Happy Birthday, Princess!

Jeff Katz's Sweet 16 Note To His Daughter Julia

Jeff Katz
March 07, 2019 - 1:35 pm

Good morning Julia. Happy birthday, Princess! It’s hard to believe that it was sixteen years ago that you arrived. I cried with joy when I first saw you, my baby girl, and you can still make me cry.

I loved you before I ever laid eyes on you, but holding you for the first time I realized that I had to protect you. Protect you for a while anyway. Make sure that you got through school, boys, career and eventually a family of your own. I would be there to hold your hand as long as you needed, but then at some point, you’d walk away and hold someone else’s hand as you began your own life.

The journey you’ve taken us on has been an interesting one, funny bunny. Your older brother, ever the over achiever, hit all of his developmental milestones ahead of time. Roll over, crawl, walk, talk. Whatever the age was that Harry was supposed to do it, he was always a few months ahead. So, when you came along Mom and I just assumed that you’d follow in his footsteps. But you did not. You just didn’t seem interested in doing any of the things the books said you were supposed to. Our friends and family told us not to worry, you were just on your own schedule. You’d do all of that stuff when you were ready, but Mom and I knew there was something more going on. I hate to say it, but we both wondered not just why you were having these challenges but why we had a child with such issues. Had we done something wrong? Were we responsible? Could we fix it?

In sixteen years, you’ve seen more doctors and visited more hospitals than I have in fifty. It’s not fair. How many strangers have poked and prodded you over the years trying to figure what’s going on. There has to be some explanation. This syndrome or that ailment, but all they’ve ever told us is that you have “global developmental delays and disabilities” which simply means that even though you have made sixteen trips around the sun, developmentally you’re still eighteen months old. Still in diapers, never speaking, watching Jack’s Big Music Show and Sesame Street not Riverdale or American Idol.

We’ve got some traditions in our family for birthdays. Whoever is celebrating the birthday gets to pick out a special dinner. Mom always goes with Chipotle, Joe picks Five Guys, Harry wants a gourmet pizza and I always choose Chinese food. But what would you choose? I know that you love a Thanksgiving style supper with turkey, stuffing, gravy and cranberry sauce but would that really be your choice? I have a sneaking suspicion that your birthday feast would be Oreos and ginger snaps. Don’t tell Mom, but if you ever asked to have cookies for dinner I’d happily give them to you.

The other night I had to go to a work event. It was called the Daddy Daughter Dance. There were hundreds of little girls and their proud pops, all dressed up, having great fun at a fancy hotel. They went for horse drawn carriage rides and paraded down the red carpet. It’s the sort of thing I wish you and I could do, but I wonder if you were a kid like other kids if you’d want to do that. Would you be interested in a gown or would you be a rock chick like Mom? Heck, I can almost imagine us going while wearing matching Social Distortion tee shirts and Doc Martens. We’d have shown them!

I used to cry myself to sleep thinking about what could have been for you and then I’d dream of all those things. Every dream ended with you saying, “I love you, Dad” and me saying “I love you too, my sweet.” For good or ill, I don’t have those dreams anymore. Harry heads off to college in California next year, Joe is starring in plays and running track, but what’s next for you?
I don’t know what the future holds, but this I can tell you with no hesitation. You have made me a better man. I now appreciate breezes, pretty flowers, cookies and I truly value my family and friends. Oh I still have a lot of stuff, but I’d trade all of it just to hear you speak or watch you run.

When we walk, I always hold your hand. Mom yells at me and says, she can do it herself. She does not need you to hold her hand. Of course, I always tell her that you grab my hand when we’re walking. Now, we both know that’s not true. I’m the one who reaches out for you, not you for me. I need to hold your hand, not the other way around but let’s keep that our secret.

Never having said a word, you have touched more people than anyone I know. Yours is a pure joy, an agenda free appreciation of life, a basic but beautiful view of the world. You, my dear, are the face of God. When you are sad, everyone hurts along with you but when you smile and giggle, you fill rooms with sunshine and hearts with happiness.

The happiest of birthdays, kiddo. Cookies and kisses, Jules Bagools. Daddy loves you more than you will ever know!