came on and your mother and I danced like we always do to that song, I heard the lyric and–for the first time–thought of you. Selfless, empathetic, and wanting to make people smile. I couldn’t be prouder and I couldn’t be happier. You always make me smile.
My only advice for you (and this will apply to you for the rest of your life) is to not think you’re in a competition with your sister. When it comes to things like reading, Iris is a freak of nature. She can polish off seven Harry Potter books in nine weeks. Even I don’t know what to make of that. Maybe you’ll do the same and maybe you won’t, but don’t feel compelled to match her or even follow her lead. You love going through books really quickly, but seem more concerned with reading as many as possible like your sister than actually enjoying those books. It doesn’t need to be a race. In fact, it shouldn’t be a race because you aren’t on the same course. Take it from your father, who never really found himself until he separated himself from your Uncle Ricky. He was an impossible standard for the things he did well, but I realized that there were other things that I cared about that I could do better. Rather than trying to beat him, he became my inspiration to do my best at whatever it is I wanted to do. He used to tell me that himself, but it wasn’t until I started listening that I found my true calling. That’s what Iris should be for you. Do the stuff you love and approach it with the same focus that your sister does. She is Iris and she is awesome. You are Robyn and you are awesome. No comparisons are necessary. Remember that and you’ll go far, kid.
Your Forever-Smitten Father