My Daddy

My Daddy

From A 3rd Serving of Chicken Soup for the Soul

My Daddy

When I was three, my father passed away. But when I was seven, my mother remarried. And I became the luckiest little girl in the world. You see, I got to pick my daddy. After Mom and “Dad” had dated for a while, I said to my mother, “He’s the one. We’ll take him.”

I got to be flower girl when Mommy and Daddy got married. That alone was wonderful. How many people can say they were in their parents’ wedding (and actually walked down the aisle)?

My daddy had such pride in his family. (Two years later our family grew by one little sister.) People who barely knew us would say to my mother, “Charlie always looks so proud to be with you and the kids.” It wasn’t just materialistic. Daddy was proud of our intelligence, our beliefs, our common sense and our love of people (as well as my cute smile).

Right before I turned 17, something awful happened. My daddy got sick. After several days of tests, the doctors couldn’t find anything wrong. “If we, the omnipotent, can’t find anything—he must be well.” They told Dad to return to work.

The next day he came home from work with tears streaming down his face. That’s when we knew he was deathly ill. I had never seen my father cry before. Dad thought crying was a sign of weakness. (Which made for an interesting relationship, since—as a hormonal teenager— I cried at everything, including Hallmark commercials.)

Finally, we got Dad admitted into the hospital. He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. The doctors said that he could go at any time. But we knew better. We knew he had at least three more weeks. You see, my sister’s birthday was the next week and mine was in three. My father would defy death—praying to God for strength—to hang on until after those events. He would not let us go through the rest of our lives with such a terrible memory on our birthdays.

The fact that life must go on is never more evident than when someone is dying. Dad wanted desperately for us to keep living our lives. We wanted desperately for him to remain a part of it. We compromised. We agreed to continue doing our “normal” activities, but Dad was going to be an active part of those—even from the hospital.

After one of our daily visits, the man sharing Dad’s room followed Mom into the hallway. “Charlie is always so quiet and positive when you are here. I don’t think you realize how much pain he is in. He uses all of his strength and endurance to hide it.”

My mother replied, “I know he is hiding it, but that is his way. He would never want us to suffer, and he knows how much it pains us to see him hurting.”

For Mother’s Day, we took all our gifts to the hospital. Dad met us in the lobby (since my little sister was too young to be allowed in his room). I bought a gift for Dad to give to Mom. We had a wonderful little party in our corner of the lobby.

The next week was my sister’s birthday. Dad wasn’t well enough to come downstairs, so we celebrated with cake and presents in the waiting area on his floor.

My prom was the following weekend. After the customary pictures at my house and my date’s, we went to the hospital. Yes, I walked through the hospital in a full-length gown with a hoop. (I barely fit in the elevator.) I was a little embarrassed. But not when I saw the look on my daddy’s face. He had waited so many years to see his little girl go to her first prom.

My sister’s annual dance recital always had a dress rehearsal the day before the event. That’s when family members could take pictures. Naturally, after the rehearsal we went to the hospital. My sister paraded through the hallways in her dance costume. Then she did her dance for Dad. He smiled throughout—although all that tapping was excruciatingly painful to his head.

My birthday came. We sneaked my sister into Dad’s room, since he couldn’t leave. (The nurses kindly looked in the other direction.) And again, we celebrated. But Dad was not in good shape. It was time for him to go, but he was holding out.

That night, the hospital called. Dad had taken a serious turn for the worse. A few days later, my daddy died.

One of the hardest lessons to learn from death is that life must go on. Dad insisted that we never stop living our lives. To the end, he was concerned about us and proud of us. His last request? That he be buried with a picture of his family in his pocket.

Kelly J. Watkins

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