A year of fear. A year of joy. A year of learning

Monday, Nov. 9, marks one year of me being a father. In a related subject, it will also be my daughter’s first birthday.

I should have probably led with that item.

For Riley, it has been quite the year. She has learned to sleep by herself in her own room, shovel food into her mouth with her own hands and antagonize the dogs all by herself. She has learned to roll over by herself, sit up under her own power, crawl and, ultimately, walk. She has learned what “no” means when she is getting into something she shouldn’t be getting in to, and she has learned to ignore what “no” means when she is getting into something she shouldn’t be getting in to.

Yes, I’m a proud poppa.

She is just now trying to learn to talk, as an assortment of inaudible sounds constantly fills the house, and there is a feint hint of singing from her when the theme songs of “Daniel Tiger” or “Curious George” comes bellowing out of the television. She has been exposed to sand and water, snow and ice, leaves and grass. She has traveled to the Outer Banks, Pinehurst, N.C., Las Vegas and various points throughout Delmarva. And she has filled her diapers with things that I’d just as soon forget, let alone share with the world.

I have watched her analyze every single item that makes it into her hands, and seen her greedily take new food into her mouth, only to spit it out with a disgusted look on her face that matches most of yours when you’re reading my column. We have seen her shriek with excitement when she realized we made it back to the goats at Parsons Farm Produce one day, and watched her light up with joy whenever our good friend Shaun Lambert walks into the house.

We have seen her study and learn, practice and fall, try again and succeed. In short, it’s been an amazing ride simply watching how much someone can grow in just one year.

I’d have to say the learning has gone both ways. The simple explanation would be that I’ve learned to just enjoy the wonders of life by watching it a little more closely through Riley’s eyes.

I’ve watched a video of her playing in a pile of leaves about 10,000 times, smiling each time as she happily pounded her hands in the pile and stopped occasionally to examine a leaf. I’ve learned that there is no feeling like that of your daughter’s arms tightening around you as you hold her close, and gained a little more appreciation of my dogs every time I see them navigate carefully around Riley when she’s playing on the floor or get their hackles up and come to her side when she cries.

She has taught me that it’s important to come home from a hard day at work and just play, as opposed to melting into the couch and flipping on the television. And I’ve learned that there’s absolutely nothing in the world that’s wrong with just sitting down in the grass on a pretty day and feeling the wind kiss you on the face.

She’s taught me that it’s perfectly acceptable to smile at that stranger behind you in line at the grocery store, and that Maria Bertram has the most fascinating purse in the history of mankind. She’s taught me that Sunday mornings are even more awesome at 5 a.m., that my car keys are every bit as entertaining as expensive toys and that baby food and berries have mystical powers that allow them to creep into every crevice a person might have on his or her body.

Who knew?

It’s been incredibly illuminating just to experience the wonders of life a second time, and to do so through a person who embraces every last part of it. And that brings me to something else I’ve learned. Or, more accurately, something I’m in the process of learning.

You see, I’m starting to get to know Riley now. She is no longer a baby that simply requires the necessities of life to get through each segment of time between naps. She is now a little person who is exhibiting her own personality and character traits, capable of understanding and articulating what she likes and doesn’t like.

• I’m learning that Riley is hilarious. She has a sense of humor that allows her to burst into laughter at the simplest of provocations, and I’ve watched her carry items from one side of the house to the other, drop them exactly where she wants them, and crack up laughing over what she did — and even if the joke is beyond me, that contagious little laugh usually makes me follow suit.

• I’m learning that Riley is determined. She began to walk the very day after hanging out with some of her older cousins, and I’ve silently sat back and watched her struggle over and over again to carry three or four items in her hands at once, and not quit until she figured out how to make it work.

• I’m learning that Riley is a shoe person. I don’t know if that means she’ll be one of those people that needs an entire closet for her shoes, or if she’ll grow up and sell shoes for a living. But she will literally steal a slipper right off your foot, and smile at you while she’s doing it.

• I’m learning that Riley is pretty amazing. This first year has impacted my life more than I ever could have imagined, and I’m looking forward to getting to know her more over the years.

Happy Birthday, Riley.