By Lanford Beard
September 02, 2016 at 04:25 PM EDT
Graeme Parkes/Newspix/Getty Images

This article originally appeared on PEOPLE.com

Steve Irwin’s father is revealing a touching tribute his son tucked away 12 years before his unexpected 2006 death.

Bob Irwin shared the letter for the first time in The Last Crocodile Hunter: A Father and Son Legacy, which he penned to commemorate the 10th anniversary of his son’s death.

Steve Irwin wrote the note in 1998, telling his parents: “Probably one of the most unfortunate things in a ‘Bloke’s Life’ is that it takes over 30 years to realise how essential you have been to build my character, my ethics and, most importantly, my HAPPINESS.”

He continued, “At 32, I am finally starting to figure it out. In good times and in bad, you were there. Your strength and endurance to raise me will not go unrewarded. My love for you is my strength!”

Irwin added, “For the rest of my life I will reflect on the unbelievably GREAT times we’ve shared and will continue to share. You’re my best friends!”

In perhaps the most heart-wrenching detail of all, Bob told News.com.au he’d only found the letter last year when it fell out of a book.

Steve’s daughter Bindi, now 18, has been similarly loving and appreciative of her father, carrying on his work and honoring his legacy in the 10 years since his death. 

Shortly after the ninth anniversary of his death last year, she wrote, “Father’s Day is today in Australia and everyone is celebrating at Australia Zoo. It’s such a special time of year, I hope everyone who comes to the zoo today is able to enjoy it with our gorgeous animals. No matter where I am in the world, this day means such a lot to me. My heart forever lives @AustraliaZoo – just like Dad’s always did.”

And last fall as she made her way to victory on Dancing with the Stars, Bindi paid tribute to her dad with a routine set to a cover of “Every Breath You Take” by The Police.

“It took a really long time to understand what actually happened,” Bindi said after the emotional performance. “For the rest of my life, I’ll kind of feel like he’s going to come home.”

After the show, she told PEOPLE: “Tonight, it was just all about remembering the fact that dad is always with me, and I carry him in my heart.”

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