I can’t remember what we did for my dad’s birthday last year. Where did we eat? What did we give him? Birthdays are a big deal in our family and I can’t stand that I can’t recall how we celebrated his life that day.

Meanwhile, this birthday – the first without him physically here – will be hard to forget. Today would have been his 66th birthday – exactly seven months after we lost him. Back in October, Ryder asked if we could please still celebrate Papa’s birthday in May. So, today there will be cupcakes and the boys will blow out Papa’s candles. Today, we’ll plant new ferns in my dad’s fern garden. Today, we’ll cry.

And then I’ll board a plane because today I get to give and receive an amazing gift: the chance to carry on my dad’s legacy. For 26 years, he ran Search Institute and lived his passion, paving the way for parents, educators and communities to help kids thrive by focusing on what they’re doing right, vs. what they’re doing wrong. In the last few years of his life, he was  particularly passionate about a concept he called Sparks – the notion that we all come into this world innate gifts and passions. Search Institute’s extensive research shows that when kids are encouraged to define their own sparks and receive support and encouragement from adults in their lives, they flourish in the most wonderful ways and use their sparks to light up their corner of world.

Everyone has a spark. Not everyone knows what it is – yet. I get giddy thinking about the potential here. Imagine what the world could be like and how our collective happiness would soar if we all knew and nurtured our own sparks! To have research and a road map makes it not just a pipe dream, but a true possibility. My dad was giddy about this, too – and we had such fun brainstorming about the future of Sparks and how we could work together to create a quiet revolution. We even dreamed up the office space we’d share; he was set to “retire” this year and this was one of the dreams he’d make a reality.

Late last September, weary from cancer treatments but excited about the future, my dad pulled me aside at a family gathering to tell me he’d had some discussions and mapped out some ideas to have me start working more formally on Sparks-related initiatives. It was a great moment; the wheels were turning, sparks were flying.

It was not to be. At least not in the way we imagined. Unbelievably, I found myself days later, sitting by his bedside and choking back tears, telling him that no matter what happened, I was excited about carrying on his work – but with one caveat: “You still have to work with me,” I told him. “I have to know you’re standing right behind me.” He nodded.

The fact that my first Sparks project starts today – leaving on a jet plane on his birthday – confirms for me that he is here, still doing his thing and making sparks fly. I am so honored to be collaborating with Search Institute, with colleagues he adored, keeping his light alive. Happy birthday, Dad. A happy birthday, indeed.

{Note: for more information on Sparks, go here}