My daughter is graduating from high school today. Although this is but an intermediate step in her education and life, the feeling is overwhelming. Earlier in the school year, parents wrote letters to their daughters, and the letters were given to them during a retreat. To commemorate my daughter's graduation, here is my letter to her. (You will note that we never broke the kids or ourselves of the habit of calling us "Mommy" and "Daddy." Maybe we're just hanging on to an earlier time.)
September 29, 2008
Words cannot express how proud I am of you and how much I love you. You are my daughter, my first-born, and a true light in my life.
We waited so expectantly for you 17 years ago, and it seemed at times that you didn’t want to be born. Eventually, however, you emerged, a beautiful gift. Of course, even that wonderful day involved me getting in a little trouble – you were crying in the delivery room and I was talking to you, saying soothingly, “Victoria, Victoria,” but you kept crying until I said, “Gator,” at which point you stopped instantly, recognizing your pre-birth name. Sorry about that.
The 17 years since have come and gone with astonishing speed. I remember vividly how, as an infant, you loved to watch football and congressional hearings, and you loved to sleep in my arms (a confession – I loved it more than you did). Your years in day care and “Carousel” and kindergarten and St. Thecla and now Regina have flown by, although I know there were times when you thought they would never end, and there were times when we thought we might not make it to the next step. But that is all part of life and part of family and part of love – enduring, being constant, and always remembering that we are together – forever – as family.
As I think about you over the years and reflect on you now, the word that keeps coming to me is “blossom.” You are so beautiful, physically, emotionally, and intellectually, it is as though you have simply blossomed into an extraordinary young woman. I know, of course, that it hasn’t been simple, and that the years ahead won’t be simple, but I am absolutely confident that you can handle anything that comes your way. And you know you can always count on me (and Mommy) to be there for you.
As far back as I can remember, Mommy and I have stressed the importance of building a good foundation that will give you the best possible options in everything you do, and we have done our best to see that you have had the opportunities to do the things you want to do. It may not always have seemed like it, but everything we ever did, every decision we ever made, was with one question in mind – will this guide Tori in the right direction? From what I can see, you are not only headed in the right direction, you will define the right direction.
I have a post-it note on my desk from a young lady that says, “Never stop dreaming. You can do anything.” You gave me good advice there, and I hope you remember it. Tori, only you can limit your future. Never let anyone else define it for you or put any limits on it. You will go as far as your imagination and determination can take you.
As I may have mentioned before, the poet Robert Browning once said, “a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?” The idea is not to grab what is easily taken, but to strive to go farther than we think is possible, to reach for heaven. That thought is something to keep in mind as you go about the task of preparing for and achieving your future – push yourself, do more than is necessary, and always expect the best from yourself.
With all of its trials, life is beautiful, and the stresses of life emphasize the beauty of life’s most wonderful moments. Tori, to me your 17 years have been one of life’s most beautiful and wonderful moments, and I can’t wait to see what the future will bring.
You know, Mommy and I have tried to raise you to be independent, but there is a big part of me that is not looking forward to you leaving for college next fall. Honestly, I don’t know what I will do when you leave home. The house will seem empty, and I will miss you more than you could possibly know. And it is that realization that underscores further what an incredible young woman you are.
I don’t have any specific dream for your future, only the transcending hope that you will be happy (and a Republican, but that’s redundant). Nothing is more important to me than your happiness, but I want you to remember that happiness is the result of achieving your goals, not a goal in and of itself. There is no such thing as happiness without accomplishment; happiness is never empty. When I say “accomplishment,” I am referring to accomplishing goals of, for example, education, career, marriage, or children.
There is a book titled, “Women and Their Fathers” by Victoria (coincidence?) Secunda. In chapter one, she wrote, “When a father gives his daughter an emotional visa to strike out on her own, he is always with her. Such a daughter has her encouraging, understanding daddy in her head, cheering her on — not simply as a woman but as a whole, unique human being with unlimited possibilities.”
That is you, honey – a whole, unique human being with unlimited possibilities. I will always be here for you, Tori, cheering you on, and I will always love you, unconditionally and forever.