366 days.

It was a leap. From young newlyweds to prospective parents. From carefree and often careless days to the ultimate in responsibilities, the most important thing we’ve ever handled. Like handing a gun to a rookie cop, the keys to your first car, magnified by infinity. A life. Yours to raise.

Growing pains. Ice cream binges. A Christmas celebration, followed by a winter. Spring. Summer. 40 weeks. Wait some more. 41. A minor scare. A hospital room. A day of waiting.

And here she is. Beauty, personified.

It was a leap. Our hearts, bounding, rising, like mercury on a hot day, boiling over with emotions. She cried. She slept. We cried. We slept. She kept us from sleeping. We did nothing for six weeks but watch and learn and soak in every moment, every awkward glance, every twitch, every peaceful sleep.

Every peaceful sleep. For her and for us. Every one was golden, an oasis.

It was a leap. A learning curve unlike any other, a lifetime of teaching, things we each take for granted. She learned. A blank slate, slowly coming to grips with the world, a world only as big as her bedroom, the house, the block, the world. She traveled at two weeks, flew at eight months, became a planet, us her satellites; the sun to our solar system.

She sat up. She babbled. She rolled over. She crawled. She stood up. She talked. She walked. She taught us to love something more than ourselves, to care more than we ever thought possible, to throw away the idea of a stupid cliché, proving that something simply can’t be put into words, that the most tired phrases could be true, overused because they were true, thought by millions because they were true.

Sierra is truth. She is patience. She is innocence. She is love. Oh man, is she love.

It was a leap. A leap year. 366 days, from August 1st to August 1st, at 9:55 p.m., an extra day, one in four with the privilege. Everything comes back to August 1st. To the day our lives changed. Her life changed. Our house shifted, our family notched another heartbeat and we fought like hell to make her feel welcome. To feel right at home. To become the center of our home. To take over, dictating every thought and motion and reason and on and on and on.

And I’m still amazed, that I was there to witness it, that I am so lucky to have a perfect little girl, and while I know that every father says the same thing, for me it’s different. It’s perfect. It’s what I feel like I’ve supposed to do my whole life. To be a dad. To be proud. To love her. It’s a perfect role, and every day I hope I’m doing her justice.

366 days, from the first cry to tonight’s last. One year. One life. One proud father. Happy Birthday, Sierra Dawn.

This was lovingly handwritten on August 1st, 2008