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On your hero dad's behalf, happy birthday, dear Quahmier

Officer Robert Wilson III will always be there for you and your baby brother.


When your father is a police officer who died in the line of duty, you will always belong in some intimate way to the public. It's not fair, sweetheart, and the only people who should be wishing you a happy 10th birthday today are those who know you. Especially, most importantly, your dad.

But you know that's not going to happen now. You know that while he will always be with you, is standing beside and within you, he can't blow out the 10 candles on your cake or wrap you in a bear hug or help you open your presents, like the video-game system he was shopping for that fateful day. He won't sit your baby brother on his lap while you say, "It's what I asked for!" and then take photos for iPhone memories.

Someone took that from you, took from you the central presence in your budding life. Your pain is both greater, and strangely smaller, than the baby's, because you had your father's love and guidance for 10 years, but he won't be able to remember. You will miss him most of all, because you had him when you first spoke, when you started school, when you learned to hit a baseball, when you got those wonderful report cards, when the snows came for sledding and the heat brought you to the Shore. To lose that is a jagged, heavy injustice.

But you had him. Have him still as the blueprint for your future, polestar for your journey. You'll hear his voice in your ear and remember who he was, and what he taught you. As long as you remember, he is alive.

Your baby brother won't feel that pain, but those memories - they're yours. You can and should tell him about his father the hero, and maybe some part of his baby consciousness will make a connection, will recall being held lovingly, being fed, being tucked into his crib or coaxed forward in a walker.

But the memories, the ones that re-create a life and keep that life vital and constant and almost-but-not-quite present, well, they're yours.

I never knew your dad. I only heard of him a few days ago, like many of us in the city. I read that he was the best kind of police officer, someone who loved his job and the people he protected. They say he was someone who, if he saw a problem, tried to fix it. They say he was an honest cop, that he knew that some others weren't, and that changes needed to be made on the force. He volunteered to help with those changes by wearing a body camera so that there wouldn't be any secrets, so that good cops could be defended and bad ones - the exceptions - could be punished. He was a trailblazer.

And he was a hero. We use that word a lot, especially about athletes and cartoon characters. Athletes aren't heroic. They're great, sure, and make us scream with joy, but they're just normal people with the ability to run farther and jump higher and swing harder. Superheroes are cool enough, especially Batman, but their powers come from special suits or magical gifts.

Your father was a human being, a good and normal man who became a hero when he became a father. He did everything he did for you, and for little boys like you and your baby brother and my own nephew. He wanted to make our corner of the world safer, fairer, better. That was heroic.

And his last acts were heroic, as well. He fought, as his boss said, "like a warrior," and tried to protect the innocent people who could have died if it weren't for his unselfish courage. He wouldn't stop fighting to keep them safe, until he couldn't anymore. He had no special suit, no magical gift. His superpower sat in his heart, and although that heart stopped beating, its power remains with us.

My dad took a trip to a dangerous place many years ago. He thought he might not come back, so he wrote my little brothers and me a letter. It said, in part: "Be honorable people. Respect the rights and feelings of others, even when you think they don't deserve it."

Your own father didn't need to write you a letter. He showed you, and all of us, how to be honorable. How to be a warrior for justice. How to respect others, protect others.

How to be a hero.

I wish with all of my heart that your father, like my own, had come home. I'm angry that someone snatched him from you, and that you have to go on and live your life without him picking you up from school, taking you to football games, standing in the audience when you receive your awards, dancing at your wedding and holding your own sons.

But I know, as surely as I know anything, that he is still here, present in the lives he saved, in the appreciation of his friends and co-workers, in the promise of a better, fairer system of justice, and in your memories and ours.

Heroes live forever, child.