A letter to my daughter on her 21st birthday

23 October 2022

Dear Catie:

When you read this, you’ll be 21 years old. As I write this, I am trying to wrap my head around the whole concept.

As you know, your birthday has always been complicated. I mean, we don’t really know for sure that today’s your birthday. Around this time of year, I think about your birth parents and it troubles me to know nothing about them and whether they, or anyone in their immediate family, will take a moment to recognize your arrival on this planet. 

I wrestle with not knowing how they came to the decision to let you go, who was involved, and what arguments – if any – were made. In quiet moments, so many scenarios play out in my mind, some sweet, some sad, and I’ll never know which one is closest to the truth. I want so very much to understand.

Solace comes from the knowledge that someone, either your birth parents or someone closely associated with them, showed so much love for you in those first days to literally risk their own life and lay you in that box, wrapped in a blue jacket, near a radio-TV building in Wuchaun City, Guangdong, China. The image of someone who loved you that much, who had risked everything to give you at least a chance at a better life (maybe any life), having to walk away, rips at my heart. It likely happened in the early morning hours and I envision that unknown person, that unknown angel, putting down that box, placing a kiss on your forehead, and walking away, fighting back tears as you begin to cry. The thought shatters my heart.

From what they told me, the policemen knew to check around that building for abandoned babies and God bless the officer who found you, another person I will never be able to thank at all, let alone thank properly. I wonder if the person who left you was hiding in the shadows, keeping watch to ensure you were collected and taken away. We will never know.

One of the few scraps of information we have from your first 15 months, a picture from the orphanage.

For the next 15 months, you had no idea who I was, though you were always on my mind. Well, not you specifically, just that I knew there was a baby girl in China that I would soon call my daughter. I remember seeing your picture for the first time and it all becoming so real. It was you, Mei Guo Jiang, that I would be meeting.

Up until then, my whole focus had been on getting to this point but not thinking beyond it. Paperwork, background checks, meetings, more paperwork. It’s all I could see. Now that the moment was near, I wondered if I were ready for it. To be totally honest, I worried about how I would react when we met. I shared that with your Uncle Brian and he told me not to worry. He was content when he had two children, but when the third arrived, she filled a hole in his heart he didn’t know was there.

And I can tell you now, Catie, that’s exactly what happened the moment the orphanage director handed you to me. The minute I took you in my arms for the first time, a feeling washed over me like I have never before and never since experienced. You did indeed fill a hole in my heart that I wasn’t aware existed. I remember standing in some faceless government building in Guangzhou with people from around the world who had come to adopt a daughter, completing some meaningless ceremony, and thinking, “how am I so lucky that, out of all these people, I got the perfect girl as my daughter?”

Since we landed back home, the time seems to have flown by. With each year that passed, I found myself amazed by your unique combination of compassion, thoughtfulness, determination, and courage. When I think about the challenges you’ve overcome, most of which no one will ever recognize or understand, I can only shake my head and wonder how you got through it all to become the incomparable young woman that I know today. I appreciate and celebrate all of your major accomplishments, but what impresses me most about you is the person you have become. It is the million little things you do, your subtle perspectives on life, that make me so proud to be your father.

I know there will be birthday cards and gifts and phone calls, but I wanted to take this moment, on this milestone birthday, to say to you clearly that I cannot imagine my life without you as my daughter. Everyone has just a few moments that truly shape their lives, some that happen without us knowing, others that are very intentional. Looking back, I guess I knew the moment I said “let’s adopt” to your mother was a big moment, but in no way did I fathom the magnitude with which it would forever alter not only my life but who I am.

When my time on this Earth draws to a close (hopefully, many years from now), I will be able to look at that moment and recognize it as the best thing I ever did, the smartest decision I ever made. Being your father is one of my life’s greatest gifts and that’s what I want to celebrate today.

Love, Dad

– – –

Hear more about Catie’s adoption story here.

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