Today is my daughter's birthday.
15 years ago I was a 34 year old husband who had only recently moved from my native Philadelphia area to Nashville with a pregnant wife and enough money for two months rent. We arrived in Nashville November 15, 1997 and Morgan arrived on May 7, 1998.
I was scared, excited, awestruck, and overwhelmed. All my life I wanted to be a dad, and now that day was here. A million thoughts raced through my head as I watched her come into this world at exactly 10 PM on the dot. She was perfect as perfect could be. 6 pounds 13 ounces of beauty. She made me understand Psalm 139:14 "I was fearfully and wonderfully made". The Hebrew word for "made" used here is the same word used in the story of Creation. It's also the same word a Hebrew writer would have used to describe an artist creating a work of art. That's how God did it with us...especially with my Morgan.
She had thick black hair and her mother's deep blue eyes. The eyes remained the bluest I have ever seen but the hair quickly turned blonde. At a little after 10 PM Dr. Bellardo placed her in my arms and subsequently into my heart. She has had it ever since.
After only 18 months, her mom and I divorced. It was the single greatest heartbreak I had ever known and it took me years to recover from the hurt of not being married anymore. In those years I focused on my career and my fatherhood. I seldom dated at all, choosing instead to reserve every free moment for time with Morgan. I wanted to give her as much of my time and focus as I could. I grew up without even meeting my dad...I was not going to have my daughter miss hers. Morgan was my "little buddy" for so many years. We went everywhere together. We went home to the Italian Festival every summer and to the beach with "Mom-C and Bob" (her "adopted" grandparents) and in 2007 when I finally met most of my paternal family, we started going to Uncle Franny's for "Feast of Seven Fishes" every Christmas Eve.
She has been my companion on walks in the woods and sliding down the stairs with her on my back. She has helped me raise two Springer Spaniels named Bonnie and Cooper, a cat named Giacomo, and a pony named Willie. Every spring she would draw out the vegetable garden row by row and decide what we were planting. There was not a part of my life, personally, professionally or spiritually that she was not the focal point of.
In 2007, as the mortgage industry began it's internal combustion, I lost that house. The garden was gone, the woods we would walk in and explore, and starry nights chasing lightning bugs. Gone. We rented for a year and I told myself it was better because we now had neighbors that weren't covered in fur or feathers. But in my heart, it hurt me and I know it disappointed her a bit. She had to give Willie to the neighbor and my little girl didn't have a pony anymore. I know this wasn't the end of the world and a lot of kids...most in fact...will grow up without owning a pony. But she is a tender hearted kid and Willy wasn't just an idol or a symbol of her dad's affluence. She was no Veruca Salt. She loved Willy as a member of the family. Truth be told, she was too timid to even ride him. Instead we would walk around in the pasture on our property and get him to walk up behind us and nudge us for an apple or a piece of candy he knew we always had in our pockets.
As a dad, I felt awful giving the big guy away. Like I was failing my daughter somehow.
One year later, in May 2008, just a few days after her 10th birthday, the company I worked for had closed it's doors and I was jobless. Because I was unemployed, I was also now homeless. By August of 2008 I had placed Bonnie and Cooper and Giacomo with some families to take care of them and broke her heart again.
I miss those pets more than I thought I would and more than you can imagine. But I ache for my daughter because we were supposed to have those moments together, my daughter and I, and our pets. And I couldn't do anything to stop the collapse of the economy and I couldn't keep a house for us to live in and I couldn't keep our pets. I let my daughter down. She didn't see it that way, but that's how it felt.
As the next 5 years unfolded the nightmare grew uglier, and more frightening, and consumed more of my dreams.
Morgan never questioned my life, never gave up on me and never did anything but remain the same loving, sweet, wonderful, beautiful, talented, tender-hearted girl she always had been. The girl who once tried to comfort me when I found out her mom was remarrying, by telling me "I'll marry you, daddy", grew into young adulthood while her dad slept in his car, finished his degree and tried to rebuild his life while wearing the scarlet H of homelessness. Last May when I walked across the stage at Liberty University and got my degree after 28 years, she was the one person I most wanted to be proud of me. Those long cold nights when I shivered in the dark and did tissue damage to my neck reading textbooks at odd angles, and built chicken coops, and did odd jobs just for gas money...that was for her. Because I wanted those dark days to mean something. I wanted to be able to look back and show her that her dad was no quitter, that he loved her enough to stay put when people told him to leave. That he wanted her to always be proud of him because he loved her more than the very next beat of his heart.
Today she is 15. She is far more woman than girl now. More beautiful than even I thought she'd be. More intelligent, more loving, more godly, more talented and more humble. I love my daughter more than anything I've ever known or loved in this world. And today is her birthday. I'll pick her up after school today and we'll be doing something special. But I wanted to write her this letter today and I wanted to share it with the world...because while the world watched her dad being beaten and tossed around for almost 5 years now, she has remained the best daughter anyone could ever imagine and I wanted to share this with those who frequent this page...
Today is your 15th birthday. 15 years ago everything about my life changed forever, and every change was infinitely for the better. You entered this world and entered my heart. In truth, you were already there. I loved you from the first moment I knew you were coming. I loved you more when I saw your beautiful face on that grainy ultrasound. I loved you deeper still that night I said "I love you" next to your moms belly and you kicked because you already knew my voice. And today I love you more than I ever have. You are a young woman now...almost grown into adulthood. I have to admit...you took me by surprise. I had high hopes for you, big expectations and grand plans. You have already exceeded every one. Your kindness and sweetness and compassion for others makes me more proud than I can say. Your talent and gifts hold me in amazement. Your godliness gives me hope that you'll be alright in life.
I am so sorry for the last five years. Sorry that no matter what I did, I couldn't see this economy coming. I'm sorry that we don't live in our house in the country anymore and we don't plant a garden each spring. I am sorry you don't have a pony to ride. I'm sorry you have to miss Bonnie and Cooper and Giacomo. I miss them too, but I know your heart and you miss them the most.
I am glad I stayed here and endured all that I did so that I could stay in your life. The car was cold sometimes and sleeping in it was hard. Studying in a car was hard too. But my love for you gave me all the strength I needed to push on. And it still does.
I know things are not at all as you dreamed of or hoped for. You have had to deal with the pain of our divorce, then the pain of losing our home and our pets and the worry about your dad and the things that were happening to me. I promise you, I am doing everything I know of to make things better for us. And I will never quit until this happens...because I love you more than anything in the world and a dad never quits. Not ever.
The sacrifices and hardships I endured these last five years were worth everything. I cried myself to sleep a lot of nights worrying about you and were you okay and how was this effecting you? I pushed myself when quitting would have been easier because you are my treasure. Being your dad is the single greatest blessing God has ever bestowed on me and I will never be anything other than thankful for it.
You are a woman now. As your dad it's my job to bless you. And I do. I bless you as a woman of God. You are godly, virtuous, loving, beautiful, Christlike, and honorable. Your dreams will come true and I will give my all to see this happen. I bless you, my precious daughter, with the love of the God who would die for you, with the resources of His kingdom, and the heartbeat of His Son. I will give my everything to see you achieve yours. I would breath my very last breath into your lungs to give you life, and I would set my own dreams alight to illuminate the path that leads to your dreams.
Happy Birthday Morgan. Whatever gifts I give you today will pale in comparison to the gift of love I hold for you every day of your life. I am very proud of you, as my daughter, and as a Christian.
The world holds promise for you that you have yet to imagine.
"Oh...the places you'll go..."
I love you,