To Justin on the occasion of your third birthday.

I need to tell you, son: I love you in ways so unique they sometimes frighten me.

Your smile sometimes makes my eyes water, partially from pride and partially from a longing to be good enough to deserve it. The way you take in happiness with the entirety of your face – it’s a gift, my boy. You are life personified. You are the dawn and the dusk, but always the most beautiful of both and never mourning for all you represent is promise. Your silly games, the laughter that hangs from the corners of every room in which you let loose – if ever I thought such joy could be found in tossing a deck of cards or dropping myself off a couch, I’d have never stopped doing either! Regardless of whether it’s appropriate or not – regardless of whether or not I am being a good parent – I cannot stomach editing your joy because it’s the key to life. You’ve found it, little man. You stumbled onto the Grail without even knowing what you did, which is truly the way the best stories play out, or at least the truest ones. Live and laugh, they all say. Seize every day, every moment! And you do. You do what so many wish they could.

I long for you to know the wonder and love with which you infect others. Your reaction to music is chemical, it would seem. The movement of your body to each and every rhythm, always adjusting and unique, is perfect. Don’t worry about the steps. Never sweat the routine or the memorization others flaunt, for you understand the purity of the moment, you FEEL what others only know how to pretend to know.

And yet you do strive too for knowledge. You instinctively reach beyond the emotions that course so feverishly through you because you know there’s more behind every couch cushion unturned, every item you cannot quite reach and demand to be picked up to reveal. Your desire is a fire consuming everything, and I have never been more ready to allow myself to be burned because I want you to know it all. I believe you will too.

I’m circling the point here, so I’d better sum it all up. Your need to “talk about it,” coupled with your playfulness, genuine curiosity and the very sweetness of your giving personality make me realize there’s more in this life than my own needs, my worries or my hang-ups. You free your old man – and yes, I do feel so very old despite your youth (or maybe because of it) – of the phantoms of his own undoing and failures as you know light intuitively; you know truth as if it’s something with which you were branded as you entered this world. And the lesson you teach each day is that there is more to everything! There is more love than anyone thinks, more hope, more to understand, more laughter and more toys! I laugh, but it’s true – your mother and I, in cahoots with you grandparents have made your cup runneth over with playthings.

But you are not spoiled by life, simply hungry for the next moment and the next big adventure. You want to play every game and the blue of your eyes adds depth to the sea and the sky. You are life! You are the reason breath tastes sweeter and the day is more than the sum of aches and pains. It’s your passion and imagination that light my days brighter than any sun. And when we played in the bouncy house yesterday as part of your birthday weekend, I laughed bigger and smiled wider than I have in years.

Why? Because for a moment I let myself be you, and your energy and magic spread through me, woke me out of my constant worry and just freed me to be.

Your gift is that you don’t only know instinctively how to live life, but that you wake up everyone around you so they too will embrace this precious gift. You’re a catalyst, a match strike, and you’re the single best thing that your mother and I ever worked together for.

I adore you, Justin. More than angels love Heaven and more than science loves proof. You’re my best, greatest hope and I live every day with a need to keep your fires burning, spreading, and reminding everyone you meet that there is more to each day. All they have to do is want to look.

Just like you.

Happy birthday.

Daddy.