Dear Maddie,

These days so much of my life revolves around being a dad, and that’s something that all began six years ago with you, when you were born into this world and changed my life forever. It’s hard to put into words what it was like that day, but recently I saw a man on TV describe becoming a dad as being like suddenly meeting someone who you love 10,000 times more than anyone you’d ever know before. I mean this as no slight to your mommy whom I love very deeply, but I knew what he meant. The moment I met you it were as if a huge part of my heart that I’d never used before suddenly started pumping, and it hasn’t stopped since.

Your sister, Annie, likes to ask questions about you and often tells me how cute you are. Every night as I tuck her in I list all the people who love her (“Mommy loves you, Daddy loves you, Grandma loves you,” and so on), and I always include you. One night, though, I accidentally passed over your name and Annie immediately interrupted me.

“Maddie loves me!” she said. “Maddie loves me too!”

I told her, “Yes, of course. Maddie loves you,” and you would, too. Annie is a boisterous little girl who loves to laugh just like you did, and I know you’d have gotten a kick out of her. She can be pretty silly at times.

You have a new brother on this birthday who you didn’t have on your last, James. James has your eyes and is a very easy baby which, come to think of it, you were too, so I think you’d have gotten along with him well too.

I wanted to tell you that even though you’re not here physically to be their big sister, you’ve done what big sisters are supposed to do, which is to look after them and try to make their lives a little easier. Every day I know that all the things I do right as a dad are because of having known you. Without you, Annie and James’ dad would be far less patient, and not understand how important it is to give yourself to your children every single moment that you possibly can.

I wish that you could have known the Dad I am today instead of the younger, more imperfect one I was then. Sometimes I lay awake at night thinking about this, but when I look back at our time together all I can feel is the deep love we had for each other, so I know I must have done something right. I can still see your beautiful face light up when I came home from work, and picture you cruising over for me to pick you up and give you a big kiss on your soft cheek. It was always the best part of my day.

It hasn’t been easy with you gone. Every day that passes makes me worry that we might not still be connected as we once were, or, if I were lucky enough to see you again somehow, that we wouldn’t be as close. I have a terrible memory, and every day it gets harder to remember things further in the past, and I hate that our time together becomes just that every day… further in the past.

Yesterday, though, I visited with an old friend I hadn’t seen in fifteen years, and it only took a few minutes before we were relating to each other just as we did all those years ago. Once a bond is forged it’s there for life, and though you and I may not physically be together anymore, we have the deepest connection there is in life, and nothing will ever change that.

So happy birthday, Maddie Mooseroni Chicken Muffin Love Bear. I love you so, so, so very much, and we will celebrate you and what you brought to our life today as we have every year, and always will.