For whatever reason, some birthdays just seem bigger than others.

Turning six seemed bigger somehow that turning five. Twelve was huge because you stopped being free. Sixteen is when you get to drive, and eighteen is when you’re almost on your own. Let’s not even discuss twenty-one just yet.

Even though it’s not that far off anymore, is it?

No, fourteen will do just fine for now.

Fourteen was one of my favorite years. I imagine it’ll be a lot of fun for you, too. I had just started 8th Grade. You’re about to begin high school. This can be a golden time, honey. I hope it is for you. Never take that for granted.

The friendships you have now will probably be friendships you have for life. No matter how far you go, one day someday we all seem to come back to them. Those crazy people we had over for the slumber parties, or went out for pizza with after the game. The band music starts meaning more just about now, too – and you’re going to start remembering what song was playing the night you started making memories of your own.

I like your friends, too. They seem like really cool, interesting people. I love that you have so much fun with them, and that they mean so much to you. My Mom and Pop always liked my friends, too – and we were always spending the night at a different house every Friday night.

I wonder sometimes about how fast things are changing. In a few years, all those driving songs I grew up with probably won’t mean a thing – because no one will be driving any more. I don’t blame you for getting irritated whenever we talk about that. We’ve been practicing for months now, and I already trust you behind the wheel more than I do most adults.

Seeing the person you already are thrills me, and excites me about the person we all see you becoming. I watch you and see little components of every one of your family members. All the good stuff. I confess, it makes me a little mad when I hear people tell me they pity the poor boy who crosses me. They don’t know you very well. I tell them to feel bad for any guy who tries to cross you.

You’re going to notice more who’ll try, that’s for sure. Don’t let them get to you. Any of them. Hear what your critics say, but decide for yourself. I think you’ve already got a good bead on that. It’s okay to be emotional and listen to your feelings, and especially that one little voice we all have. We’ve talked about it before, and by now you’re noticing that it’s often the quietest voice of all. I think you’re finding that when you finally listen to that one, it doesn’t let you down.

Fourteen is big in so many ways. More and more you find you asking yourself where do I stand? I see you doing that sometimes, and I makes me very grateful. I see a young woman who’s a perfect combination of hard-headedness and soft-heartedness. If you get that right, you can get a lot of other things wrong – but that’s a bargain you haven’t required us to make. 8th Grade had some bumps, but those grades you pulled out anyway? I could not be happier. I think you’re going to knock high school out of the park.

You know what we’ve talked about when it comes to independence and being wise. The cool part is watching you being accordingly thoughtful. Little things that are actually astronomically big. Walking in and asking your teacher where you stood and what you needed to get done? I didn’t have that kind of initiative at your age. That’s a young person who’ll be able to handle herself when she gets out into the world and needs to. That’s someone who isn’t interested in the least she can do. The future is likely to be a lot harder for you than it turned out to be for me at your age. We were supposed to be further along, and I deeply regret that we’re not – but you’re already showing that kind of courage, resourcefulness and radar you’re probably going to need.

It’s really kind of awesome that you’re turning fourteen the same week we’re remembering the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11’s mission to land on the moon. You always had a sense of wonder when we’d look up together and talk about what people overcame to go there. That’s why we need the impossible. Human beings need things beyond ourselves to which we can aspire. I’ve seen the understanding in your face while feeding the homeless. I know what you do for those who might otherwise feel left out.

If you haven’t noticed already, you’re going to hear a lot more people my age criticizing people your age. For starters, I don’t know why we would go out of our way to antagonize the very demographic that will choose our nursing homes. But more importantly, I don’t agree with the doubters. One thing I learned from being around you and your brothers and all your combined friends, teammates and classmates over the last thirty years is that tomorrow is in better hands than today. I believe not only in you, but in your generation.

For our part, I feel we adults owe you an apology. Shooting for and landing on the moon was more than just a space thing. It was proof of what dreams could do – and if we could make going to the moon a reality, there was little else we couldn’t accomplish. To be honest, honey, I don’t know what happened. Many of the problems most of us were sure would be fixed by now seem only to have gotten worse. Maybe we stopped dreaming. That’s why dreams are important. That’s why I’ve always encouraged you to follow your own. To anticipate what lies ahead, and equip yourself for it – and to think bigger than what you see may only see before you. I see you doing that, too.

Good grief, when did you get so tall? If there was a sign post back there that said “Now passing ‘Little Girl'”, I surely missed it. That’s a young woman sitting over there behind the wheel of my truck. A formidable d-a-u-g-h-t-e-r with a capital D. This summer I was asked for phone recommendation for you. All I could think of was that it seemed like only yesterday we were watching SpongeBob. We’ve gone from Hannah Montana to Billie Eilish. And by the way: I like your taste in music, too. What I like even more is that you’d actually go with your dad to her concert.

One more thing about that moon landing business: remember when we went to see Hidden Figures? Think of how many people it took to climb into space, and few of their names and stories we really know. I see a young woman who is conscious of that. Let that define you, and not people who will tell you that it can’t be done – or that you are not the person to do it. Remember your namesake – and that out of everyone, she alone was first trusted with the  news of her risen savior.

I know what it feels like to have a daughter I can trust like that.

But I have an advantage: children who’ve made my job really easy. I was given unbelievable people to work with. That’s a credit to you, Miss Fourteen.

I giggle at this marvelous combination you are – someone who can be a big bag of goofy around her friends and then no one you’d want to trifle with when stirred. I think you’re going to have an absolute blast in high school, and I really can’t wait to see where you go from here. If you’re worried about making any mistakes, forget it. You would have to go a really, really long way to top the idiot I was at your age – and for many years thereafter. My job, as your eternal coach, is to let you know when you have your feet set right. You do.

If you still can’t make the play, don’t sweat it. Set your feet right again and get ready. You know the drill. I see you doing it. And there you kids were thinking we were only practicing soccer when you were little. Told ya’. But you know what’s truly wonderful? It’s apparent you listened. I see the work you put in on the things you love. You come through. And I see the look on the faces of little kids and critters when they’re around you. That’s even better than As.

Look, I get why some dads are terrified of these next few years. I believe if Jesus had been a girl God probably never would have let him leave the house. I think you know that I’d say so if I thought otherwise, but a day doesn’t go by in which I don’t consciously think how in the world did I ever end up with three like this??? You guys are the kind of people I wish I’d been more like back then. You have got this, because you know who has got you. And for what it’s worth, that stuff they have you studying looks a lot harder than what I was doing at fourteen. #respect

So, before things such as learner’s permits and Padre Island with your pals soon intrude, enjoy this year, my daughter. That little girl I brought home not so long ago is now fourteen.

Yes, some birthdays just seem bigger that others.

I love you,