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Back when my daughter when born, I looked down at her little hands and little feet and was warned, bluntly, “this will fly by.”

And, for a spell, it didn’t. Casey cried. And ate. And smiled. And drooled. She’d poop, and I’d change it. She’d wake, and I’d lift her from the crib. For a brief spell, her life crawled—small moment by small moment by small moment.

And, today, she turns 12.

And, today, I am dumbfounded.

“This will fly by” is right. It has flown by. My girl is still a girl, but it’s slipping away. She’s two years from high school, six years from college. She doesn’t turn to me as she once did. She doesn’t need me at age 12 as she needed me at age 3 or 4. I used to walk into the house, and her excitement caused my heart to beat faster. Now I walk into the house and she looks … sometimes. I used to lie down alongside her in bed and sing her songs—”Georgie” by Hall and Oates; “Change” by Blind Melon. She’d request them; I was her personal jukebox. Or she’d ask for stories. About my life. About famous people. About clowns and ducks and elephants named Stuart. I still remember her first stiff breeze. We were in the front yard of our house in New Rochelle. She was tiny, and when the wind came she lifted her cheeks with such delight. The expression stays with me; has always stayed with me.

But, despite how this all sounds, today I find myself more elated than sad. Yes, my Casey is 12. And yes, it has flown by. And yes, my girl is still a girl and yes, it’s slipping away. She’s two years from high school, six years from college—and I’m unspeakably proud. My girl is independent, intelligent, feisty, strong. She doesn’t take crap, doesn’t follow the crowd, has her own tastes in clothes and music and friends. I don’t sing songs, but we play cards. I don’t tell as many stories, but she tells me more than ever. We increasingly speak as two friends, not merely father-daughter. She digs Nirvana and Public Enemy, just like her old man. She comes to me and her mom with problems, doesn’t reject our advice. She loves old photos and tales of grandparents and great grandparents. She and her little brother are (usually) like a tag team pairing. They invent crazy songs and crazy dances and crazy sayings. They make me smile 1,000 times more than they make me frown.

My daughter turns 12 today.

I’m blessed.