I think it goes without saying how proud we all are of you. I know you sometimes wonder WHY we are so proud of you, but make no mistake, what you have done over the course of the past nine years has really been something special.
First, let us never discount the challenges that you faced leaving your home and country at the age of nine. I know to you that seems as natural as breathing, but it is not. Not at all. That amazing start was filled with much challenge that has helped build you into the young man you are. You may not remember the teasings and the tauntings from the other boys, but I do. You were not only younger, you were the kinder, tender one. You hadn’t been hardened on the outside by the realities of Russian life. I remember one of my first weekends in the house when you called your mom in Russia. You cried and cried and cried. I didn’t know what you were saying, but I understood your emotions. Your mom tried hard to reassure you that you’d be ok, but I know that it also killed her on the inside to watch her baby cry and be unable to hold him and fix his hurt.
As a youngest sibling myself, I knew some of the challenges that were ahead for you. I was born third inline and, as a result, had always known the role of youngest child, but you were suddenly thrust from only child to one of the youngest of seven. I knew I had to do better by you, but I had to do it in a way that allowed you to grow and advocate for yourself. I could not fight your fights.
Over the coming months you became more and more comfortable living with me and seeing me as a person to rely on. I cherished my role in helping you. I loved waking up in the morning to find a cherub-faced Russian had climbed into my bed the night before. Or, when you would ask me deep questions about life. It always moved me to see such wisdom in a boy. The more I got to know you, the more I fell in love with you.
Of course, I also enjoyed laughing with you. Some of my favorite times were dropping you off late at school in my convertible. I will never forget pulling up and seeing every girl in the 4th grade pressed against the fence cat-calling you in their sweet, and innocent way. “Hey Daniil! We love your car!” You, just smiled in that way that you do, where you pull back the left side of your smile and batted your baby blues at them. Of course, I also loved that the secretary let me fill in the blank on the tardy slips. What other kid was late to school because he was dreaming about girls?
I will never forget traveling to Russia with you. It was a blast seeing you and the boys in Russia, so proud. One of my favorite memories is when you came to get me from my hotel room dressed as a little Russian sailor. If I could’ve put you on a shelf and kept you like that forever I would’ve. But, life is like that. It throws you moments in time like that to hold you over through the lean times. So, I stole that moment away.
I also remember being schlepped around the city with all of the moms seeing 1000 museums a day. Initially you tried to translate, but then you started to interpret. “He said this ship was the ship that fired the gun that started the revolution…I’ll tell you when he says something exciting.” From that moment on, I heard only the Daniil version of the tours and discussion with the moms. It allowed me to see Russia through the eyes of Daniil and it was kind and warm and funny.
Do you remember all of the punch buggies? Who knew there were so many in Florida? I remember driving around the Boca Town Center looking for them. Of course, I also remember the unfortuante time you leaned in and I missed your arm and decked you in the face!
I was never in the running for Parent of the Year.
Then, we hit the dark times. When the rug was pulled out from beneath you, and you were sent back to Russia with no way of coming back. I will never forget what could’ve been our final goodbye. Sobbing like fools in the hotel lobby. I had dreamed we could pull off the miracle, but realized in my heart that it would be damned near impossible. I didn’t sleep for days after that, as I felt like a failure.
But, God had bigger plans for you.
What came next has been a wild adventure no one had planned on. First, Academy at the Lakes invited you in, keeping your dream alive. Then we went about the adventure of building dreams. We started in Chelsea Meadows with our ecletic neighbors Roma and Edwin and your stray cat with many names including Garfield (according to the neighbor kid who also claimed ownership) to Ceasar (the name you had given him) to Daniil’s Damn Cat (again…parent of the year was not going to be in my future. How many parents get called over by a teacher to find out if it’s true that the family cat is named Daniil’s Damn Cat? Exactly one. This one.)
Next we were supposed to move into the house in Wildreness Lakes that someone had promised to buy for us. But, instead we landed in the apartments behind the school where you met who would become one of your best friends, Seth. Finally, we settled into the farm house.
Together we have built a nice life for you. There is no denying that it hasn’t always been easy, but few rewarding things in life are. Despite it all, you’ve never lost belief in the idea that it will all work out. Nor, have you lost the essence of what makes you Daniil. Your kindness and compassion will be your mark upon the world. It will be tested and you will be tempted to toss it to the wind. But stay strong. Stay strong like you have the past nine years. Remember you are the embodiment of the dreams of many immigrants; you are the point in the Shcherbinin family story where the whole thing changes. Your family for generations to come will sleep sounder, eat better, live smarter, and be happier because of what you have done and what you are about to do.
While I am a bit exhausted at times, let me reassure you that I am the luckiest man alive. I’ve often said that your father, who left you when you were a baby, walked away from one of the best treasures in the world, and I’m so lucky to have been the man to find you. Being your advocate is like petting puppies; it’s so heartwarming that you can ignore the sharp teeth and puppy breath because everything else makes you feel awesome inside.
You have brought much joy to many lives, especially mine. Now, go forward into the unknowns. Face your fears; overcome your doubts. Study hard for exams; complete your assignments ahead of time. Try new foods; make new friends. Become your own man, write your own chapters, and always look out for that little boy that I fell in love with, for he is the reason your future is before you; yours for the taking.
With Much Love,